Grace is not an easy concept for most people. To some, it sounds like what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” From his The Cost of Discipleship,
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.
But grace is not cheap grace. Like the Pearl of Great Price (Matt 14:45-46), it costs everything, even though it’s free.
(Mat 13:45-46 ESV) “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
Which I admit is a little confusing. Others water down grace by insisting that we must add the Law of Christ (Gal 6:2) to grace, so that grace must be earned. Call this Works-Grace, but this is a contradiction in terms. (The Law of Christ is really the command to love our neighbors in response to God’s love for us, not a list of laws on how to run a church.)
(Rom 5:17 ESV) 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Rom 6:23 ESV) 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So grace is free but costs everything. But isn’t a result of works. Paul says it all very simply in —
(Eph 2:8-10 ESV) 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
It’s not of our doing, but it’s in order for us to do good works. Hmm … I find it best to start by analogizing to human relationships. We too quickly try to interpret as those these principles were laws, and so, quite naturally, we impose a legalistic reading. But God urges us to understand him in relational terms. He is our Abba Father. Jesus is the husband of the church. We are Christ’s body. The church is the household of God. And human relationships don’t follow laws. They are built on love. So imagine that a man adopts a child who lives in the garbage dumps of Rio. How much does the child have to pay for the adoption? What does he have to do to be adopted? It’s free. No cost at all. He does not have to do anything. If you’re familiar with adoptions of older children — no longer infants — well, they can be difficult. The child is inevitably desperate for parental love, but the child doesn’t know how to trust his new father not to abandon or beat him. And so he rebels by testing his father’s love. He acts out. And it’s incredibly difficult for the father to see this child on whom he’s lavished love and gifts not know how to accept it all. But good parents know that love will prevail, they love their new child through all the rebellion and acting out, and the child learns about a different, better kind of parent — a parent who loves him even when he’s bad — but also loves him enough to set boundaries and impose discipline. Almost always, it works out. The child learns to accept love — and then he learns to reciprocate love. He can’t help himself. We are made to respond to love with love. The child’s love is unlearned, prone to mistakes and misunderstanding, but deep from the heart — and the father accepts and celebrates it in all its imperfection. Now, sadly, I also know of adoptions that went badly. It’s a distinct minority of cases, but it happens. Sometimes an adopted child (and this is true of biologic children, too) rebels to the point that the parent is forced to disown the child. It doesn’t happen quickly or easily. And it’s always preceded with months, even years, of prayer and desperation. But it happens when the child refuses to obey or even to love his adopting father. Rarely. But it happens. When I was baptized, it was in a church that taught a legalistic Christianity. We found it hard to accept that God really could love us so much that it would be free. We kept trying to hang a price tag on ourselves. Some of my fellow church members rebelled — and ultimately left Christianity altogether. Some stayed because they got to know God better and learned to love him for who is he is, not for fear of what he might do. Others stayed but remained in fear — in misery. And a few hung a high price on themselves and decided they were actually holy enough to have earned it with their superior Christianity. It happens. Back to our analogy of the adopted child. When a child finally learns to love his adopting father — reciprocating the father’s sacrificial love — the child takes on an incredible burden. Loving someone is never free because loving someone means wanting what’s best for the other person — which is expensive. Consider the man who falls in love with a woman and gives his wife everything he earns, working at a job just for the pleasure of spending the money he makes on his wife. Consider the parents who bring a baby into the world just to lavish the baby with love, financial support, an education, and the incredibly difficult gift of raising her into mature adulthood. Love sacrifices because love takes more pleasure in the other person’s happiness. If we truly understand what God has done for us, we love him and his happiness becomes more important than our own. It’s more accurate to say that his happiness makes us happy. This is the attitude that leads people to travel the world in near poverty to be missionaries, to serve as ministers in congregations, to give of their means to support their congregations, to volunteer in church ministry, to seek and to save the lost. So how expensive is the love the child received from his father? It’s free. But it cost him everything because when he learned to love his father, he became willing to do anything for his father. But it was a price he was delighted to pay. To him, it was bargain. Indeed, free, because what he had to pay was of no value to him. In fact, he gave up nothing that was important to him — like the man who bought the Pearl of Great Price.
(Phi 3:7-11 ESV) 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.