Cheap and Costly – Greg Albrecht
As a new visitor to your ministry and your resources I agree with much I have read. You may wish to read Chapter One of “Cost of Discipleship” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. “Christian Religion” preaches grace regularly, which you seem to have overlooked. But, as you correctly point out, the problem is that religion preaches “Cheap Grace” instead of “Costly Grace”—the former too often results in genocides, racism, and general anti-Christ behaviors/dispositions.
“Cheap Grace” hinders a Christian from allowing the Holy Spirit to place Christ in the world through his or her (discipleship), disabling the continuance of His incarnate example of responsibly loving all people (“follow me”). There are no qualifications on “God’s Grace,” but the religious construction of it has been disastrous or deadly for millions of people in the world, rendering Christianity “Christ-less”! You guys are doing a great job of being Christ-centered – do you consider that His incarnate reality displayed endless acts of love, which continue through His people who live in His Bountiful Grace (Costly Grace)?
Loving acts are not about legalism; they are about “living in God’s Grace” (Costly Grace) instead of just declaring and/or analyzing it (Cheap Grace). We do not want to promote the anti-Christ, religious view of grace inadvertently.
Thanks for your comments. I am particularly pleased to see thoughts shared about Bonhoeffer, one of my favorite theologians and his book “Cost of Discipleship.” I first read it almost 50 years ago, and at that time I felt like it reinforced my own legalistic faith, based in law and performance based religion. I continued to return to the book over the years, such that my copy, a paperback, is now falling apart. Over the years my sense of Bonhoeffer grew, and I came to see a different emphasis than I saw originally, perhaps because my the spiritual insight was limited at the time. I have come to see a different emphasis in Bonhoeffer – but then, that’s the case with so many insights we humans have, it is not? After all, reading the Bible produces many different results and seemingly, in many cases, reinforces what folks already believe to be true. A few thoughts about cheap and costly grace.
Yes, Christ-less religion preaches cheap grace, according to Bonhoeffer. Cheap grace makes a mockery of the gospel. Cheap grace distorts the gospel turning it into something which is all about what humans can do, whereas the gospel is all about what Christ in us does for us, which is impossible for us to do and be, apart from him. To paraphrase Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:21-23) the articulation of words and phrases and creeds and dogma, however “right” and Christ-centered they may be, is cheap. Folks can sprinkle grace around from a salt and pepper shaker but such sprinkling is cheap. What is costly grace, as Bonhoeffer speaks of it?
We should remember that Bonhoeffer also looked forward to “religion-less” Christianity, and indeed we in this ministry speak of, write and record “Christianity Without the Religion” – trademarked for specific media vehicles and resources. You state that loving acts are not legalism, but they are all about living in God’s grace, and therefore costly grace. I agree, and I don’t agree. Yes and no, as I see that assertion.
How do we define a loving act? Can a person give and extend a self-less, loving action, a self-sacrificial deed, and be, for example, someone who does not even claim to be a Christian? For example, a Muslim, a Jew, a Buddhist? Yes, as I see it, a loving act can be extended and imparted apart from a direct relationship with God, by grace, through Christ, in what Christians would broadly speak of as Christian faith. I believe atheists who deny God all together can and do extend loving actions, but their actions do not prove that the costly grace of God resides within them. That said, God is Creator, and all love of any size, shape or description ultimately is credited to him and him alone.
I believe the love of God is, at some level, though I do not pretend to know all its nuances, a part of what it means to be created in the image of God – the Imago Dei. Humans can love (or they can hate). If we choose to love, then ultimately God, as Creator, is the source of that love. However, I quickly add, as athletes love to say, “a whole different level” of God’s love. I suspect this is the love to which you have reference, a “whole different level” of God’s love which resides within those who surrender to their abilities to be righteous on their own, and surrender to God’s grace.
When humans surrender to God, trust and believe in Jesus, then we become Christ-followers/believers, and we are now indwelt by the risen Lord, and among other things, he produces in and within us his handiwork/workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). None of the fruits of his Spirit are produced by the children of God, children of grace, by themselves, through their own actions, but all is credited to God’s grace, “so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:9).
Cheap grace is, again with reference to the Sermon on the Mount, the broad gate and road (Matthew 7:13-14). It’s a wide and broad and heavily traveled road because many people, in and out of Christendom, believe they are living some virtuous version of a religious life, wherein they are loving others, giving to others, sacrificing – all of it behind the religious assumption and pretense that God owes them after they extend those loving actions to others. But the grace of God, the kingdom of God, the King of the kingdom, is not in the religion business. Cheap grace proposes a quid pro quo relationship – we do something religious, righteous and honorable act and then, according to Christ-less cheap grace religion, God does something for us. That’s cheap – it uses the word “grace” but denies the power thereof. Cheap grace, as I read Matthew 7:13-14 leads to destruction – for it posits that something a human can religiously perform and accomplish has eternal value. That idea is bogus and will eventually go up in smoke.
Costly grace is the narrow gate and road (Matthew 7:13-14) that leads to life – the Jesus Way. Jesus is, of course, “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Costly grace is surrender – it is admission that while humans are capable of acts of love, only acceptance of Jesus who can and will do what humans can never do produces the love of God at the “whole different level” of “the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
Costly grace is costly because it is the love of God demonstrated in a once and for all way and manner on the Cross of Christ. The love of God, his mercy and his grace, is priceless, incredibly expensive and costly so that only God can give it, as he fully illustrated on the Cross.
Costly grace is just that, for humans, because it involves humility, the mind of Christ… it means that we humans must stop pretending that we can bargain with God, that we can cause him to do something we want him to, that we can earn his love (or for those who realize his love is free some believe at least they can earn more of it – another false religious proposition).
We cannot name it and claim it with God for we have no currency, no spiritual riches, no treasures to offer him, nor will we ever be able to earn enough in a gazillion life times to, as some within Christendom say, “unleash” or “activate” God’s love. Costly grace is costly to humans because it demands that we are willing to die in Christ, we are willing to give up all our ideas of being some kind of an equal partner with God and in our complete and utter submission to God we are willing to become a new creation, a new child of God and leave the “old man” (Paul’s term) behind.
Cheap grace is the old man. Costly grace is the new man, in Christ, and no one enters the kingdom of God unless they are new, born anew (John 3:5-8). Costly grace is costly to humans because it means we realize that we can do nothing” (John 15:5) of spiritual/eternal consequence. Cheap grace proposes some kind of counterfeit, adulterated religious relationship wherein humans are both followers of the law and of grace. Costly grace means Christ followers follow grace alone. Faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone.
In a truly shallow attempt (beyond that, sinister and heretical) to demean the grace of God some say that grace allows people to take advantage of God by not earning their keep, mowing the spiritual yard, making their own beds, taking out the trash, etc. The very definition of a Christ-follower means that love will characterize their lives. God’s grace is not present in a life of a person who makes void God’s grace by pretending they are filled with grace when all they are doing is living out their own vanity, lust and greed. The grace of God “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:12). Costly grace is one and the same as following Christ, it is one and the same as Christ-centered faith.
Hope this helps clarify the perspective we have on God’s amazing grace, though we admit we have much to learn, as we still, in this flesh, as Paul says of the love of God that never fails, “we see only a reflection, as in a mirror…” (1 Corinthians 13:12).