Cheap Grace

A sermon outline originally posted on 13 March 2005

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his 1937 book, The Cost of Discipleship (buy it at or, wrote: “Costly grace is the hidden treasure in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has…. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because if calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the 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 with a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”

In the lead up to Easter this year, let us remember that “salvation” is about “justification” AND “sanctification”. To emphasize one over the other is unbiblical. To my mind, this is the single biggest failing of the church at the moment – to be so heavenly minded that it is no earthly good. To emphasize what Jesus came to die for, and to neglect all he came to LIVE for – the establishment of His Kingdom ON EARTH as it is in Heaven!

If we lived more like Christ’s intent, we wouldn’t have many of the issues I talk about elsewhere on this blogsite.

Here is a sermon I preached just before Easter a few years ago:

On February 4, in 1906, a baby boy was born in Breslau, in eastern Germany. His name was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. At about the age of fourteen, he began to study theology, graduating with a doctorate by the age of 21. He then was the pastor of churches in Barcelona, Spain, and London, England.

After Adolf Hitler took charge as chancellor of Germany in January of 1933, Bonhoeffer watched as many of his friends began to support Hitler’s anti-Semitism. Very few, if any, churches stood against Hitler and his policies. The oppression of the Jews increased, and Bonhoeffer wished to help them. In the spring of 1933, he helped to found a Confessing Church which had already begun to aid the Jews. Many other German parishes in England joined with Bonhoeffer’s new church. But this church closed in 1935, due to pressure from the Gestapo and other Germans.

So Dietrich Bonhoeffer returned to Germany. He started up a seminary course that was a direct attack against the Nazi ideology, but his teaching and ministry was declared illegal in August 1937, and his seminary was shut down and many of his former students arrested. In January 1938, he was officially banned from Berlin. In 1939 Bonhoeffer joined a secret group of high-ranking military officers based in the Abwehr, or Military Intelligence Office, who wanted to overthrow the government by killing Hitler. In September 1940, the Gestapo forbade Bonhoeffer from public speaking and publishing. In 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested and remained in several different prisons for nearly two years. In February, 1945, he was moved to a concentration camp in Buchenwald. He was hanged at Flossenburg on April 9, 1945, just days before Allied forces liberated the camp. He was 39 years old.

With a story like that, his life really qualifies Dietrich Bonhoeffer to have something to say on ‘The Cost of Discipleship’. In fact, that is the title of his most famous book, written in 1937. The theme of the book is about the difference between cheap and costly grace.

He wrote this (pg 43ff): “Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before…. 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 hidden treasure in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has…. 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 a man the 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 with 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.”

It’s Easter in just two weeks time, and as we focus on what Jesus did on the cross it’s a good time again to remind ourselves of what it is exactly he achieved. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus became the Saviour of the world. Because he died, we don’t have to. He died in our place, and his death satisfies God’s anger against sinners.

This evening, I want to focus on our salvation. We know it is a free gift. But just because it’s free doesn’t mean it costs nothing. Let me explain what I mean, and I hope you don’t mind a quick theology lesson.

When we talk of salvation, there are many small steps that we actually are referring to. To go back to the beginning, we believe that everyone has sinned and falls short of the glory of God. We believe that God is so holy, that he cannot even look at sin. We believe that the penalty for even one sin is death. Jesus’ death was the propitiation for our sins. (Note: Propitiation is the turning aside of wrath.)

We refer to this fact that God can now accept us, as our being “justified”. (Just as if I’d never sinned). For many people, that is all they think of when they think of salvation. But the Bible is very clear that this is only the starting point. Salvation also includes “sanctification”.

John 12:23-26
Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

The Christian life is a costly one. It often requires us to step out of our comfort zones. It requires discipline, self control, and expects more than you can give. It is in stretching ourselves beyond ourselves that we truly find ourselves, in Christ.

There’s a guy named John Wimber, who founded the Vineyard Churches. John lived a rather wild life: he had been a rock musician, dabbled in drugs, and gone down a rotten path. One day, he picked up a Gideons Bible, and started to read it. He couldn’t put it down. The message so moved him, that he began a search for Jesus. Very soon after that he had a dramatic conversion to Christ. The next Sunday he went to a local church for a service, and in his leathers and wild look, sat right in the front of the church – really freaked the pastor out. He took everything in, but was more and more concerned. As a professional rock musician, he really didn’t like the music, and the preacher’s words left him cold.

On the way out after the service, John asked the preacher: “So, when do you do the stuff?” And the preacher replied somewhat bemused: “what stuff?”
And John replied, “You know, the healings and the exorcisms and feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked. You know – the stuff? “
He had been reading about these things in the Bible and was eager to see them done for himself.
And the pastor replied, “Oh we believe in those things, but we don’t do them here.”
To which John replied: “Oh man, I gave up drugs for THIS?!”

