From time to time I hear Christian people being critical of some explanations of the grace of God. The terms they use to describe these teachings of God’s grace include “extreme, hyper, and cheap.” The term “cheap grace” was originally used by German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book, The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer defined “cheap grace” as “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”
Others use the terms extreme grace or hyper-grace “to describe a new wave of teaching that emphasises the grace of God to the exclusion of other vital teachings such as repentance and confession of sin. Hyper-grace teachers maintain that all sin, past, present, and future, has already been forgiven, so there is no need for a believer to ever confess it” (Elmer Towns).
Grace by its very nature is not cheap – it’s free! Grace is the radical, undeserved kindness of God towards us as expressed in Jesus Christ. Grace is extreme but certainly not cheap. To describe the grace of God with either of these terms is theologically incorrect. While I agree with Bonheoffer – and greatly admire his work – putting the words “cheap” and “grace” together is an oxymoron. In saying that, I totally understand the concern of people who express opinions about a perverted view of God’s grace.
The danger with any truth is that if you push it too far it slips into error. This includes the truth that Martin Luther reinforced through the Reformation – that faith in the grace of God alone, apart from the law, was necessary for salvation. Even during Luther’s time there were those who taught all one had to do was believe in Jesus. The way a person lived didn’t matter; it was unnecessary, they said, to hold to any moral law. In response to this, Luther coined the term Antinomianism (taken from the Greek words meaning “against law”).
For more on this read my blog on The Purpose of the Law at this link: http://baysidechurch.com.au/the-purpose-of-the-law/
The apostle Paul gives some excellent teaching on God’s grace in his letter to Titus, the pastor of the churches on the Island of Crete:
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It (i.e. God’s grace) teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:11-14).
The context here in Titus 2 is about living our lives “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (verse 10). God’s grace teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions. In other words the grace of God is NOT an excuse to live an impure life. Ungodliness refers to those who believe in God while behaving in a way that seems to contradict that belief. It’s commonly called hypocrisy and is one of the main barriers to people coming to Jesus and joining a church. People who are guilty of ungodliness will have thoughts such as “I know this is wrong but … God will forgive me.”
Worldly passions refer to the tendency to follow the crowd even when the crowd is going the wrong way and doing the wrong thing. This perverted view of God grace was alive and well in the Roman church in the first century: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” (Romans 6:1) – and the Galatian church: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13).
Author Paul Ellis puts it this way, “Grace is no more a license to sin than electricity is a license to electrocute yourself.”
God’s grace teaches us to “say no.” It also teaches us about saying “Yes.” God’s grace teaches us … to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age. That is, our lives will be decent, honest, respectable and consistent with our belief in God. We will exercise self-restraint and not engage in excess. Self-control is doing what I need to do when I don’t feel like doing it. And it is not doing what I should not do when I do feel like doing it!
“Jesus gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” I encourage you to appreciate afresh the amazing grace of God. There is nothing you could ever do to put yourself outside of His grace but that is not an excuse to live a sloppy life!