How Costly Grace is Cheapened

Tuesday is for Preaching

Cheap Grace.jpegIt is amazing how much you learn and relearn when reading great books.

I have 10,000 volumes in my library. over 4,000 on shelves and the remaining ones in one digital form or another. Some are reference works that you don’t necessarily read but use to study other books. Others are worth reading once and you might keep because it might prove valuable in helping someone else or discard as seems appropriate. Some you keep around because they are valuable in times of controversy in helping you be prepared for debate. There are some that are worth reading again, and others worth reading a third time and still others that are worth reading every year if you can squeeze them into a tight schedule.

Almost all of Bonhoeffer’s works, especially Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship are worth reading over and over again. Last week it took me two days to really get my head around something Bonhoeffer was saying on two pages in the first chapter.  In the end is was worth it when the thought bomb exploded in my head and my spirit cried out “this is the truth.” What Bonhoeffer was saying corresponded to the Scripture but also illuminated the Scripture for me in a completely new way.

Bonhoeffer was convinced by his study of Scripture that Luther had got the gospel right but that many misunderstood what he (Luther) said. “… the outcome of the Reformation was the victory, not of Luther’s perception of grace in all its purity and costliness, but the vigilant religious instinct of man for the place where grace is obtained at the cheapest price.” (p. 49)

Man is always trying to cheapen what God does and exalt himself. Bonhoeffer understood this. He continues,

“Luther had taught that man cannot stand before God, however religious his works and ways may be, because at bottom he is always seeking his own interests.  … experience taught him that this grace had cost him [Luther] his very life, and must continue to cost him the same price day by day. So far from dispensing him from discipleship, this grace only made him a more earnest disciple. When he spoke of grace, Luther always implied as a corollary that it cost him his own life, the life which was now for the first time subjected to the absolute obedience of Christ.” (p. 49)

For Bonhoeffer, the problem with much of the church is that the orthodoxy of our doctrine is spot on, (“salvation is by grace, through faith in Christ alone”) but that the free grace of God for man in salvation has not been coupled with any call to follow, with any call to discipleship. “Costly grace” says Bonhoeffer, “was turned into cheap grace without discipleship.” (p. 50) This leads him to a blunt statement about Christians of his day that applies equally to ours and sounds like an echo of James 1:22.

“The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ. Such a man knows that the call to discipleship is a gift of grace, and that the call is inseparable from the grace. But those who try to use this grace as a dispensation from following Christ are simply deceiving themselves.”

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
The Cost of Discipleship, p. 51.

Bonhoeffer was trying to ring a bell in order to wake the slumbering church to its true call to a serious Christianity. This is why he writes that the Christian who thinks, (listen to his words here), “[who thinks] … my only duty as a Christian is to leave the world for an hour or so on Sunday morning and go to church to be assured that my sins are all forgiven” is a cheapener of grace.

Being a Christian and discipleship are inseparable. One is impossible without the other.

Is the call to discipleship in your life and your church an expectation for all or voluntary for a few? 

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