Cheap Grace versus Costly Grace (An Essay Written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

We live in a world where many pulpits are teaching “cheap grace” — an imitation form of grace. In the essay below, WW2 martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, compares “cheap grace” with true and costly grace, that is able to save the soul

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church. We are fighting today for 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 means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian “conception” of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins. The church which holds the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part in that grace. 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.

Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. Instead of following Christ, let the Christian enjoy the consolations of grace! That is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant 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. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

A Costly Calling

Costly grace, on the other hand, 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 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 (Matthew 7:7-8).

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” (1 Corinthians 6:20), and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Costly grace is the incarnation of God.

Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world. It is therefore the living word, the Word of

God, which He speaks as it pleases Him. Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus; it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).

The Terrible Price of Cheap Grace

Cheap grace has been disastrous to our own spiritual lives. Instead of opening up the way to Christ it has closed it. Instead of calling us to follow Christ, it has hardened us in our disobedience. Perhaps we had once heard the gracious call to follow Him, and had at this command even taken the first few steps along the path of discipleship in the discipline of obedience, only to find ourselves confronted by the word of cheap grace.

The only effect that such a word could have on us was to bar our way to progress, and seduce us to the mediocre level of the world, quenching the joy of discipleship by telling us that we were following a way of our own choosing, that we were spending our strength and discipling ourselves in vain—all of which was not merely useless, but extremely dangerous. After all, we were told, our salvation had already been accomplished by the grace of God.

The smoking flax was mercilessly extinguished. It was unkind to speak to men like this, for such a cheap offer could only leave them bewildered and tempt them from the way to which they had been called by Christ. Having laid hold on cheap grace, they were barred forever from the knowledge of costly grace. Deceived and weakened, men felt that they were strong now that they were in possession of this cheap grace—whereas they had in fact lost the power to live the life of discipleship and obedience. The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more Christians than any commandment of works.

Happy are they who know that discipleship simply means the life which springs from grace, and that grace simply means discipleship.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who was hanged in April of 1945 for allegedly taking part in the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer publicly spoke-out against Adolf Hitler soon after his rise to power, and today, Bonhoeffer is still remembered for his courage in speaking out against the tyranny of the Nazis and their leader. His writings on Christianity’s role in the secular world have become widely influential.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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How to Inherit Eternal Life

The bible teaches us that to inherit eternal life, we need to take the following 4 steps:

Step 1:   Believe in Jesus Christ

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)

For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. (John 6:40, NIV)

He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” (Acts 16:30-31, NIV)

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved… for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-10, 13, NIV)

Step 2:   Repent / forsake all your sins

I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5:32, NIV)

But unless you repent, you too will all perish. (Luke 13:3b, NIV)

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37-38, NIV)

Step 3:   Be baptised

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37-38, NIV)

Step 4:   Lead a pure life (by constantly yielding to the Holy Spirit)

To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. (Romans 2:7, NIV)

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Romans 6:22, NIV)

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8, NIV)

Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. (1 John 3:15, NIV)

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephesians 5:3-5, NIV)

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:19-24, NIV)

Will Christians Go to Heaven if They Keep on Sinning

Sorry to say this, but the answer is “no”.

People who claim to be Christians, but who persist in their pet sin(s), are not true believers. True followers of Jesus Christ simply do not make a practice of sinning:

We know that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning, for God’s Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them. (1 John 5:18, NLT)

The bible warns that there are many who fellowship within church walls, but whose conduct exposes them to be really enemies of Christ, and whose destiny is damnation:

For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction (Philippians 3:18-19a, NLT)

The bible warns us not to be deceived, that a person (regardless of whether he/she professes to be a Christian) will reap what he/she sows, and that those who sows to please their flesh will reap destruction:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8, NIV)

It is therefore important for the disobedient Christian to stop sinning, to put off the old self, and to put on the new one:

22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24; NIV)

How to Know If Someone Truly Believes in Jesus Christ

A young man confessed to a young lady that he had been her secret admirer, that he loved her and hoped for an opportunity to advance their relationship.

The young lady admitted that she also had feelings for him, but wanted to be sure that he truly loved her.

What followed next were bouquets of flowers, gifts and countless of love letters that were sent by the young man to the young lady’s home.

Belief, just as love, is intangible; it’s reasonable for the individual (or even God) to require proof of its genuineness.

To that end, how can one know if someone truly, genuinely believe in Jesus Christ?

The major hallmark of the individual who genuinely believes in Jesus Christ is that he/she is born again (i.e. born of God):

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God (1 John 5:1, NIV; emphasis mine)

And what does it mean to be born again? It means to take on the new divine nature, and to as if one has become a new person:

 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17, NLT)

There are three major hallmarks of those who truly believe in Jesus Christ, and who are born again:

1. They do not make a practice of sinning

We know that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning, for God’s Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them. (1 John 5:18, NLT)

2. They overcome the world (as opposed to being enamoured by it)

for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. (1 John 5:4, NIV)

3. They have love for fellow believers

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7, NIV)

Overall, although belief is intangible, it can be proven. It is like the wind — although it cannot be seen, it can be felt (and indeed, the Lord Jesus Christ used that analogy to explain those who had truly believed and been born again).

What Does It Mean to Be Born Again

In an earlier article, I had touched on the importance of being born again as a condition for inheriting eternal life (Proof text — John 3:3 [NLT; with emphasis mine]: “Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.””). Now, let me show you what it means to be born again.

1. It starts with hearing the Word of God that is preached to you

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God…. And this is the word that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:22-25, NIV; emphasis mine)

2. Merely listening to the Word of God would do you little good unless you obey it

22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:22-23, NIV; emphasis mine)

3. And obedience leads to your purification/sanctification:

22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:22-23, NIV; emphasis mine)

To put it in another way, being born again involves a change in your nature:

22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24; NIV)

Now, you may wonder to yourself: “Doesn’t that take a lot of human effort?” And indeed, you may know of people who tried to change their ways, but who ultimately fell short.

