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….
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…. 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.
Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. [Emphasis mine] ‘All for sin could not atone.’ Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under 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.Bonhoeffer is often the chosen saint of liberal Christianity. He is, after all, the great martyr who stands before the oppressive force of fascism, racism, and oppression. It often seems incomprehensible that orthodox Christianity is as concerned with justice as is the liberal Christianity ever poised to reject constraint of all kinds and shapes. So Bonhoeffer is often seen through the light of his doubts, fears, and worries as if to justify then the lens of doubt and uncertainty through which liberalism sees the Scriptures.
But the same Bonhoeffer who wrestles with his doubts and fears rejects the very child of liberalism -- the cheap grace that justifies the sin but not the sinner, that freely offers forgiveness without the call to repentance, that baptizes without accountability to those who come or bring their children to the font, that opens the table of the Lord to all who would come yet does not ask faith in the words of Christ, confession of the mystery of the Real Presence, and an examined heart that desires by the aid of the Spirit to amend the sinful life.
We who have come through Holy Week to Easter have seen that there is no such thing as cheap grace. We can ignore its cost but that does not make it cheap or without price. What cannot be valued (at least in usual currencies) is not without value. Grace is costly -- if you have to ask, you cannot afford it. So it is not a question of cheap or free but who will pay... or rather, who can pay? Jesus only can pay its priceless cost so that He might give this gift beyond price to you and to me.
Yet when we take what is so precious and treat it as common and ordinary, we defile not only the gift and the Giver but also ourselves. When we accept the gift but take no responsibility for how it is used and lived out in daily life, we make it a token or a shadow of its real self and value. This is what Bonhoeffer is driving at -- a resurrection without a cross, grace without discipline or obedience of faith, and justification of the sin without addressing the sinner at all.