I have been reflecting on our ability to find excuses for poor behaviour and inexcusable excesses. The comprehensive loss of respect for the sacredness of human life and the endless greed that drives people to take what they want without being concerned for those they hurt and kill is profound. The rejection of the ‘other’ and the focus on self and selfish living at any cost is pervasive. The permission we have given ourselves to take what we want because we believe we deserve or are entitled to it is totally destructive. The lack of reflection and insight into what we are doing is also being encouraged. There is no desire to think about what we’re doing or why. The remnant search for a quick fix forgiveness, or ‘cheap grace’ at bargain basement prices is consequently destroying people’s souls and killing our social order. Such a belief has been and continues to be hugely damaging for our culture and society, for our faith, for the institutional church and for us as individuals.
It has fed our belief we can personally privatise our faith, turn it into a flexible belief system and individualise it so we need be accountable only to ourselves and our own private image of God. It has led to the appalling blindness and damage done to individuals by the political and religious hierarchy, who have seen themselves outside of and above the law and the common standards of behaviour, care and concern for the vulnerable in our society.
And what is cheap grace and how is it described? It is a cheap, quick and easy version of forgiveness ‘using’ God’s gift of love, freely and abundantly given to take what we want and ignore the rest. It has been changed into a humanistic, post truth version of forgiveness, purchased without cost, as we seek wilfully to remain blind to what is happening.
Cheap grace is cut rate comfort, cheap sacraments at the table in the church. It is perhaps a form of ‘grace’ out of the church’s inexhaustible pantry, doled out by careless hands without hesitation or limit. It is given by people who don’t know what they believe, but enjoy being benevolent. It is grace without a price, a value or cost, essentially devalued and worthless, sentimental empathy easily given and dismissed.
Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle or a system. It means forgiveness of sins as a generalised, easy, simple truth. It means God’s love is merely a Christian ideal of God that is vague, comfortable and easy to believe as a general principle, covering all who want an easy solution without any effort. Those who affirm this form of grace have already had their sins forgiven. The church that teaches this doctrine of grace conveys such grace upon itself. The world finds in this church a cheap cover up for its wrongdoing, for which it shows no remorse or repentance, no desire for restoration, and from which it has even less desire to be free. Cheap grace is a denial of God’s living Word, a fundamental denial of the existence of Jesus as the Son of God and the incarnation of the Word of God.
Cheap grace means the justification of the sin but not the sinner. In other words, because grace alone apparently does everything, everything can stay in its old ways and the individual has no responsibility and nor does the system, the hierarchy, the powers of the world. The sin can be understood, accepted, forgiven and washed away. But, the world remains as it always has done – and we remain sinners – even for the best of people. It means the temptation to live as the world lives and stay as the world stays; it is seen as the way to be in the world. It means there is no desire to live differently, to be changed through repentance, to be transformed and so to be transformational in the world. It means cheap grace is what we have bestowed on ourselves as a quick and easy ‘get out of jail’ card for free.
Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of community; it is sharing in communion and the Lord’s supper without confession, taking our grudges and bigotry to the table to share with God’s people without repentance and reconciliation; it is absolution without personal confession. It is turning God into our own image, with our worldview and judgements of others.
Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living Christ. It condemns people to live without hope and without the opportunity to change and be transformed. It short changes God and feeds the current world order and carefully maintains the status quo. It is beloved of all those who have a worldly agenda that seek not to be disturbed in their peace. It affirms and confirms the power structures and the belief that we can do without God, and reinforces the fact my God is made in my own image with my desires for power, wealth and consumption. It is a grace that is without vision, without hope and without love.
Cheap grace allows people to behave badly and blame others; cheap grace is unable to look in the mirror and enable those struggling to ask what they can do to change themselves. Cheap grace allows others to be blamed for their circumstances and the sense of righteousness can remain untouched and the call to justice becomes a weapon. Cheap grace is short of reflection and insight and dismisses generosity of spirit as a weakness.
So what might costly grace look like if you’re interested in the alternative?
It is indeed the call to discipleship that has you leaving everything to follow Jesus, without counting the cost, because the cost has become meaningless by comparison and irrelevant. The deep joy and freedom that comes with such commitment is liberating and the burden put down allows instead for steady witness to be given to the suffering and horrors of the world and for solidarity with the world’s despairing to become possible.
This grace is costly because it calls deeply and profoundly to discipleship; it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly, because it costs people their lives; it condemns sin and does not allow us any wriggle room to prevaricate or evade; it is grace because it justifies the sinner, and we can be hope-filled, we as individuals can start again, differently and we do not have to be worthy before we start.
Above all, grace is costly because it was costly to God, because it cost God the life of God’s Son, and because nothing can be cheap to us which is costly to God. It is grace because the life of God’s Son was not too costly for God to give in order make us live.
And believe me, there is a difference.
Reference: Dietrich Bonhoeffer 40 Day Journey