Cheap Grace

This is the second post in a series on “A Call to Obedience.”

In our introduction to this series, we claimed that there are three broad categories into which our responses to Jesus’ commands might fall, and the first is simply ignoring them.  And as crazy as this might sound at first (and it should), there are many who believe this to be the correct option.  The reason oft-cited is that, if Jesus has indeed paid the price for our sins – past, present, and future – then we are set free from any requirements to obey the law.  Those who chose to continue to obey God’s commands, they might say, are trapped in the throes of legalism, just as the Pharisees were.  This position is called “antinomianism,” meaning a belief that stands against laws.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls it “cheap grace.”

Let us be absolutely clear – antinomianism to be heresy.  Paul dealt with this false teaching in his day and refuted and condemned it clearly, especially in the book of Romans.

What then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means!  How can we who died to sin still live in it? – Romans 6:1,2

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?  By no means! Do you not know…you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? – Romans 6:15,16

In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer expounded upon Paul’s teaching:

Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing…

… In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

Blasphemy, blasphemio in the Greek, means to “speak contemptuously of God or sacred things” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).  The denial of which Bonhoeffer speaks is indeed blasphemy against the Incarnation and the living Word.  It is at its essence blasphemy against God’s worthiness of our worship and service.

While we as pastors call Christ-followers to agree that “cheap grace is the deadly enemy of the church [and we should instead be] fighting today for costly grace” (Bonhoeffer), there is a danger in the second type of response at the opposite end of the spectrum, legalism, into which we begin delving into more deeply on Wednesday.


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