Grace Is Free…But It Isn’t Cheap

By: Paul Kroll

If YOU WERE a moviegoer in 1969, you may remember Arlo Guthrie singing his hit rendition of “Amazing Grace” in the movie Alice’s Restaurant. The song became part of a religious revival among young people during those years.

This old family favorite was written in the 18th century by John Newton (1725-1807), a leader in Britain’s Evangelical movement. It begins with these words:

“Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” Yes, God is dispensing an amazing grace that saves wretches like you and me. Before God’s grace, we were lost, floundering in a world cut off from him. Through grace, God finds us and saves us from sin and eternal death.

Yet most of the world has not heard about God’s grace. Others have heard about it, yet have misunderstood how it works.

A friend of mine once wrote an article titled “I Wish There Was Another Word for Grace.” He was addressing a dilemma. How do we make grace relevant to people who find the idea rather meaningless because of overuse and wrong use?

Well, how much do you know about God’s grace-and what does it mean to you?

Grace in Romans

The Greek word translated “grace” in our English Bibles is charis. In the Greek world of Jesus and Paul, it meant any concrete favor or kindness given as an outright gift. Charis was also applied to the divine favor of the gods toward human beings.

Paul gave the word charis a meaning it did not have before. In his New Testament letters, Paul applied the word grace to all the gifts that God gives us.

Through these gifts, God sets about to renew us in his spiritual image. We call this renewal or rebirth being saved. In giving us his grace, God is fulfilling a purpose he has nurtured from before the creation of
humanity (Genesis 1:26-27, 1 Peter 1:18-20).

The apostle Paul explained why we need God’s grace, how it works and what it accomplishes, in a letter he wrote to the church at Rome. In other words, before God applies his grace to us, we are not yet what
he intends us to be, spiritually speaking. We are all sinners and under sin-given over to death (Romans 3:23; 6:23).

We live, said Paul, apart from God in a spiritually fallen world (Romans 5:12-14). Only his grace can save us (verses 15-19).

Through grace, God justifies us with himself-that is, makes us spiritually right-by erasing the penalty of sin (Romans 3:24). He accomplishes this through the death of Jesus, who was God in human flesh (Romans 5:8-11).

Because of grace, we are no longer accounted as sinners. We have become right with God, or righteous (Romans 4:20-24).

Under grace, our sinning human self is crucified, to use Paul’s metaphor (Romans 6:6-7). Now, God can renew each of us as a new being- a kind of godly self. The result is that we can submit to the will of

This change is possible only through the Holy Spirit given us under grace (Romans 5:5). This Spirit applies the full work of Jesus Christ to us. Ultimately, grace results in the gift of eternal life, in all its fullness.


Grace Cannot Be Earned

God cannot give this precious grace in payment for human merit. Grace is just that-an unearned, unmerited gift from God.

It is absolutely free (Romans 3:24; 5:15). That is, we do not obtain God’s grace because we do God’s will or live a pious or good life. We do God’s will because we first receive his grace.

Otherwise, grace wouldn’t be a gift, but wages paid for work done (Romans 4:4-5). So grace, in that sense, comes to us without any cost. But because God’s grace is tree does not mean it doesn’t have a price.
Grace, as it turns out, is the most expensive gift ever given. It’s a gift that has no price but comes at great cost.

That’s what theologian and Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906- 1945) discovered. He lived and taught in his native Germany during the years of the Nazi regime, from 1933 to 1945.

Bonhoeffer learned how costly God’s grace can be when the demands of Christ come into conflict with this world’s ways.

Because of his stand against the policies of the Nazi government, he was banned from teaching and astoring. Bonhoeffer was imprisoned by the Gestapo in 1943, and executed in the Nazi concentration camp at Flossenbug on April 9, 1945.

God’s free grace became extremely expensive for Bonhoeffer. It cost him his life.

Bonhoeffer had to struggle to live a life of costly grace in a way most of us never have. He had to face the tough choice:

What should he obey and follow the will of Jesus Christ and God or the corrupt society around him?

Bonhoeffer wrote of this great struggle between costly and “cheap grace”-a term he coined-in The Cost of Discipleship, written between the years 1935 and 1937. The book deals with the tough choices disciples of Jesus face in a world hostile to what he stands for.


