Dietrich Bonhoeffer: cheap grace vs. costly grace

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian. He was staunchly opposed to the Nazis. Arrested in 1943, he was later implicated in being a conspirator in an assassination plot against Hitler. Bonhoffer was executed in 1945.

His writings have been influential in the 73 years since his death. Bonhoffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship” is a book that examined what it means to truly be a follower of Christ.

One of the ideas I really love from this book is what Bonhoffer calls “cheap grace” compared to “costly grace.” Cheap grace essentially takes sin lightly. If sin is taken lightly, then the salvation which Jesus purchased is also cheap. Costly grace comes from a realization of how great our sin was, and how great the gospel is.

I consider this to be Bonhoffer’s greatest contribution to Christian thought.

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

“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 go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

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 cost 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.”

The gospel makes much of sin. Because Jesus died to redeem us from our sins, to pay the penalty for our sins. And the more we can appreciate sin, the more we can appreciate grace. The more we can appreciate the gospel and what Jesus died. Because he didn’t die a horrific death on the cross to show us that sin didn’t matter. We see the cost of sin at the cross.”

Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.



Categories: Commentary, Faith, Gospel, Theology

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