138) Cheap Grace

A reading from the modern classic The Cost of Discipleship (1937) by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945).  This is a great passage to apply to other people.  We should also apply it to ourselves.

       Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church.  Our struggle today is for costly grace.

     Cheap grace means grace as bargain-basement goods, cut-rate forgive­ness, cut-rate comfort, cut-rate sacraments; grace as the church’s inexhaustible pantry, from which it is doled out by careless hands without hesitation or limit.  It is grace without a price, without cost…

       Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, as principle, as system.  It means forgiveness of sins as a general truth; it means God’s love as merely a Christian idea of God.  Those who affirm it have already had their sins forgiven.  The church that teaches this doctrine of grace thereby conveys such grace upon itself.  The world finds in this church a cheap cover-up for its sins, for which it shows no remorse and from which it has even less desire to be free.  Cheap grace is, thus, denial of God’s living Word, denial of the incarnation of the word of God.

    Cheap grace means justification of sin but not of the sinner.  Because grace alone does everything, everything can stay in its old ways.  “Our action is in vain.”  The world remains world and we remain sinners “even in the best of lives.”  Thus, the Christian should live the same way the world does.  In all things the Christian should go along with the world and not venture… to live a different life under grace from that under sin…

       Cheap grace is that which we bestow on ourselves.

      Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of community; it is the Lord’s Supper without confession of sin; it is absolution without personal confession.  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ…

      The word of cheap grace has ruined more Christians than any commandment about works…


     Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and author.  Bonhoeffer is famous not only for his writings, but also for his staunch resistance to the Nazi dictatorship.  He was one of the first to speak out against it, and was forced to flee Germany for his safety.  But soon he returned and became involved in a plot by members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Adolf Hitler.  He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and executed by hanging in April 1945 while imprisoned at a Nazi concentration camp, just 23 days before the German surrender.

 Bonhoeffer in the courtyard of Tegel Prison, summer 1944


A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.    –H. Richard Neibuhr


Romans 6:15-18  —  What then?  Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  By no means!  Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?  But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

Psalm 51:10-12  —  Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Philippians 2:12-13  —  Therefore, my dear friends… continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.


 I am heartily sorry, and beg pardon for my sins; especially for my little respect and for wandering in my thoughts when in your presence; and for my continual infidelities to your graces; for all which I beg pardon, by the merits of the Blood you shed for them.  Amen.

–Lady Lucy Herbert (1669-1744)