I’m reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost Of Discipleship. And it’s blowing me away. I love and hate when the Word of God rips into my soul and begins shining its big, bright LEDs into those tiny corners I thought I had hidden. Well, I don’t hate it, but I dislike it at first…mostly because it’s inconvenient. But that’s a good thing.
Bonhoeffer has spoken a lot on grace (among many other things). About the pernicious temptation to rely on grace as a principal – a means to a happy ending, a magically replenishing bag of tokens to slot into the holy vending machine. He calls this “cheap grace.” It is the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. This is the mantra of Americanized Christianity, and pure arsenic to a pure relationship with Jesus Christ.
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 grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
The first time I read this, I felt the heavy, sagging weight of conviction looking at my own life. I remind myself of all the band-aids I stick on my broken soul, knowing that God is obligated to dole out as many as I need, because the Bible tells me so. Even in my belief, I am faithless.
This cheap grace is contrasted with, of course, costly grace. I want so badly to embrace even more the true life of costly grace, where I may lose a few things, but in return gain everything. And I want others to take hold of this rich treasure. But this life is only born out of pure obedience to the call of Jesus and the complete, genuine denial of my Self. Like Peter, I have to say of myself, “I do not know him.” For me, this is a daily, an hourly, a moment-by-moment battle. At each and every corner, where I know sin is waiting just out of sight, I must have my sword drawn before I break the bend. I have to kill it before it can even open its mouth. It could be a roaring lion, it could be a singing siren. Whatever it is, I’m done for if I say, “OK, fine, you can come along for a bit. I’m feeling rather strong today.” Once I truly deny myself, and always hold in front of my eyes the truth that I have been crucified and buried with Jesus, sin has no choice but to visit the morgue to see me. I am dead to sin. How can I live in it any longer?
[Of course I am still a sinner, but Christ’s blood on me has justified me in the eyes of the Father, despite my temporal disposition…]
Then, by truly following Jesus and thus losing everything, I begin to rely on His grace for everything. I feel His shoulder next to mine, burdening with me under the weight of my cross. It’s an awesome truth, and the great hope for my soul, that I should be purified from the stain of sin by following and living in single-minded obedience to the call of Jesus. Such grace is infectious; it breeds joy and bridges chasms. Broken things can’t help but he healed in its light. And from His grace flows more grace.
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: “you 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. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.
This grace cost Bonhoeffer his life. He was only 39 when he was hanged in martyrdom in Nazi Germany.
I want my life to be drenched in the sin-condemning, sinner-justifying, infinitely costly but ever free grace of God.