Thursday, March 02, 2006

Cheap Grace (1)

The first chapter of The Cost of Discipleship is it's best known, "Cheap Grace". To Bonhoeffer, the cause of the church's ills in Germany, if not everywhere is that while we can do nothing to earn or buy God's favor and grace, that grace is not without cost. If grace alone does everything, everything can remain as it is, we can live just like the rest of the world. It is a grace that is cheap instead of costly, and justifies sin instead of the sinner.

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 that causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him

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 man his 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. (pp. 47-48, reformatting mine)
It would be possible for a Catholic to be a little snarky at this point. (I originally wrote "easy" instead of "possible", but no comment can be made easily against such words, from such a speaker.) Such a comment would include some reference to the idea that works really are important after all. But that would be in error -- this is not a matter of faith vs. works. It is a matter, as we shall see, of who is in charge of your life, you or God? And it is clear that there is no shortage of cheap grace in the lives of many Catholics. This particularly includes myself.

Part of the challenge, or even adventure, of reading this book this Lent is finally getting past this chapter. In fact, I wonder if many readers have ever read past this chapter — such words from such a man better bring you up short, make you assess your own life. I have tried to read this book three times before, and each time was, to be honest, scared off. What could be waiting further in, with this beginning? It is not that I am any better Christian at this point in my life, but that the call to ministry drives me to confront many of these questions now. Bonhoeffer worked hard to make sure that his reader understood the consequence of ignoring these issues.

(Note: page numbers are from The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Collier Books paperback, 1963)

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