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What Is Cheap Grace and How Can We Avoid It?

Man kneeling at the altar of a church

Cheap grace is everywhere these days. Pastors preach it from the pulpit, individuals profess to be Christian but continue to live a life of sin. Welcome to the Christian reality of cheap grace where Christian living has little to do with God and it’s all about ourselves.

We see cheap grace encapsulated and flaunted on social media. Simply scroll for five minutes and you’ll find a perfectly filtered photo with a Bible verse and then a lengthy caption about a recent life experience where someone has taken God’s Words and twisted it to fit their flawed point of view.

So what exactly is cheap grace? Cheap grace is continuing sinful habits because ‘we’ve already been forgiven.’ Cheap grace is refusing to take the plank out of our own eyes as we continue to judge those who wronged us. Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? But the truth is this, how we live reflects how we value or cheapened God’s grace.

If we are to live in grace and grace is to be honored, cherished, and treasured, then we need to understand how our daily lives can cheapen the gift of grace. Grace wasn’t cheap, it cost Jesus His life.

Where Did the Idea of "Cheap Grace" Originate From?

The idea of cheap grace originated in 1937 by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a pastor and theologian who opposed the Nazis. He was arrested in 1943 after being implicated in a plot to assassinate Hitler and was executed in 1943. But his works for Christ became the legacy he left the world. Specifically, The Cost of Discipleship, based on Luke 14:25-33 wherein he shares how grace and truth always go together. You cannot have God’s grace without living in His truth. You cannot have God’s truth without accepting grace.

Essentially, he wrote that cheap grace is taking sin lightly. If sin is taken lightly, then the salvation Jesus purchased with his life is also cheap. Here’s an excerpt:

“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…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 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.” –Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

What Is Cheap Grace?

Bonhoeffer defined “cheap grace” as “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.”

In other words, he recognized how some were abusing the biblical doctrine of grace. It’s the idea of Carnal Christianity. He established what was becoming of the Church as cheap grace was flourishing in the church, in our homes, and in our own lives. Salvation was being marketed as an insurance policy and Jesus was reduced to what He could do for us. That we can profess we are Christians, but our lives do not reflect the work of Christ in us because there is no obedience to God’s commands of holiness. It is the idea we can profess Jesus is our savior, but we do not treat Him as the Lord of our lives. There are several passages that indicate our Salvation is secured in Christ because is He is our Lord and Savior.

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” John 14:23

“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” Romans 5:20-21

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Romans 6:1-2.

“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:27

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” James 2:14-26

How Is Cheap Grace Avoided?

Cheap grace can be avoided by remembering what Christ did for us on the cross. It’s not enough to profess our faith. It’s not enough to go to church. It’s not enough to say the sinner’s prayer. Grace isn’t grace unless we believe Jesus is not only our savior, but also the Lord of our lives. This means we walk the walk and talk to the talk. We let Christ be the leader of our lives and change us from the inside out. James said it perfectly in 2:14-26 where he essentially says faith without works is dead. Here, James teaches Salvation is not a transaction; it’s a transformation. We are saved by a living and active faith rounded out with repentance, forgiveness, and obedience to God.

Perhaps Jesus set the best example of grace in the story John 8:1-11 about a woman caught in adultery. It truly looked like the end of the road for this woman. Caught in the act of adultery was a capital crime that met being stoned to death. The Pharisees decided to kill two birds with one stone as they used the adulterous woman as a pawn to trap Jesus. They dragged her to Jesus, planning to embarrass Him. But Jesus reduced these men to silence as He forced these “righteous” men to admit their own hypocrisy. Not one of these men were able to through a stone at her after Jesus responded, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” One by one they each left until she was standing in front of the only person who was truly righteous. But Jesus took this act of grace one step further when He told her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.”

With these words, Jesus saved her from death and gave her a new lease on life. But what did it cost her? To change her life—to sin no more. What did it cost Jesus? It cost Him everything—His life. This is the cost of grace, God’s grace!

We can avoid cheap grace by remembering we have God’s unmerited favor through Christ’s sacrifice. Nothing we do can save us. Jesus earned God’s favor on our behalf. As we live for Christ, our lives will reflect the fruit of His spirit through our words, actions, and thoughts. The Spirit convicts believers of their sin and leads them to repentance (John 16:8; Rom. 8:14). Through the spirit, we experience true sorrow over our sin because we have been bought with a price and have the Spirit living in us (Rom. 7:14–25). The apostle Paul says it best when he said we are “new creations” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). There is nothing “cheap” about grace!

Photo Credit: Unsplash/benwhitephotography 


Heather Riggleman is a believer, wife, mom, author, social media consultant, and full-time writer. She lives in Minden, Nebraska with her kids, high school sweetheart, and three cats who are her entourage around the homestead. She is a former award-winning journalist with over 2,000 articles published. She is full of grace and grit, raw honesty, and truly believes tacos can solve just about any situation. You can find her on GodUpdates, iBelieve, Crosswalk, Hello Darling, Focus On The Family, and in Brio Magazine. Connect with her at www.HeatherRiggleman.com or on Facebook.  




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