Costly Grace

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. ~ Ephesians 2:6-10

Reflections on Grace – Cheap Grace vs Costly Grace

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer begins his book on the Cost of Discipleship with a discussion of cheap grace. Bonhoeffer noted that the church in his day was at war with a version of grace that threatened the very nature of the integrity of the gospel. I would simply note that war continues. I would submit to you that cheap grace is a threat to the message of Christ in 2023.

Today I am paraphrasing some of Bonhoeffer’s words and reflecting on the current discussion on life, discipleship, and spiritual maturity. I would simply begin with the observation that grace is the currency of heaven, the kingdom. It is the essence for life as a follower of Jesus. Understanding it and having value for it is vital for any one’s Christian walk. That is why cheap grace is so dangerous.

I would describe cheap grace as grace offered without consequence. It would be communion without reflection or repentance. Communion as a tradition or a ritual and not as a sacrament a holy moment in time to reflect on the state of your soul. Communion is a moment to take a fearless moral inventory of your life, your heart, your soul. Cheap grace is conversion without discipleship. It is a prayer prayed but not a life lived. Cheap grace is church membership without accountability.

Sometimes as a pastor I would say that “membership has its privileges.” Grace calls for us to live up to its profound privilege and its transforming power. It calls for us to hold each other accountable. Grace calls for responsible living. It calls for us to be humble. It calls for us to be willing to repent and to change and to allow its transforming power to mature us from the inside out.

Grace is the currency of the kingdom. It is the power given me to see life differently. See God more profoundly and kind and generous and yet holy and just and absolute. Grace beckons for me to see myself for who I am – a sinner – now a saint saved by grace. 

I would note quite honestly that grace is God’s unmerited favor in my life. I don’t deserve it. I cannot earn it. Grace is the resulting outcome of mercy that is offered to me. I ask for mercy (not justice) and mercy is granted because of God’s profound love for humanity. Because of mercy – grace is given. The two-work hand in hand. Grace by its very nature is easy to misunderstand.

Grace by is sheer essence is easy to be abused. It is when it is misunderstood and abused that it is necessary to dig deeper and recover its true essence. When grace is cheapened the voice of the church needs to be clearly heard and understood. Grace is too costly to allow it to be sold like cheap clothing on the Home Shopping Network. Grace needs to be worn gratefully and cautiously and respectfully and reverently.

Cheap grace is the gospel on your terms. It promotes your comfort. Your needs. Your wants. It is a grace allows the heart to hide the truth from you because the truth is unpleasant and uncomfortable. Cheap grace doesn’t challenge you to dig deeper, or to grow more. It keeps you stuck with your status quo. It is the lie of the enemy – that you are okay just the way you are.

Costly grace is the gospel on God’s terms. It makes you uncomfortable because it builds your character. It challenges you to core of who you really think you are and then it rebuilds you into the person God wants you to be. It asks you to embrace God’s desires for your life and to let go of your sinful selfish needs. It whispers into your soul that you have a calling. That calling is not all about you – it is all about him.

Costly grace calls for us to die to self and to be resurrected into a new life in Him and for it is in him and through him and because of Him that we live and move and have our being. It is costly because it calls for us to follow. It is costly because it calls for us to die. It is costly because it cost a man his life. It is grace because it keeps us focused on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Costly grace keeps Jesus’ front and center in my life. It keeps me living and moving toward more of him and less of me.