As a pastor I talk often with people who are wrestling with what true forgiveness really is. I’m glad that in recent days it is the topic of many of our conversations (and excellent discussions on this blog). When it comes time to offer grace, many of us misunderstand what true forgiveness is (or perhaps what forgiveness is not). This past week at Ignite (our Weds. night bible study), I taught on the subject of “Cheap grace vs. costly grace”. In his classic book, “The Cost of Discipleship”, the great Christian martyr and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (one of my heroes), explains the difference:
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church… grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing.
Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God.
Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin.
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man’ will gladly go and self all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.
The proclamation of cheap grace is either that you are a sinner anyway, and there is nothing you can do about it, whether you are a man of the world or a religious man, good or bad you can never escape this world of sin and so just put on a bold face and rely on the grace of God, or that because you believe in the grace of God then you are free from sin no matter how you live because his grace covered all you sins; past, present and future the moment you made a profession of faith in his grace to cover your sin. Is there a more diabolical abuse of the grace of God than to sin and rely on God’s grace to cover it?
How can the grace of God, which cost Him so much cost us nothing? Grace means complete repentance and denial of self in order that Christ may reign. Then His grace is not offered to us (for such a high price) in vain.
Guard this priceless treasure in your life today.