Cheap grace – What is it?
The phrase “cheap grace” is often associated with German theologian and minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship. In his book, published in 1937, he said that cheap grace was “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.”
As defined by Bonhoeffer, cheap grace is an approach to Christianity that only emphasizes the good or easy parts without telling the truth regarding the difficult aspects of it. To leave out the more difficult aspects of repentance, church discipline, confession, discipleship, the cross, or the full story of Christ’s life offers an incomplete, “cheap” view of God’s grace.
In contrast, grace is not cheap but is a priceless gift. God sent His one and only Son to die as a sacrifice for our sins. Jesus endured the pain and the shame of the cross to offer us salvation by grace through faith in Him (Philippians 2:5-8; Hebrews 12:1-2; Ephesians 2:8-9).
Further, though salvation is a free gift of grace, the Christian life includes times and aspects of costly sacrifice. Paul, James, Jude, and Peter referred to themselves in their letters as a “servant” or “slave” of Christ Jesus. Jesus even referred to those who lived for Him as people who would take up their cross daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23).
Much debate often arises between those who emphasize salvation by grace as a free gift and those who emphasize the actions of a changed life that should result from a person who has been changed by Christ. For example, in the past century a debate arose between two views representing these ideas known as Free Grace and Lordship Salvation.
Both views believe salvation is available only by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. However, each position differs in other aspects. The Free Grace position emphasizes all that is necessary for salvation is to receive Jesus as Savior (John 1:12; John 3:16; Romans 10:9). The Lordship Salvation view argues that a person must receive Jesus as Savior and Lord to truly be saved and that genuine life change must be exhibited as a result (Luke 14:25-33; Romans 5:20-21; Ephesians 4:17-24; James 2:14-26).
A driving motivation in this debate has been the growth of what some have called “carnal Christians.” These are people who consider themselves Christians yet show little or no difference in their lives than non-Christians. A Free Grace position would argue that many of these people are true believers who are living in sin while a Lordship Salvation view would argue these carnal Christians have never been saved at all.
In summary, the idea of “cheap grace” is one that was developed by Bonhoeffer and has had great influence within Christian thought over the past century. While the grace of God is a free gift available to all who will receive it, a disciple of Jesus Christ will also be willing to grow and endure hardship for the sake of the Gospel. Salvation is about transformation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and new life in Christ (John 10:10), not about a ticket to heaven. Our freedom came at great cost to Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Grace is free, but it is not cheap.