Cheap Grace

Bonhoeffer had a lot to say about cheap grace. He said this is “grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares,” a dealer’s shoddy and inferior merchandise. It is “grace without price, grace without cost!”
Cheap grace, then, wrongly implies that Christ finished his work when he took our sins upon himself. Since “the account has been paid in advance, and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing,” Bonhoeffer wrote.

Cheap grace mistakenly suggests that we Christians need not be changed by becoming Christlike in submission to God’s will. Therefore, cheap grace, said Bonhoeffer, is “the preaching of forgiveness without
requiring repentance.”

Cheap grace says a Christian need not “aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin.” Thus, the person molded by cheap grace is, by nature, no different from anyone else.

Cheap grace claims, “I can go and sin as much as I like,” wrote Bonhoeffer, “and rely on this grace to forgive me.” Bonhoeffer’s struggle to expose cheap grace was also a battle once fought in the early New Testament Church.

The apostle Jude wrote about certain godless people who had secretly slipped into the apostolic Church. He said they “change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only
Sovereign and Lord” (Jude 4). Such nominal Christians were using cheap grace as a cover-up for evil (I Peter 2:16).

The apostle Paul wrestled with cheap grace as well. “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” he asked the church at Rome (Romans 6:15). “By no means!” was his unequivocal and decisive
answer (same verse).

Earlier, Paul asked: “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase’)” (verse 1). His answer? “By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer”” (verse 2).

“We died to sin”-that is why true grace is so costly. Only costly grace makes possible the death that sin demands.

Costly grace is applied in a twofold way. It must take something away and then add something.

Under grace, we are cleansed of sin and our old, sinning, self dies (minus). We are also given the Holy Spirit and the new self is born (plus). Both gifts make us new men and women.

While these gifts are free, they exact a heavy price. That’s because, in both cases, for grace to operate and save us, death must occur.


Costly Grace

When Christ cleanses us of sin, he dies for us. Bonhoeffer said grace “is costly because it cost God the life of his son … and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”

We were bought at a price: the life of God in Christ on the cross. For it was he who gave himself for our sins as part of God’s grace toward us.

But grace can still be cheapened if we try to stop at what Christ did for us on the cross. Christ continues to work in us now. Jesus does come. in our flesh as he did in his incarnation (I John 4:2; John 14:15-24).

But Jesus Christ can work in us only if we die, spiritually speaking. Thus, grace will cost something else. Our life.

Earlier, we alluded to how the apostle Paul spoke of this cost of discipleship as spiritual death.

“We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with,” he said (Romans 6:6).


Our Cross

Jesus also used a metaphor of pain and death when defining true discipleship. He said those who would follow him must carry the cross or burden that discipleship brings (Luke 14:27).

Of course. our cross may not be the same size, nor the same shape, nor the same weight as that of another person’s cross.

We all have our own unique cross to carry as individual disciples of Jesus Christ. But we must all bear a cross if we are to be disciples of costly grace.

Jesus said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it”
(Luke 9:23-24).

Jesus is telling us we must die with him on the cross. We do so by crucifying our nature and self-will. That is a truly costly grace. However. Jesus was not emphasizing the denying of things to ourselves. He was telling us we must deny ourselves. This is the ultimate cost of grace.

Will we try to save our lives by remaining what we are-sinful human being? If so. we will lose them. We will become the victims of cheap grace.

But we can take the road of costly grace, allowing Christ to dwell in us. We can be subservient to God’s will. Then we will save our lives by losing our own will.

This is costly grace. However, it has its own gift of God, making it possible for us to be regenerated as his children.

Paul urges Christians to give up the self, to embrace the costly and mind-renewing grace: “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1).
Paul desired to travel this road of costly , grace to receive his spiritual prize.

The apostle wrote: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).


Paying the Price

What does it mean to grasp a costly grace’? It is to use God’s Spirit to crucify everything that tries to enslave us to sin. It is to crucify our own will and ways –anything contrary to the mind of God in us.
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires,” Paul wrote (Galatians 5:24). They pay the supreme penalty-the death of self. They receive the supreme gift-a new life.

In Bonhoeffer’s words: “Grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesuits Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives the man the only true life.

Costly grace costs us our old life so that we may be given a new one in Christ. As Paul put it: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). That is costly grace inaction.