Cheap Grace vs. Costly Grace :: by Grant Phillips

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in The Cost of Discipleship published in 1937 said of “cheap grace” and “costly grace;”

“Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. 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. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?

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 Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will 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.

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. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

In our 21st century mindset the costly grace of God has been downgraded to a cheap grace that requires nothing but a token acknowledgement of belief in Jesus upon which we receive all His blessings.

Some may argue that to apply anything but “faith (belief)” in Jesus is to add works, but the question must be asked, “What are we implying when we say “faith or belief?” There is no doubt that we are saved by grace alone and not of works, for the Scriptures say,

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

I have brought this subject up before, but there are those who still just don’t get it. I can understand why God’s grace should never be polluted with our works. If we depend one iota on our works for salvation, we negate any salvation we could receive from a holy God.

“Grace are ye saved…through faith…not of yourselves…gift of God…not of works…lest any man should boast” (Ephesian 2:8-9)

That’s pretty clear. God accepts our faith in His Son and by His grace saves us apart from any work on our part. We cannot boast because it is a gift from God. We didn’t work for it. We didn’t earn it. It is a gift from God because of our faith in Jesus.

But wait, there’s more. We can’t leave off verse ten since it is a continuation of verses eight and nine.

“We are his workmanship…created in Christ Jesus…unto good works…God before ordained…we should walk in them.” (Ephesian 2:10)

If our faith/belief were legitimate, then we have been saved by God’s grace alone … AND now “we are His workmanship.” “We are created in Christ Jesus.” “We are created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” God has, prior to our gift of salvation, “ordained that we should walk in them.”

If we have been saved, we will produce good works. The Apostle James says,

“What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?

If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,

and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?

Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”

You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.

But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?

You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected;

and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God.

You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?

For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (James 2:14-26 NASB)

Good works do not produce salvation, but salvation will most definitely produce good works. If there has not been a spiritual change in our life, we need to call upon God and see what is wrong. Two questions jump off the page: (1) Am I actually saved or (2) Am I saved but out of fellowship with God?

We often point to Acts 16:31 “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”

“See! Just believe on Jesus and you’re saved!” That isn’t what is says. It says, “Believe on the LORD (emphasis mine) Jesus.” Anybody can believe on Jesus, but is Jesus their Lord? In the last sentence of James 2:14 James says, “Can THAT (emphasis mine) faith save him?” If the faith is real, Jesus is Lord. If the faith is not real (pseudo faith), Jesus is not Lord.

If our faith in Jesus is like the faith of the thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43), then Jesus is the Lord of our life.

However, if it is like the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18ff), we have allowed something else to come between God and us. We want salvation, but only on our terms. Our faith is not real. At best, it is shallow and without earnest meaning.

It is very easy to get the cart before the horse when it comes to faith and works, and it must be understood that works do not produce faith. However, faith mostly certainly produces good works.

God’s grace, that cost Him so much, provides us the GIFT of salvation when our faith rests in His Son Jesus. From our devotion to Him, we gladly serve Him. He is our Savior and He is our Lord.

If Jesus isn’t important enough in our lives to serve Him, then for the sake of our eternal soul, we need to immediately do an inventory of our spiritual condition. We say we are a Christian. Are we serving Him? If not, get with God in prayer and find out why, and get it resolved. Let us not put off today what we can do tomorrow. We may not be here tomorrow. Do it now.

Read again what Dietrich Bonhoeffer said about cheap grace and costly grace, and ask yourself “Where do I stand?” That “gift” cost God the sacrifice of His only begotten Son. It wasn’t cheap, but it is free to all who call upon Him with a repentant heart.

Grant Phillips