Cheap Grace vs. Costly Grace

When it comes to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, there are many things I am speculative about.  When I read his The Cost of Discipleship–a classic piece of Christian literature–I got the impression that he was conflating justification by faith along with works.  More sympathetically, I believe he was calling his fellow Lutherans to make sure that they were not mistrusting their credo, “justification by faith.”  Rightly, he sought action to flow from profession; but perhaps at the same time, he imbibed enough German theology that his views of God and the world, would have eventually undercut his beliefs, had God not cut his life short during World War II.

Today, Bonhoeffer has been adopted by many evangelicals as a model Christian, even though, I believe his overall theology, if it had more time to develop may have shown the liberal influences that influenced him.  For instance, he lived next door to and was instructed by Adolph Harnack, and his thinking was greatly shaped by Karl Barth. For a sympathetic, evangelical reading of Bonhoeffer, see Eric Metaxas book Bonhoeffer:Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.  For a more critical review that exposes much of Bonhoeffer’s neo-orthodoxy, see Cornelius Van Til, “‘Dietrich Bonhoeffer’: A Review Article” (WTJ 34:2 (May 1972).

With all that said, his quote on cheap grace versus costly grace is a classic statement on living out the Christian life with seriousness and zeal. I quoted it in my sermon this morning, and I share it with you now.

 Cheap Grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without 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. (The Cost of Discipleship, 44-45).

May we, with vigor and joy, live lives that exhibit an awareness of the boundless grace of God that moves us to good works, not because we are repaying God, but because we delight to go deeper and deeper into the grace of God that comes when we walk with our Savior-Shepherd.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

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