Precious, Costly Grace

Cross at Sunset

Grace is a central theme in Christianity. God’s gift of salvation to human beings who do not deserve it, through the death of Jesus, is the essence of the gospel – the message that Christians are commanded to take to the world.

The definition for the word “grace” that we usually find in the dictionary is something along the lines of ‘a favour or gift that we do not deserve’, but in Romans, Paul goes further then this. Romans 5:8 says that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This means that God’s grace is not only a gift of salvation that we did not earn, but that it was offered to us before we even asked for it, or knew we needed it!

In texts like Romans 5:15 we read:

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.

I added the emphasis there – Paul makes it clear here (and elsewhere) that grace is a gift, and requires no repayment or action on our part, apart from simple acceptance. We don’t earn it – we never did.

Grace is free.

This is one of the great truths of Christianity.

But here’s the kicker – for every truth of the gospel, Satan has a subtle, plausible lie. The lie that the Adversary tries to substitute is this: “grace is cheap“.

Not “free”… cheap.

What does “cheap grace” mean. In his wonderful book The Cost of Discipleship, the great wartime theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer says this:

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. “All for sin could not atone.” The world goes on in the same old way, and we are still sinners “even in the best life” as Luther said. Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin.

— Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Macmillan, 1966

Cheap grace means portraying active faith as if it were righteousness by works. It means a form of grace that doesn’t require any commitment on our part. It means grace that leaves us unchanged.

Bonhoeffer goes goes so far as to say that “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting to-day for costly grace.”

True grace — God’s grace — is costly. It’s the precious pearl of great price or the treasure in the field for which we would sell all that we have. It is offered to us freely, but it cost the life of our Saviour. How could this grace not change us?

When we accept the God’s grace into our lives, it transforms every part of us, including our outward behaviour. Anything else is a cheap copy.