In 1937 German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote what has become a Christian classic book, "The Cost of Discipleship." In it he draws inspiration from Jesus' sermon on the mount. One of the most quoted parts of the book deals with the distinction which Bonhoeffer makes between "cheap" and "costly" grace. According to Bonhoeffer, "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, ultimately - grace without Jesus Christ."
Cheap grace", Bonhoeffer says, is to hear the gospel preached as follows: "Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness." The main defect of such a proclamation is that it contains no demand for discipleship. In contrast to cheap grace, "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. It 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.'"
Bonhoeffer who was a supporter of an anti-Hitler conspiracy was executed at Flossenbürg on April 9, 1945, just 2 weeks before this Nazi concentration camp was liberated by the US Army. In resisting "cheap grace," Bonhoeffer died for his resistance to the Nazi cause and its leader.
All of us are urged in Scripture to be honest with ourselves and to know ourselves well enough to discern if we have any wicked ways (including beliefs I suggest). Peter, in Acts 3:26, concludes, "When God raised up his servant (Jesus), he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways." It can be costly to confront our 'wickedness'. Certainly it tends to make us feel uncomfortable.
What better place to start examining ourselves than by meditating on the sermon on the mount also known as the Beatitudes, as Bonhoeffer did - Matthew 5:1-12
"When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4. ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5. ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6. ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7. ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10. ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11. ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
The notion of "cheap grace" has been used by Mike Lofgren (writing in the USA in 2011) and others to criticize the increasing dominance of the Christian right over the US Republican Party coupled with what he saw as an increasing disregard within the party for other values,
"But there is another, uniquely religious aspect that also comes into play: the predilection of fundamentalist denominations to believe in practice, even if not entirely in theory, in the doctrine of “cheap grace,” a derisive term coined by the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. By that he meant the inclination of some religious adherents to believe that once they had been “saved,” not only would all past sins be wiped away, but future ones, too—so one could pretty much behave as before. Cheap grace is a divine get-out-of-jail-free card. Hence, the tendency of the religious base of the Republican Party to cut some slack for the peccadilloes of candidates who claim to have been washed in the blood of the Lamb and reborn to a new and more Christian life. The religious right is willing to overlook a politician’s individual foibles, no matter how poor an example he or she may make, if they publicly identify with fundamentalist values."
Could this observation explain much of why Trump was elected last year to become 45th US President?
Similarly, Katelyn Beaty writing in Christianity Today recently has warned against the Christian use of "cheap grace" in excusing powerful men guilty of sexual assault. This is an ongoing issue that continues to be addressed on many fronts - witness Cardinal Pell this week returning to Australia to face historic sexual abuse charges.
Let's not rush headlong down the same, 'cheap grace' path that many from the USA and elsewhere seem to be walking, especially this election year in New Zealand. Let us stand up and be counted because we live costly grace and are prepared to pay the price of being modern day disciples of Jesus.
As a final observation, I found it most gratifying today to hear that many new houses are about to be built in the Hutt Valley and many more renovated. The priest and people of St David's, Naenae recently protested strongly about the lack of progress in housing the homeless in the Hutt Valley. Some camped on vacant Housing NZ land near St David's; others joined them on an afternoon protest march around the suburb. It does cost to sit in, lie down, march for justice and to back it up with prayer and action. But God is watching and waiting for signs of radical and costly discipleship before moving, I believe. To God be the glory.
Interim Priest, St Hilda's