“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. 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, living and incarnate.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Grace can be a dangerous message to preach.
I’m serious — people hear that word “grace” and come up with all sorts of wild and crazy ideas about what it means. Several years ago I heard someone preach about grace and it blew me away. He said, “God doesn’t want you to change for Him to be a part of your life.” To which he added, “God doesn’t even want you to change after He becomes a part of your life.”
After all, is not that what grace is? We are lost and we need God. He saves us because of grace and that is the end of the story.
Grace means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For a lot of people, grace means being let off the hook. We deserve punishment for our sins but because of God’s grace we are saved and thus we are pardoned. So, we do not need to change because grace is not about change — it is about being let off for our crimes.
But is that it? Is that all grace offers us? Is grace merely what gets us out of Hell and into Heaven?
This is what I mean when I say that grace is a dangerous message to preach. People hear that word and it sounds as if it does not require anything of us. The problem is that when I read the story of Jesus I hear Him say, “Go and sin no more.” and, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” I see him turning away those who did not care for the least of society and rebuking those who use religion as a tool for their own self gain. When I read the story of Jesus I do not see a gospel that does not require anything of me. To the contrary, I see a gospel that requires everything from me!
Not only does Jesus call us to change. He calls us to pick up a cross — He calls us to come and die.
This certainly does not sound like the “grace” that many of us have grown accustomed to. How is this even grace at all?
Perhaps, instead of thinking about grace as pardon, what if we were to think of it as healing? Instead of thinking about grace as being let off for our sins, what if we were to think about it as an invitation to a new way to live?
The thing about grace that I’m certain we all can agree on is that it is undeserved. We do not deserve God’s grace. We do not deserve healing. We do not deserve a new life. But, by grace, that is what God offers us. This is not merely being pardoned — this is being transformed into a new person being led by Jesus Christ. Because of grace, we can change.
Grace means: I once was afraid — but now I know there is nothing to fear. I once put others down so that I can be lifted up — but now I humble myself and show love to others. I once was defined by my suffering — but now I am defined by the resurrection of Jesus. I once clung to material possessions — but now I give all that I have for something greater. I once was broken — but now I am healing.
Therefore, grace is not merely God offering pardon but it is an invitation to live life radically different from the rest of the world by picking up our cross and following Jesus to whatever end. It is the denying of ourselves and the “buying in” of the gospel message of Jesus Christ that brings healing and transformation. Grace does not let us off the hook — it demands that we offer up our entire life for the purpose of gaining new life in Christ Jesus.
Grace is a dangerous message to preach — if only we began to understand just how dangerous.
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” – Matthew 16:24-25