A quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer on cheap grace has really stuck with me this week. Christians talk so much about grace — the undeserved forgiveness God gives us. This completely unearned love is one of God’s most beautiful gifts.
Lately, I’ve been trying to act more like Jesus did, working to discover what his radical, counter-cultural, and life-transforming love means … for me, and for how I interact with others.
Grace can absolutely be radical, but it should never be cheap. When the Protestant Reformation championed Jesus’ grace, his lavishing of radical forgiveness we did nothing to deserve — Bonhoeffer countered with the distinction of “cheap” vs. “costly” grace.
Yes, God’s grace is powerful and life-altering. That will never change. But taken to an extreme, the concept of grace can be misunderstood and dangerously twisted. If we recognize and understand “cheap grace,” we can hopefully be aware enough to keep from falling into it’s beautiful and alluring trap.
Cheap grace is forgiveness that requires no change of heart. You’ve hurt others, and you don’t have to stop. Or you’re shooting yourself in the foot, and you’re allowed to keep going. You feel regret, you embrace God’s forgiveness, and you don’t have to bother to repent, make amends, work to be better, or change your habits and actions. You hurt people again, and you accept God’s forgiveness again. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Cheap grace is easy to embrace. It’s fuzzy, warm, and it panders to exactly what we want to hear. But cheap grace is dangerous. It’s spiritual junk food. It goes down easy, but makes us sluggish, bloated, out-of-touch and out-of-shape. It’s an allusion that, when shattered, shows a hollow, putrid, rotting reality.
To paraphrase Bonhoeffer:
“Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance.
It’s baptism without discipline.
It’s partaking in the Lord’s supper without the confession of sins.
Cheap grace is grace without discipleship.
It’s grace without the cross.
It’s grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
Where in my life am I refusing to repent? Where am I running from personal responsibility and self-discipline?
When I am taking communion, have I thought about my sins, confessed them to God, and worked to reject their control of my life and thoughts? Am I working to know God better? Or am I just accepting God’s forgiveness and love … and continuing on the exact same path I was on before?
Jesus’ grace was costly. He bled, faced ultimate misery, and died so that I could live forever with him. Am I turning Christ’s sacrifice into a get out jail free card?
Or am I willing to give up my life — my priorities — my desires, to follow Jesus’s call to be more like him?
Grace is radical and life-changing. Is my response to receiving it just as radical? What would it look like if Jesus’ grace really did change my life … not just in theory, but in practical, tangible, reality?