Bonhoeffer :: Chapter 1: Costly Grace

It is a matter of fundamental Christian belief that Grace is freely given to us.
We believe and teach that you can not earn your salvation: nothing you do can earn Grace, instead it is freely given.

Rom 5:15-17 But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man's offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. 16 And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification. 17 For if by the one man's offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)

In the bible the concept of grace is tied inextricably with one of its root words: the concept of a gift. Now you can refuse to accept a gift, but to say you have earned a gift is to say it isn’t a gift.

So what can Bonhoeffer possibly mean by talking about “Costly Grace”: if grace is free, it cannot possibly be costly, can it?

Bonhoeffer identifies what he calls costly grace by contrasting it with what he calls “Cheap Grace”. Let me identify cheap grace for you.

Let the Christian rest content with his worldliness and with this renunciation of any higher standard than the world. He is living 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 his grace! That is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sins 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.

Cheap grace, to Bonhoeffer, is grace without consequences. We could understand this a little more by looking at James’ take on faith. We all know that we are saved through faith, not by works. But James says:
2:4 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your F6 works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

I do not think here that James is arguing against the whole New Testament to say that we are saved by works. What I do think he is saying is that true faith, real living, saving faith, has consequences, has results. The life of a Christian who has faith inevitably will produce works as Christ works through them. But Christians who insist that they have faith, but whose life shows no evidence… James asks if that is real faith, saving faith, at all.

Bonhoeffer feels the same way. Listen to his description of “Costly Grace”

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 the 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 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.

James says that faith and action are inextricably linked. Bonhoeffer here explains that discipleship and grace are also similiarly linked. Accepting the free gift of grace means hearing the call: “follow me”.

So what does this mean to us?
Do you take grace seriously? I think a good measure of that is to see if you agree with the statement “We have been justified, therefore everything can remain as it is”…

We must always be careful in our presentation of the Gospel, in our own practice in our lives. I believe, with Bonhoeffer, that cheap grace has terrible consequences for our ability to live as Christ intended us to live.  Over the next few weeks we will explore discipleship together with Bonhoeffer, to see what it means to follow Jesus. May each of us truly do so through our next week!