John the Baptist does not mince words. Unlike the Apostle Paul, who can sometimes be more than a bit confusing, John says it plain: You brood of vipers. Bear fruit worthy of repentance or burn in the unquenchable fire. We need the Apostle Paul and those like him. We need them to assist us in developing our understanding of God, but we also need those like John who are not afraid to come along and simply smack us on the back of the head when we need it.
We’ve studied the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer several times and I think we have all discovered that he is more of a Paul than a John the Baptist, but there is most certainly a bit of John within him, and it is perhaps nowhere more evident than when he writes of “cheap grace.” This concept of cheap grace is perhaps also one of the topics he is most known for.
In The Cost of Discipleship he writes, “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” The opposite is costly grace, which he states, “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. 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.”
With items such as groceries, gasoline, things we need, we will shop around to make sure that we are getting a reasonably good price, but for the most part simply pay the price and keep going. However, when we go out to eat, we may first consider what it is we want, but then we decide how much we are willing to spend. If I want a hamburger, I’ve got several options: McDonalds or Braum’s, but if I want something a bit more I’ll maybe go to Chilis or Callahan’s (there’s “The Flamingo,” but I wasn’t real sure on how to categorize that one.) Whichever I choose, it will many times come down to how much I want to spend, knowing full well that I’ll get what I pay for.
Cheap grace asks, “What’s the least amount I can give, I can sacrifice of myself and still get through the Pearly Gates.” Cheap grace says, whether I go to McDonalds or Callahan’s, it still a hamburger. Cheap grace considers a prayer life to be one Our Father a day, said while brushing your teeth and stewardship to be dropping a tenner in the Salvation Army kettle at Christmas time. Cheap grace expects all the joys of heaven and demands absolutely nothing.
We are saved by grace. We can do nothing to earn grace. It is truly a free gift from God made possible through Christ Jesus. However, just because it is free does not mean that it is cheap, there must be an appropriate response witnessed in our lives and through our works. As Bonhoeffer said, “What has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.” Perhaps Ignatius of Loyola said it best, “Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you.”