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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Cheap Grace

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks' wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolation of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. 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. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?

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. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be in itself sufficient to secure remission of sins. The Church which holds the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part in that grace. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

Cheap grace means the justification of the sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. "All for sin could not atone", goes the hymn. The world goes on in the same old way, and we are still sinners, "even in the best life" as Luther said. 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 - that was the heresy of the enthusiasts, the Anabaptists and their kind. Let the Christian beware of rebelling against the free and boundless grace of God and desecrating it. Let him not attempt to erect a new religion of the letter by endeavoring to live a life of obedience to the commandments of Jesus Christ! The world has been justified by grace - the Christian knows that, and takes it seriously. He knows he must not strive against this indispensable grace.

Therefore - let him live like the rest of the world! Of course he would like to go and do something extraordinary, and it does demand a good deal of self-restraint to refrain from the attempt and content himself to living as the world lives. Yet it is imperative for the Christian to achieve renunciation, to practice self-effacement, to distinguish his life from the life of the world. He must let grace be grace indeed, otherwise he will destroy the world's faith in the free gift of grace. Let the Christian rest content with his worldliness and with this renunciation of any higher standard than the world. He is doing it for the sake of the world rather than for the sake of grace. Let him be comforted and rest assured in his possession of this grace - for grace alone does everything. Instead of following Christ, let the Christian enjoy the consolations of grace! That is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace that amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs. Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin; 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.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell 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, 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 so 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.

To be continued...

4 Comments:

  • Nice post Hammer.

    Like anything, grace and forgiveness can be taken to both extremes...cheap grace, as you posted on, and then there are the people who needlessly beat themselves 'above and beyond the call of duty' and feel that they have committed such a grievous sin that the Lord can never forgive them. or they spend their lives atoning for a sin long since forgiven by the Lord.

    As Catholics, we have a lot of the 'communion without confession' thing...the Catholic Church has specific guidelines ont his that are rarely followed, due to ignorance habit or fear.

    By Blogger John B., at 12/27/2005 02:26:00 PM  

  • Grace is not something man can merit.

    By Blogger trent@ gracehead.com, at 12/27/2005 11:39:00 PM  

  • Trent,
    If you thought I was saying otherwise, you missed the point. It has nothing to do with merit, and everything to do with impact,. Stay tuned.

    John,
    Honestly, Protestants are no less guilty of communion without confession. Whether we are speaking of the Eucharist or the fellowship of the saints, both are supposed to involve a level of confession that is, on the whole, absent.

    I also agree regarding the extremes. In some ways, I think that 'cheap grace' would also be an appropriate name for the second case - where we cheapen grace by acting as if it did not provide the atonement.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 12/29/2005 10:37:00 AM  

  • Been reading Bonhoeffer eh? Good stuff!! It is interesting that unmerited favor is so very costly isn't it? Very humbling when you realize it was all for us (individually and collectively). Also interesting that the cost was paid for EVERYONE, whether they eventually accept it or not is another story. I think that it is true confession that actually provides the opening in our heart or spirit to receive the gifts of forgiveness, healing, freedom.

    By Blogger Inheritor of Heaven, at 1/03/2006 09:30:00 AM  

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