By Dr. Harold Sala
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Romans 6:1-2
When Adolph Hitler began his conquest of the world, he quickly recognized that there was one formidable power which stood between him and his goal of controlling the government–the confessing church and the men who were the spiritual descendants of Martin Luther. To neutralize the criticism of the church, Hitler spoke of himself as a believer and sought to win the church’s support for a White Paper–a position paper outlining the supremacy of the Arian or white race, denouncing Jews as inferiors.
Few men, however, would compromise. Hitler knew they had to be destroyed. Thousands of German pastors were among those sent to the concentration camps, including an outspoken German minister by the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In prison, Bonhoeffer had time to reflect on the true nature of the Gospel and what it costs to be a Christian. Out of that experience came Bonhoeffer’s book, The Cost of Discipleship.
In this powerful treatise, Bonhoeffer says that there are two kinds of grace–the cheap kind which Bonhoeffer says “we bestow on ourselves,” and the costly kind which comes with a price tag attached.
“Cheap grace,” said this man who eventually died for what he believed, “is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace,” he contended, “is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
When I was in China, I purchased a piece of blue pottery for a very small amount of money. On the bottom of the piece were the words, DELFT, the name of a pottery manufacturer in the Netherlands known the world over for its fine craftsmanship. When I was in Holland, my wife and I visited the Delft factory. I was amazed at how beautiful and how expensive the pieces of genuine Delft pottery and porcelain were–the ones made by the world’s finest craftsmen in the tradition of excellence spanning several centuries.
Today we have a version of cheap grace, much like the fake pottery which I bought on a street corner in a Chinese village. But the sad thing is that many people today don’t know the difference. What is cheap grace in the context of our world today?
I couldn’t help thinking of cheap grace when I read the account of a young man, who in a fit of rage because his sexual advances had been rebuffed, murdered his girlfriend. When he was apprehended by police, he told reporters, “God will forgive me; God will forgive me!”
Cheap grace is the attitude that because God loves me and expects me to find fulfillment, it’s OK for me to walk out on my wife and children for the beautiful young secretary who can make me happy. The attitude that God wants me happy no matter what the cost to my family, cheapens the grace which God provided at such great cost. Lifestyles which make no difference between the hard-drinking, foul-mouthed sports fan and the person who teaches a Sunday school class, contribute to cheap grace.
“Costly grace…” contended Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “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.”
Cheap grace, in reality, is not grace at all, but a cheap, worthless imitation much like the colorful but worthless pottery bought in a street market in China. Think about it.
RESOURCE READING: Romans 6:1-13.