Return to list of all articles or to articles by Medinger.
People throughout the western world have just celebrated the 50th anniversary of V-E Day, the commemoration of the allied victory over Nazi Germany. A few weeks earlier the attention of many Christians around the world was drawn to another 50th anniversary, that of the execution of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. One of the great Christians of the 20th Century, the Nazis hanged Bonhoeffer for his part in a plot to assassinate Hitler only a few weeks before their surrender to the allies.
When Christians think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, what frequently comes to mind is his great book, The Cost of Discipleship, and the concept that he introduced in that book that hit the mark so clearly in the 20th Century -- cheap grace.
The Germany in which Bonhoeffer lived was one in which God was all but dead. The churches, compromised by years of maintaining established status and privilege, and indoctrinated by liberal theologians and philosophers, had so diluted the word of God and the Gospel message, that sin, repentance, and the cross were all but gone from German Christianity. God was love and little else. This was cheap grace as Bonhoeffer defined it:
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without 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.Surely this is as familiar to us in 1995 America as it was to Bonhoeffer in 1935 Germany. It is the warm, fuzzy Christianity of modern Christian liberalism.
But liberal Christianity doesn't have a monopoly on cheap grace. It can enter our thinking through legalism, through poor theology and through faddish psychology. In fact it can come in through any type of thinking that leans too heavily on man's understanding and too lightly on the written word of God. In ministering to homosexual overcomers I have heard it expressed in any number of ways:
I recently met with a man who was a part of Regeneration when it started over 15 years ago. When we started putting the ministry together, he had recently been through a real encounter with God and had a strong sense that God wanted him to leave homosexuality behind. For a while he was doing well, living a chaste life, although I sensed that in some ways his surrender may not have been very deep. Then he started to fall sexually.
At about the same time he went on a week-end retreat sponsored by a well-known Christian renewal movement. Worldwide, through this movement many people have been led to Christ and many others have deepened their walk. The particular group that my friend was with, however, was clearly infected with the virus of cheap grace: "God loves you and accepts you just as you are; there is no reason for you to give up your homosexuality. We are freed from such legalism."
My friend bought into it completely. All love and no law. What an intoxicating message. In fact this form of cheap grace is like a narcotic. It feels so good. Why go onto anything else? My friend has stayed with this view all of these years. The day before I met with him he had just signed papers for his cremation. Because of AIDS, he does not have long to live. There is almost no possibility that he had contacted the virus before he encountered this group.
"There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death (Proverbs 14:12)."
You might call this the liberal form of cheap grace. There is a conservative form too; the one that takes such a mechanical view of salvation that it declares that once you have accepted Christ, it doesn't matter what you do. Of course, most don't state this so bluntly, but underlying their determination to have God and life on their own terms, is the belief that salvation is all that matters, and it can't be taken away. I don't want to get into a debate here on eternal security, but there are two serious problems with this approach. First, such a cavalier attitude to the Lordship of Christ should certainly cause one to question if there has been a valid conversion in the first place. Second, this is a totally self-centered view of our relationship with God, there being no consideration of God's desires.
The third expression of cheap grace -- I can't do any better; God understands -- is offered by many modern theologians. It was the approach of Fr. Charles Curran, the Roman Catholic theologian at Georgetown University whose right to teach was taken away by the Vatican several years ago. He and others today, especially moderate to liberal Protestant theologians will acknowledge that God's plan is heterosexuality, and God has declared that there is to be no sex outside of marriage, but for some people, in their view, this simply isn't possible, and therefore, they should seek committed homosexual relationships and we should support them in such a life.
Of course, the great pitfall in this way of thinking is the deceitful heart. Who can make such a judgment that I have tried my best and failed. You can't because you don't live inside my skin, and I can't trust my own judgment in these situations for obvious reasons. This is why God's standard is for us to be perfect. Even though we will certainly fail at perfection in this life, it is the only standard that we can hold forth unless we believe we can usurp God's role and devise an individual standard for each person. God's standard is perfection, and we do fail, but that's why we have grace and the instruments of confession and forgiveness. To set a standard for ourselves other than God's is to take the terrible risk of not availing ourselves of His grace and forgiveness when we need it.
The fourth view of cheap grace -- this is a stage I need to go through until I have dealt with my issues -- again puts us in God's role. This time we, not God, determine how God will work in our lives -- what path He will take us down. We substitute psychological self-diagnosis for the standards of God. God heals and changes us in many ways. Our role is to pursue God and seek His will for our lives.
While in such pursuit, we are in the place where He can work in us according to His timing and in His ways. Thus far in my 15 years of ministry, most of those who have taken this path, have never found that they get their issues resolved in the midst of the homosexual life. In fact, what usually brings us to the place where we will really deal with our issues is pain. Going back into the homosexual life is to take up again our anesthetic, avoiding the pain that will bring us to the death and resurrection that will be the source of our healing.
The fifth and final form of cheap grace -- I have done everything I can; it is now up to God -- is the most difficult to challenge because it comes closest to the truth. Sometimes it is true. Our admission of our utter helplessness and an accompanying deep surrender to the Lord is often the turning point in overcoming any life dominating sin. But for the Christian, this must be spoken at the deepest level of grief. It must be spoken with a knowledge that our sins deeply hurt our Lord. This cry must come with a heart broken from personal failure. In other words, it must come spontaneously out of our deepest heart. Until it does come spontaneously, we need to keep on trying. The surrender that it expresses is a surrender of the total self, not just a surrender of the particular inconvenient weakness. For some, such as me, it came at conversion. For those already Christians, it comes as a major turning point in the person's total walk with the Lord.
So we have all of these rationalizations open to us. Through various forms of cheap grace, we seek to have both the Lord and the our sinful way of life. What is the alternative? According to Bonhoeffer, it is costly grace:
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it, a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to by which the merchant will sell all of 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 net and follow him. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives man the true life.
What does this mean for the homosexual overcomer? Is it another argument as to why we should not give up the battle? Yes, as a matter of fact it is. it is only in the battle that we will experience God's grace. Sometimes we try, and we find that truly we can do all things through him. Sometimes we try and fail, and lying wounded at the side of the road, his grace comes to us as the good Samaritan. He binds up our wounds, lifts us up and carries us to a safe place, a place of healing.
Cheap grace is presumptuous; costly grace is humble. Cheap grace asserts the self; costly grace flows out of taking up our cross daily.
The grace that Jesus offers us is not just His ultimate victory in our lives -- the promise that at the end of the road we will experience the healing that we long for. It is also, the grace for today, that in our daily struggles, win or lose, we know that He is with us, and this realization more than compensates for whatever price we must pay to try and walk with Him.
Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of His Son: 'you were bought with a price,' and what has cost God so 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 llfe, but delivered Him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.
We must take those words to heart and incorporate them into our lives
Copyright © 1995 Alan P. Medinger and Regeneration. Please request permission to reprint this article. All rights reserved. Posted on the web with permission.