Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bonhoeffer on "Cheap Grace"

Reflecting further on this passage in Numbers and people's presumption upon God's graciousness, I thought a few words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Cost of Discipleship would be helpful here.

The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance [at the Cross]; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost [of Christ's death] was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?

He also goes on to define this "cheap grace":
[Cheap grace is] the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs. Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.

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.

I think that viewing justification as God's acceptance of sin instead of the acceptance of the sinner is so insightful. It's so easy for me to think, "Oh, I'm covered by grace; I'm forgiven; I'm set right with God." That's true--I am right before God through faith in Jesus Christ. But my sins never were nor ever will be right. Salvation is eminently personal: I am in fellowship with Christ. But my sins never are. My sins may be expiated, expunged, or propitiated; but they are never justified.


Ezekiel said...

"Salvation is eminently personal: I am in fellowship with Christ."

This is the important point, which Bonhoeffer takes pains to make clear. "Grace" as a system, as an idea always ends up with Paul's hypothetical opponent, "Let's sin that grace may abound!" or Voltaire's vulgar comment, "I love to sin, God loves to forgive--a perfect match!" That discipleship is not a formula, but a relationship, obviates any such nonsense.


p.s. Words from Discipleship are always helpful.

Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

well said Drew

Ted M. Gossard said...

Bonhoeffer saw firsthand the church selling out to the state during his time. But underlying that, surely in his eyes was something of this problem he expounds on here.

To me this maybe is the Anabaptist in Bonhoeffer, or part of it. And along with that the Pietistic element. If you can say this about Bonhoeffer.

I think his point is that there has to be a changed life accompanying our profession of faith. It's not we who are justified so we can go on sinning or doing as we please. Grace that cost Jesus his life, will cost us our very lives as well, if we truly follow.

I need to reread that book. And I hope to read all of Bonhoeffer, and sorry I haven't years ago.