What is Grace?


These are the thoughts that occurred to me after reading the life story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his book “The Cost of Discipleship.” He was one of the few Christians in Germany during the World War II who had the courage to oppose Nazi’s evil power and help the persecuted Jews. Because of this, he was arrested and put into a concentration camp. Near the end of the World War II, he was hanged by the Nazis as a traitor. He died calmly, without any fear, but with a complete trust in God. In his life-time, he authored several books, the most famous of which is “The Cost of Discipleship.” Here he combated the cheap grace that was embraced by the mainstream German church. He wrote:

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 cheapjack’s 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! …

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 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…

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 costs 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.

Costly grace is the sanctuary of God; it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs …

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Cost of Discipleship”, pp. 43-45).

Many evangelists preach that we are saved by Grace. But few of them ever present what Grace is. Is Grace like a Christmas gift from Santa Claus, something just for us to “enjoy” with no need to think about responsibility? Is Grace like a free, all you can eat buffet, where everyone can get what they want by simply being in the party, but never need to make any commitment? Is Grace free in a sense that it doesn’t require us to give up anything, all we need to do is to make a wish, say a prayer, or follow a magical formula, then celebrate and say: “We are saved! We are eternally saved!” like some evangelists portray? No! That is not true Grace. That is a cheap grace; it is cheap because it is fake!

True Grace is a totally different reality—much more solemn, much more serious, much more costly. It is when we stand in front of God as a sinner, like a war criminal standing in front of the military court with no place to hide; it is when we are completely guilty and hopelessly ruined; it is when there is nothing we can do to clean ourselves from our guilt, nothing we can offer to reverse the consequence of our sin, and nothing within us that can restore ourselves back to innocence; it is when we are facing eternal death, with a wretched soul; it is when we desperately cast ourselves upon God’s mercy—then God gives us a choice, an alternative of life, a way to renew us so that we can be pardoned and forgiven. This pardon is justified by God’s own sacrifice through the death of his beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This provision of forgiveness comes from His infinite love and mercy towards us. This way of life is to follow Jesus Christ. — This is the true meaning of Grace.

When we clearly see our sin and this reality; when we respond to His love and mercy with our whole heart; when we love Him and submit to Him without reservation; when we put on His yoke daily with joy; when we cast away our old self to be buried so that His new life can grow within us; when we surrender our whole being unto His will—we accept His Grace.

But when we decide not to do so, instead when we love the world more than His kingdom; when we love our self-righteousness more than His divine Words; when we love our flesh more then His Commandment; when we love our earthly life more than His Holy Spirit—we are rejecting His sovereign Grace.

Dear friends, if you want to embrace a cheap grace, you can do so at your own risk. If you want to believe in the costly Grace, then start to seek His truth, and be ready to take up His cross daily to follow Him.


Copyright © 2001 by Come To Christ, All Rights Reserved

This article was written by members of Come To Christ in April, 2000.  You are welcome to circulate this article for nonprofit evangelical or educational purposes.  For any other use, please contact CTC in the administrative section of our forum.