Reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship while listening to some Gospel of Grace teaching is a fun exercise. The contrast between the two is fascinating! Each of Bonhoeffer’s words seem at home with Christ’s words and are so relevant for today. The grace teaching, though it contained some powerful truths, constantly found itself at odds with scripture.
I love the writings of proven saints like Wesley, Finney, Tozer, Ravenhill and Bonhoeffer. These saints fought the good fight and passed down to us a pure faith that stirs us on towards holiness and greater works. On the other hand the teachings of these unproven grace preachers is creating environments where holiness is diminished and sin is not just accepted sometimes it’s celebrated.
Not long ago a grace preacher showed me a picture from his last board meeting. He wanted me to see the six-pack of beer on the table and the cigars in the hands of each elder. (Someone reading this just said, “now that’s the kind of church I want to attend.” Sir, you just made my point!) He was proudly parading his flesh in front of me like a good Christian nudist. I challenged him, he called me judgmental and legalistic.
Another well known pastor said, “you guys are old line holiness, we are modern day grace. We can do anything we want, while you live in bondage.” Really? Picture a man standing at the foot of the Cross as Christ breathes His last breath. As Jesus dies for the sins of all mankind the man takes a cigar from his mouth, raises a can of beer in toast and says, “thanks for your grace.” Seem appropriate? This version of grace would say so. Religion has always been comfortable hanging around the Cross, Christianity is hanging on the Cross!
Bonhoeffer called this “cheap grace” and defined it as “grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner.” He wrote, “cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the Cross, grace without Jesus.”
This “new revelation” of grace is nothing new at all. It’s been around a long time. Today it’s just packaged with a slick suit.
As a pastor, I’ve had to work with several individuals who have been swept up into “cheap grace” doctrines. There are a few “truths” that come up often. I thought it would be relevant to contrast some of those here against Bonhoeffer’s words.
By the way, Bonhoeffer was martyred in a Nazi concentration camp April 8th, 1945. He was a German pastor who was arrested for opposing Hitler and worked towards freeing the Jews. One of his last recorded words were, “This is the end – for me the beginning of life.” I highly recommend, The Cost of Discipleship. This modern day martyr understood the cost of grace!
Cheap Grace Repentance
Cheap grace teaches that repentance is a “work” and therefore unnecessary under grace. It contends that the New Testament use of “repentance” simply means to “change your mind.”
The Greek word for repentance is used 58 times in the New Testament. Do a simple word study and you’ll find a proper context for New Testament repentance. Consider this example in Revelation:
When Jesus dictates his letters to the church, He urges them to “repent” several times. To the church at Ephesus he says, “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent” (Revelation 2:4–5).
This wasn’t a, “change your mind about some things” word from Jesus. He was saying to change your behavior! Go back to the prayer and devotion you once had, otherwise I’m removing your light. Grace for the Ephesians was Jesus warning them to correct themselves, not ignoring the offense.
A better definition for repent would be a change in thinking that results in a change in action. Repent means to turn. I become aware of my sins, I feel sorrow for those sins and I turn to Jesus, I repent and receive His forgiveness. All of this is a work of His grace! He convicts us of sin, He leads us to repentance, He forgives. The work is His, the yielding is mine (2 Corinthians 7:9–10).
Bonhoeffer says of this grace:
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.
Cheap Grace Sin
Cheap grace says when a Christian sins, they sin in the light and has no need to confess that sin because Jesus has already paid the price for all your sins, past, present and future. This teaching creates the notion that confession is a work and therefore, like repentance is unnecessary. The believer is taught to ignore any offense they may have committed and simply enjoy forgiveness.
Bonhoeffer wrote that when a Christian finds grace they do not hear, “Of course you sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness.”
John address the sinning saint in his first letter. He wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 John 1:8–2:2).
There is a difference between a sinner that sins and a son that sins. When a sinner sins, they are acting according to their nature. When a son sins they are acting against their new nature. God doesn’t discipline the sinner, but he does discipline His sons. When my daughter sins she is not removed from my house, nor does she cease being my daughter. My love for her doesn’t change. When she sins, I discipline her. I make her aware of her error and I correct it. I’m looking for her to “repent”. I want her to see both her thinking and action change. God sees His sons and daughter no different (Hebrews 12:5–11).
The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ. Such a man knows that the call to discipleship is a gift of grace, and that the call is inseparable from the grace. But those who try to use this grace as a [exemption] from following Christ are simply deceiving themselves.
Cheap Grace Conviction:
Cheap grace says that God does not convict us of sin because God does not want us to be “sin conscious.” It is not His desire to make us feel bad about ourselves.
Jesus said that, “it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:7–8).
Romans teaches that we are dead to sin and sin is dead to us. Sin has NO POWER over the believer (Romans 6:1-4)! Grace has given us the power to overcome. Romans 8:1 tells us that there is “now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” This verse continues, “no condemnation… [for] those who walk not according to the flesh, but according spirit.” We have a choice. To walk in the flesh, or in the spirit. When we sin, we become very much aware that we still carry around with us the body of a dead man, our flesh. Sin causes us to get into the flesh. The Holy Spirit, because of grace, convicts us of that sin, and leads us towards righteousness.
I am so thankful for the conviction of the Holy Spirit. When I sin, my heart hurts, because I know that sin in me is not Christlike. I desire to be more like Him each day. When I fall, I get right back up. I tell Christ, “I am sorry. That was not like you. Forgive this son who has sinned.” It’s that repentance that takes my mind off the flesh, and back in the spirit.
It is a fatal misunderstanding that… grace offered a general [exemption] from obedience to the command of Jesus, or that it was the great discovery of…God’s forgiving grace automatically conferred upon the world both righteousness and holiness. On the contrary… the Christian’s worldly calling is sanctified only in so far as that calling registers the final, radical protest against the world. Only in so far as the Christian’s secular calling is exercised in the following of Jesus does it receive from the gospel new sanction and justification. It was not the justification of sin, but the justification of the sinner.
Bonhoeffer finishes the first chapter of, The Cost of Discipleship, by saying, “The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more Christians than any commandment of works.”
He says of true grace:
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It 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. Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Multitudes have been lost because they mistakenly believed grace could be obtained without cost. Grace cost Jesus His life upon the Cross, it will cost you no less.