Being born again does require one’s effort, however, you are not relying on your human strength alone. Rather, it is like you are co-operating with God to bring about that needed change in your life, something which is not impossible for those of us who truly believe in Jesus Christ, because “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts” (Galatians 4:6, NIV).

There are four major hallmarks among those who are born again:

1. They believe that Jesus is Christ

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. (1 John 5:1, NIV)

2. They do not continue to sin

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. (1 John 5:18, NIV)

3. They overcome the world

for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. (1 John 5:4, NIV)

4. They have love for fellow believers

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7, NIV)

Do you wish to be born again? You can do so right now by asking the Lord Jesus Christ to come into your life.

An Indian Construction Worker’s “Road to Damascus” Experience in Singapore — As Told to Me by the Man Himself

One evening, a few years ago, as I was walking along a quiet stretch of road nearby a construction site in Sembawang, I saw a young Indian man sitting along the pedestrian path, reading a book under the street light.

Intrigued, I stood by him to see what he was reading. It was a very worn and well-thumbed bible, albeit the pages seemed intact.

Seeing the young man’s diligence in reading the bible under poor lighting conditions (and he was reading it aloud, albeit quietly), I perceived that there was something special about this young man, and sat next to him.

“Are you a Christian?” I asked, and he shook his head in the affirmative.

We then told me that prior to his conversion, he was a “bad” person, who drank, gambled and got into fights easily.

He said that in India, he had borrowed a lot of money in order to travel to Singapore to work as a constructor worker.

He told me that he had a wife and a child in India, but prior to his conversion, he did not really care about them. Instead, he spent most of his income on gambling and drinks, and seldom sent money back home to his family.

His life took a turn when he was cheated of all his savings by a local Chinese man. The savings were meant to pay off his large debts in India when he eventually returned home, and when he realised he had lost it all, he decided to end his life.

So, with the money that he had on him, he purchased a large amount of illegal ‘toddy’ (palm wine), and went to a dark, forested area in Woodlands, intending to kill himself through an excessive drinking spree alone. (He did not tell me the specific place he had been, but there had previously been a report of a dark, secluded and forested area in Woodlands, which had been raided due to illegal vice activities between foreign construction workers and foreign women).

In the dark, as he was drinking himself to death, he suddenly saw a bright light in the sky.

He thought that he was hallucinating, but as the light grew brighter and illuminated everything that was around him, he realised that it wasn’t the moon that was causing this, and that he was not hallucinating either.

He quivered as he asked, “Who are you?”

A voice from above replied, “I am the Lord Jesus Christ.”

He said the light then disappeared, and as he was trying to make sense of this mysterious event, he suddenly realised that his body felt completely well, not the slightest bit affected by the excessive alcohol he had consumed.

Although he did not understand it, he felt at peace, and slept alone at that place, before returning the next day to his workplace.

He told me that prior to this event, his fellow Indian colleagues who had converted to Christianity while working in Singapore had tried sharing the gospel to him. However, he was resistant to them.

The weekend after this incident, on his own initiative, he went to a church in Little India to get baptised.

After his conversion, he stopped drinking, and slowly, not only did he save enough money to pay off all his debts, he was also able to buy a new house for his family.

Seeing the change in him, his wife also became a Christian, and although he and his wife face much opposition, he said he was determined to share the gospel and his testimony to his relatives and friends.

While in the past, he spent his spare time doing ‘bad’ things, following his conversion, he spent his spare time in church, or encouraging other believers, or praying and reading the bible.

When I probed about his discipline of prayer and reading the bible, he said that if he didn’t have to work, he would spend a few hours in the evening doing this, and would rise early in the morning, and pray for about an hour before starting work.

When I asked him how he prayed, he gamely demonstrated by kneeling on the ground and opening his palms to heaven.

That was the first and last time that I met that young man (largely my fault, I very seldom walk that stretch of road). Seeing how disciplined he was in prayer and reading the bible, I have confidence that he is still walking with Jesus. The young man is a good example of what it means to be born again — of how someone so ‘bad’ (in his own words), can be so transformed, as if into a totally different person.

Is Believing in Jesus Christ the Same as Being Born Again?

In the 70-80s, probably due to the influence of Billy Graham’s international ministry, it used to be fashionable to ask someone: “Are you born again?”, as a way to enquire whether they were a believer.

Hence, among most Christians circles, it might be taken for granted that one is born again if one attends church or becomes a believer.

However, it seems to me that being born again is a very distinct event from believing in Jesus Christ.

Indeed, I am concerned that many who sincerely claim to believe in Jesus Christ have actually not been born again.

The reason for my concern is this — in John 3, the Lord Jesus Christ told Nicodemus that “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again“.

In other words, the Lord Jesus Christ did not explicitly promise eternal life to those who merely professed a belief in Him, but rather, to those who are born again.

If you think along these lines, the following verses in Matthew 7 would make perfect sense (verses 21-23; NIV):  21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

The word ‘evildoers’ suggests that the people whom the Lord Jesus Christ would reject are those who have been unchanged by His grace, stuck in their old, evil ways right up to the very last day of their lives.

The born again experience isn’t just an intellectual experience; it is a tangible one. This explains John 3:8 (NIV) — “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” — although one cannot see the wind, one is affected by it. Under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, the true, born-again believer in Jesus Christ does not remain unaffected and unchanged in his sinful condition. Rather, he/she is moved to repentance and becomes like (and transforms to) a new person, a new creation. This is why the scripture declares:  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV).