German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the classic book, The Cost of Discipleship, in 1937. During that time Adolph Hitler had seized power and the Third Reich was beginning to assert itself in Bonhoeffer’s beloved country. While one the earliest church leaders to warn of the evil to come, Bonhoeffer was also concerned about the complacency of the church. He spoke out, ultimately at the cost of his life.
Read some of his words: “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. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?”
In Paul’s writing to the Romans, the apostle was astounded that some believed that the more sin you commit the more grace you receive. “Well, then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of His wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?”
Bonhoeffer was offended by the watering down of the essential nature of grace. “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without 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.”
Richard Niehbur followed this line of thinking when he wrote that American Christianity had grown weak and flabby: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgement through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”
Grace is anything but cheap. It carries a price tag that staggers the imagination, a cost beyond any human’s ability to compensate. Can we possible comprehend the value God has placed on every soul?
They had lost their patience. Their teenaged son continued a pattern of disobedience and disrespect. He had been warned of the consequences of his behavior. One of the most striking evidences of his lack of regard for anyone beside himself was that he was constantly late. Dinner time was the only time the family could have together, but he routinely showed up well past the time for the meal. Finally, one night the boy sauntered in to find his parents already seated with their plates served. As he fell into his chair, he was greeted with silence. He looked at his plate and then at theirs. His plate had a piece of loaf bread with a glass of water next to it. His parents’ plate were full of food. No word was spoken as the father stood up, took his plate, and exchanged it for his son’s. Something changed that night. The son would later recall, “All my life I’ve known what God’s like by what my father did that night.”
Grace is never cheap.