29 December, 2008

An Abundance of Cheap Grace Today

Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church. Our struggle today is for costly grace.

Cheap grace means grace as a bargain basement goods, cut rate forgiveness, cut rate comfort, cut rate sacrament; grace as the churches in exhaustible pantry from which it is doled out by careless hands without hesitation or limit. It is grace without a price, without costs. It is said that the essence of grace is that the bill for it is paid in advance for all time. Everything can be had for free, courtesy of that paid bill. The price paid is infinitely great and therefore the possibilities of taking advantage of and wasting grace are also infinitely great. What would grace be, if it were not cheap grace?

Cheap grace means grace as doctrine, as principle, as system. It means forgiveness of sins as a general truth; it means God’s love as merely a Christian ideal of God. Those who affirm it have already had their sins forgiven. The church that teaches this doctrine of grace thereby confers such grace upon itself. The world finds in this church a cheap cover up for its sins, for which it shows no remorse and from which it has even less desire to be set free. Cheap grace is, thus, denial of God’s living Word, denial of the incarnation and of the world of God. Cheap grace means justification of sin but not of the sinner. Because grace alone does everything, everything can stay in its old ways. “Our Actions is in vain”. The world remains world and we remain sinners ‘even in the best of lives”. Thus, the Christian should live the same way the world does. IN all things the Christian should go along with the world and not venture to live a different life under grace from that under sin! The Christian better not rage against grace or defile that glorious cheap grace by proclaiming anew a servitude to the letter of the bible in an attempt to live an obedient life under the commandments of Jesus Christ! The world is justified by grace, therefore---because this grace is so serious! Because this irreplaceable grace should not be opposed---the Christian should live just like the rest of the world. Of course, a Christian would like to do something exceptional! Undoubtedly it must be the most difficult enunciation not to do and to live like the world. But the Christian has to do it, has to practice such self denial so there that is no difference between Christian life and worldly life. The Christian has to let grace truly be grace enough so that the world does not lose faith in cheap grace, ...

The Christian need not follow Christ since the Christian is comforted by cheap grace! That is cheap grace as justification of sin but not justification of the contrite sinner who turns away from sin and repents. It is not forgiveness of sin which separates those who sinned from sin. Cheap grace is that grace which we bestow on ourselves.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship: Costly Grace

As I was re-reading these words of Bonhoeffer, I was thinking of how we have continued to make cheap the Grace of our Lord...His precious blood... in how we overlook sin and and even excuse continual sin in the Body of Christ. We have learned little from the examples of history. I am not speaking politically but generally in how we view Grace in most churches today.

Just attend any mainstream church today and mention the devastation of sin and wait for the response. You are likely to hear about forgiveness first. How we are to just blanket forgive and forget all sin. Rarely will folks have a discussion on the consequences of continual, unrepentant sin of those who profess Christ. How can we discuss that when we are all sinners, ourselves?
I once had a woman in my Sunday school class tell me we should not make a pedophile sit on the back row and treat him badly if he showed up at church. We should forgive him, she declared. She never once mentioned repentance or even consequences for this heinous act. I had to wonder if she would invite him to babysit her kids. She actually thought her view of 'grace' and forgiveness was loving and Christlike. Could we at least inquire if there has been real repentance?

My question is this: Do we not care if people burn in hell? Maybe we have ceased to believe that folks who profess Christ as Savior and who deliberately and willfully sin, may not be saved at all (Hebrews 10: 26-31). Maybe we think they are just having a lifetime of bad hair days? Maybe we do not understand sanctification and that unless we grow in Holiness, we will not see God.

If we truly love people, why do we continually work to send them to hell by excusing willful and deliberate sin and applying cheap grace where a call to repentance is in order?

Today as I was reading scripture, I ran across this verse which I have read a zillion times but paid little attention to:

14Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. 15Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. (2 Timothy 4)

Why didn't Paul write that Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm but I forgive him anyway? And Timothy, if you happen to see him, don't say anything about it, just welcome him with open arms.

Worse still, would Timothy have responded: "Well Al has always been nice to me. I mean he has faults and we all sin. After all, sinners sin." Or perhaps he could have told Paul he was gossiping about Al. After all, Timothy was not there and did not have a first hand witness to events.

Strange how we respond to such warnings exactly like that!

We know that Timothy would have heeded Paul's counsel on this piece of information. We do not know if Alexander was a false convert in the Body or an informer. Somehow, he was in a position to do something evil to Paul. The only information Paul gives is that Alexander resisted 'our words' and did great harm. Paul thought it was necessary to warn Timothy in a letter. Why? To protect the Body of Christ.

What did Paul do? He warned others about this person who did evil to one of Christ's followers . Then, he left the vengeance to God.

What can we learn from this?


jul said...

Hmmm. Seems so many are suspicious of grace! But it is only true grace that has the power to set us free from the bondage of sin, and yes, grace is to us completely free and unearned. Not that it had no cost and was not earned though! Jesus paid for it, earned it and freely bestows it on any who simply put their trust in him and his love. What does the Spirit convict unbelievers of? Of their unbelief in Jesus, because apart from him there is none righteous.

So what do you think the answer to cheap grace is? (By the way, grace that doesn't empower us and transform us is no grace at all!)

Is the answer going back to some sort of Law?

By the way, I just barged in here my first time on your blog. I followed the link from SGMsurvivors...hope you don't mind. I thought this post was really interesting.

Lin said...

Hi Jul,

Welcome. No, I am not one bit suspicious of Grace. I suspect, if you came from SGM, you probably have a different perspective on Grace coming from a place where it was so legalistic. (Not the blog...the church system of SGM)

And you answered for me when you said:

By the way, grace that doesn't empower us and transform us is no grace at all!

That is exactly right. Cheap Grace is when we use Grace as a license to sin or cover over sin. When there is no change. No regeneration of the heart.

Hebrews 10: 26-31
1 John 5

Blessings to you

ezekiel said...

Hello Lin!

Romans 6 is a good reference as well. See 6:14-15


Abby said...

thanks for posting this. i was really having trouble understanding what you said about cheap grace, and my husband has spent the last 20 minutes with me here trying to help me understand. I think I mostly understand now what you are saying, and I agree with what you said.

You said:"If we truly love people, why do we continually work to send them to hell by excusing willful and deliberate sin and applying cheap grace where a call to repentance is in order?"

I think the answer to this is two-fold.
1. We don't truly love people the way we claim to. Loving people as Christians means loving them so much that we are devastated by their unbelief. I'm saying this as a general statement about Christians, because we have gone astray from what Jesus taught. Jesus loved everyone around him so much, that when he looked at the city of Jerusalem from far off, his heart broke. This is the kind of love we should have for "the world."
2. We are worried about offending people. Plain and simple. I know of some hellfire and brimstone preachers who have done more harm than good, and the other preachers feel that they need to "go soft" on people.

But this is a compromise we can't afford. I think you can be an effective evangelist without railing about sin to the point of terrifying people into heaven. This isn't true salvation, honestly, because it's not a heart-change. Real repentance is Holy Spirit-led, not fear-driven.
On the other hand, a preacher who never talks about repentance and rarely gives a call to turn to Jesus is putting not only his audience, but himself, in a precarious position.

You mentioned 2 Timothy 4. I've had people in the past give me warnings about people in the church, and I've responded in my head just like your description, but guess what? I got burned, because those people did exactly as I was warned. I'm going to be a lot more careful in the future if I'm warned against trusting someone (particularly an old friend)!

But, I'm a nosy person, and I would probably start asking a lot of questions. If this was a public figure, I might be able to find out more on my own without it looking like gossip, but on the other hand, it has always happened in small groups with me, so I have really had to learn to trust the right people (one of those people who warned me was my own mother).

In closing, again thanks for the clarification, because I was truly confused (!) and this post has blessed me. Thank you.

Lin said...

Thanks Abby. I think the problem of understanding cheap grace arises when one comes from a very legalistic fundie background. What they experienced was not cheap grace but legalism. Many times NO grace at all. However, there IS cheap grace for SOME in a very legalistic environment. It is usually reserved for the one that thinks they are in authority over others.

There is a danger of going overboard on the opposite of legalism which is cheap grace. I have come to the conclusion that the Christian life is a tightrope walk. a very narrow road. Some groups focus on the Cross to the exclusion of the resurrection which they do not deny but rarely proclaim. Other groups focus on the resurrection and downplay what happened on the Cross focusing almost exclusively on forgiveness, ignoring that repentance is required for forgiveness. These are the folks that may refer to sin as mere mistakes. They like to quote 1 John 1 but ignore 1 John 5.

In one, we get legalism and the other, cheap grace.

The only way not to veer off that narrow road between is abiding in Christ. Easier said than done, eh? I know it is for me!

ezekiel said...

Spurgeon devotional...

“Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.”
- Rom_3:31
When the believer is adopted into the Lord’s family, his relationship to old Adam and the law ceases at once; but then he is under a new rule, and a new covenant. Believer, you are God’s child; it is your first duty to obey your heavenly Father. A servile spirit you have nothing to do with: you are not a slave, but a child; and now, inasmuch as you are a beloved child, you are bound to obey your Father’s faintest wish, the least intimation of his will. Does he bid you fulfil a sacred ordinance? It is at your peril that you neglect it, for you will be disobeying your Father. Does he command you to seek the image of Jesus? Is it not your joy to do so? Does Jesus tell you, “Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”? Then not because the law commands, but because your Saviour enjoins, you will labour to be perfect in holiness. Does he bid his saints love one another? Do it, not because the law says, “Love thy neighbour,” but because Jesus says, “If ye love me, keep my commandments;” and this is the commandment that he has given unto you, “that ye love one another.” Are you told to distribute to the poor? Do it, not because charity is a burden which you dare not shirk, but because Jesus teaches, “Give to him that asketh of thee.” Does the Word say, “Love God with all your heart”? Look at the commandment and reply, “Ah! commandment, Christ hath fulfilled thee already-I have no need, therefore, to fulfil thee for my salvation, but I rejoice to yield obedience to thee because God is my Father now and he has a claim upon me, which I would not dispute.” May the Holy Ghost make your heart obedient to the constraining power of Christ’s love, that your prayer may be, “Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight.” Grace is the mother and nurse of holiness, and not the apologist of sin.

Lin said...

” Grace is the mother and nurse of holiness, and not the apologist of sin."

Wow. That is worth a whole blog post. thanks so much, Ez, for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if I really follow you... on the one hand it is constantly quoted that one can't "earn their way into heaven" and that no amount of good works will get us there. And yet, on the other hand, it is also said on your blog, that an intergral part of salvation is not sinning.

You have bible passages that state that we can't say we are without sin, because that simply isn't true. Yet, you want to say that unless we are without sin, Jesus' sacrifice means nothing for us. I ask you, then, what was the point of Jesus' suffering if our good works get us into heaven and our lack of them gets us into hell?

Lin said...

Good questions, Anon.

In order to understand this we have to take all teaching in context.

1 john says that if we say we do not sin we are a liar.

but then, look at 1 Jn 5:

18We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. 19We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

Seems like a contradiction, huh?

The look at Hebrews 12

14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord

Without Holiness, we will not see God?

I could quote many more like this but the point is we just do not understand sin. And the reason, I think is that we do not understand salvation. It is a supernatural work of God. When we are saved we are not only Justified we are Regenerated. We now hate the sin we once loved. Our relationship to sin changes.

Once saved, our 'good works' flow from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. If we are saved then we are being sanctified and are growing in Holiness.

Our very thoughts are sinful. We fight that daily in repentance. Think about it. Our very thoughts are sinful so we can never say we do not sin even as we grow in Holiness.

But if we continue to willfully sin, knowing the truth then there is no sacrifice. Hebrews 10:26-31