The church has often offered cheap grace. By making it too easy to become a Christian, we have made it very difficult to live like a Christian.

To be honest, the way that the offer of salvation is often made to people, you’d have to be an idiot not to accept it. If you study the offer as it is often made, you will realise it is a no lose proposition. You get eternal security, with nothing in return, no future payments, just a simple verbal assent. It is a no cost fire insurance policy. This is cheap grace. It is only half the story.

Like a marathon or endurance race, the impressive statistic is not how many people start the race, but how many people finish it. Its interesting that the Gospels refer to Jesus as Saviour only 16 times. This is the get out of hell free part of salvation – justification. But, they refer to Jesus as Lord 420 times. The life of discipleship part of salvation – sanctification. We cannot accept Christ as Saviour without embracing him as Lord.

Let me be really very clear about what I’m saying. Salvation is by grace alone, and a free gift of God. But there is simply no biblical reason for saying that the glorious truth of justification by faith alone is more important than the astonishing reality that the risen Lord now lives in his disciples, transforming them day by day into his very likeness. Justification and sanctification are both central parts of the biblical teaching on the Gospel and salvation. To overstate the importance of the one is to run the danger of neglecting the other. I think churches today are in danger of doing this. (Refer Ron Sider, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience – but it at

If being a Christian does not make a difference in our lives, then maybe we’re not really Christians. Salvation is not something you did, and now it’s over, and you’ve got your ticket to heaven. No, salvation is something that must be worked out on a daily basis, and through the power of the Holy Spirit is something we become.

The Bible is very clear about this:

Hebrews 12:2
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. EMPHASIZE PERFECTOR

Philippians 1:6
being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 2:12
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed– not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence– continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling

Colossians 2:6
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him

and so on…

Every year, I buy one of those desk calendars with a tear off for each day. Unlike some more spiritual people, who buy the ones with daily Bible readings, I tend to buy the ones with cartoons, jokes or last year’s one: World’s Dumbest People. The entry for June 6 told this story: On this day in 1981, Doug Whitt and his bride, Sylvia, were escorted to their hotel’s fancy bridal suite in the wee hours of the morning. In the suite they saw a sofa, chairs, and table, but where was the bed? Then they discovered the sofa was a hide-a-bed, with a lumpy mattress and sagging springs. They spent a fitful night and woke up in the morning with sore backs. The new husband went to the hotel desk and gave the management a tongue-lashing. “Did you open the door in the room?” asked the clerk. Doug went back to the room. He opened the door they had thought was a closet. There, complete with fruit baskets and chocolates, was a beautiful bedroom!

That’s kind of like many Christians. They’ve got into the entrance room of Christianity, but haven’t investigated any further.

In Revelation 3:20, Jesus says: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” We often use this as an evangelistic verse, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, it’s actually directed at the church. It’s said to Christians. Jesus is in the entrance hall, and all he sees around him are locked doors. The door to your wallet is locked tight. The door to your thought life locked tight. The door to your attitudes towards others, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, gender bias – all locked up tight.

So, let me ask you very simply: What difference does being a Christian make in your life?

As I prepared this sermon, I had a list of things you should do to respond to this. As I looked at it, though I realised it was just MY list. I then tried to put myself in other people’s shoes, trying to think what the most common issues were.
Tithing, racism, materialism, greed, gossiping, giving to the poor, lack of self control, lust, sexual issues, and my list just went on and on. But then I realised that this list wasn’t for me to create, that I could trust the Holy Spirit to do that work in each person here tonight. He has done that work in me already as I prepared this sermon.

So, what is the issue in your life that God has been putting his finger on tonight, and maybe over the past few weeks?
You need to respond.
He will not keep asking you forever.
It is his invitation to you, to go to the next level with him.

Unless you take it, you will never be truly happy.

Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn’t really matter.

Crucified with Christ
By Phillips, Craig and Dean

When I look back at what I thought was living

I’m amazing at the price I chose to pay
And to think I ignored what really mattered
‘Cause I thought the sacrifice would be too great
But when I finally reached the point of giving in
I found the cross was calling even then
And even though it took dying to survive
I’ve never felt so much alive

For I am crucified with Christ and yet I live

Not I but Christ that lives within me
His cross will never ask for more than I can give
For it’s not my strength but His
There’s no greater sacrifice
For I am crucified with Christ and yet I live

As I hear the Savior call for daily dying
I will bow beneath the weight of Calvary
Let my hands surrender to His piercing purpose

That holds me to the cross yet sets me free
I will glory in the power of the cross
The things I thought were gain I count as loss

And with His suffering I identify
And by His resurrection power I am alive
And I will offer all I have
So that His cross is not in vain
For I’ve found to live is Christ

And to die is truly gain

1992 Dawn Treader Music/SESAC

One thought on “Cheap Grace”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *