Cheap grace…what???

Cheap_graceHere’s a question…how can grace be cheap?

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a radical grace revolution going on in the body of Christ today, so we shouldn’t be surprised to see a backlash of accusations of “cheap grace” coming from the firmly entrenched.

And that’s not to say there aren’t real excesses or even downright error being taught. Nothing new there.

Nonetheless, as Robert Farrar Capon would put it, we may very well be living in an hour when God is giving His Bride a fresh, perhaps deeper, drink of pure undiluted 200-proof grace from His heavenly distillery.

And I understand the reason why people say these kinds of things. What they’re getting at is that grace doesn’t give us an excuse to live ungodly lives.

But my admittedly iconoclastic contention here is that this is a contradiction in terms. You cannot properly have “grace” and “cheap” exist in the same sentence. I will show you why.

Unmerited favor?

What muddies the proverbial waters is that when we define grace as “unmerited favor,”  it can be construed by the less faithful as God excusing our behavior.

And while there’s an element of truth to it being unmerited from our perspective, God doesn’t seem to define grace this way from His perspective. And whenever we don’t define something the way God defines it, we end up saying irrelevant, confusing, even absurd things about it.

As Graham Cooke has pointed out, “if grace is only unmerited favor then Jesus never had any.”

We can easily see this would be true by plugging in the popular evangelical notion of grace with a couple of passages about Jesus…

“And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the [unmerited favor] of God was upon Him.” (Luke 2:40)

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of [unmerited favor] of God and truth.” (John 1:14)

To this, I say, “huh?”

Can you say, absurd.

It’s God’s mercy and love that favors us unmeritoriously.

But grace is quite another thing.

Grace is not a “go to Heaven” hall pass!

Let me say it this way. We’re not given grace like some “go to heaven” hall pass, and then go on living our powerless human lives, except now we call ourselves “Christians.”

I believe that the Bible defines grace as God’s power freely given to us to live His life in this world

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12 NKJV)

“of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power.” (Eph.3:7 NKJV)

So, when we use the term “cheap grace” we’re actually saying “cheap power of God to live a godly life?”

Again, huh?

And how can something that teaches us to live godly be cheap?

Grace IS the power of God’s life in you!

But when we see grace as the gift of God’s power to live His life, all the above passages make sense. Jesus came in the power of God and truth. Peter tells us to grow in the power of God to live in the divine life (2 Pet.1:2-3; 3:18). Get it?

In fact, grace is not about our behavior–about sinning or not sinning–it’s about the power of a NEW CREATION (2 Cor.5:17-21; Gal.6:15).

As Paul said in Romans 6:2, dead people don’t sin. Our old life is gone; our new life is Christ’s life (2 Cor.5:17; Gal.2:20; Col.3:3). This is the grace that God believes in.

Grace is God’s divine power living in us to live His life.

Jesus came in that grace and truth. He came in the full power and authority of His Father (Jn.12:49). Jesus embodied His Father’s life (Jn.14:7,9). And He sent you and I the same way (Jn.20:21). And He purchased it for us by His own Blood (Acts 20:28).

And that can never be cheap.

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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 36 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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27 Responses to Cheap grace…what???

  1. Michael Snow says:

    …That is what we mean by cheap grace, the grace which amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs. Cheap grace is not the kind of forgiveness of sin which frees us from the toils of sin. Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.

    Cheap grace is 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, living and incarnate.–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

    • melwild says:

      First of all, I appreciate your comments and for bringing this point up. I understand what you’re saying, and have the utmost respect for Dietrich Bonheoffer and I have read that classic work. I was brought up in the Lord in this paradigm and embraced it for many years. The trouble is, and with all due respect to our evangelical traditions, that is not grace. What you’re talking about is the effective WORKING of grace in our lives as we grow in grace. We are saved by grace through faith, NOTHING else. This is why “cheap grace” is a confusing term at best. As I have tried to point out, a contradiction in terms as the Bible seems to describe it. This, of course, is how I see it. You are free to disagree.

      This is I do know for certain. To add any behavioral requirements to grace is to make us saved by our performance, by our sincerity, by how “sorry” we are. This is subjective and confusing and can lead to uncertainty, needless shame and condemnation. And as Paul said about adding performance to grace, we have actually fallen from it (Gal.5:4).

      Grace is simple, straightforward and always effective. Grace working in our lives empowers these things but it cannot be a requirement or prerequisite. Biblically speaking, there is no such thing as divine grace working in our lives without repentance, the cross, etc. So, what you’re talking about is not cheap grace; it’s not grace at all. Maybe a better term would be “counterfeit grace.” I hope that makes sense.

      • Michael says:

        Mel, I get your point, but I don’t think the concept of cheap grace purposes to diminish grace at all. Bonhoeffer was actually pointing to the incredible value and sufficiency of grace for believers; yet the problem was with many of the hearers and the Church.

        It is the attitude and lifestyle of some (even some preaching), having become the recipients of the work of Christ, that, in a sense, cheapens the grace they possess and for such reasons as Bonhoeffer points out, although it is not the grace that’s cheap but the quality of life lived (gold v wood, 1 Cor. 3:12-13).

        Grace saves entirely, but–as you correctly point out–there is an outworking of that grace that serves us in different ways: as an assurance of salvation; as our worship to God, turning our ignoble traits into godly ones–not to incur the favor of God, but because we already have it.

        Further, you would agree with James 2:18–“Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” Yet we possess faith, or the grace of God, regardless. We both know that we don’t earn the favor of God; instead, we now worship him with our works and godly living. Is this the heart of the matter? I don’t think cheap grace is meant to promote any type of sin management or behavior modification in exchange for God’s favor.

        We’re only dealing with one costly grace that saves completely; however, Bonhoeffer references our attitude and approach to that grace as “costly” or “cheap.” I think it’s a very insightful and biblical concept. Grace is never cheap, but we will live toward it as though it is valuable or common.

        I don’t see this any differently than referring to one set of Christians as being on-fire for God and another we’d call carnal Christians (and we know the controversy this too has caused.) Yet both may indeed be saved, recipients of the grace of God, although one approaches that grace as a common thing and lives casually toward sin.

        What do you think of this?

        • melwild says:

          I would totally agree with what you’re saying here if we’re talking about the cost of grace. It cost God everything. But most Christians I have heard use “cheap grace” (or “sloppy agape”) to defend some requirement of performance to “make Jesus Lord.” It’s something we have to do, mixed with actual grace. Not to mention, it’s subjective and vague. And they’re pointing at those they don’t think are committed enough, not repenting enough, not making Jesus Lord enough, etc. So they are using it as a judgment in performance. And it totally misses the point.

          Again, the problem is, that is not grace. I would call that counterfeit grace, or a false grace. Or maybe just call it what the Bible calls it, licentiousness. At least that would be clearer. But grace is something else.

          Two problems that stick out to me. Allegations of “cheap grace” tends to make those who believe in working hard for Christ judge those they think aren’t “committed” enough. It’s a manipulation. The second problem, it puts the focus on us instead of Christ in us.

          But if we see grace as the power of God effectively working in us, all those behavioral issues become irrelevant. As Paul said in Romans 6, it’s not at all about excusing sin, it’s about being DEAD to sin. There’s a HUGE difference. One is religion; the other one is biblical Christianity. We are a new creation, not a more committed, better behaving sinner trying to act like a Christian.

          If we’re not a new creation, if we’re not “compelled” by God’s love working through us (2 Cor.5:14), then any kind of grace is irrelevant. Our behavior or performance is irrelevant. It’s not cheap, it’s nothing! They are most likely “casual” because of their ignorance of their identity as a son, who they are in Christ. This was Paul’s point in Romans 6. They don’t know the power of grace at all. They’re still living without the transforming power of God, still living their life instead of Christ’s life, ignorant of the new creation, which is the only Christianity that the Bible teaches.

          I hope this makes sense. 🙂 As other’s have said, it’s not easy to explain. Especially, considering the common view of Christianity today. But we could at least start by not calling grace something as vague and powerless as unmerited favor.

      • Michael says:

        I think we agree, but I’d leave you to judge that. In fact, I agree with everything you’ve just stated. I also understand this firsthand as well. I grew up in the Pentecostal-Holiness tradition among many godly men and women who loved the Lord but possessed this shortsighted view of grace being very much steeped in a “making Jesus Lord” mindset, a keeping-your-salvation works-based religion.

        What I understand about these folk and people today with a like attitude, even toward other believers, the lost, and social or political issues that require our higher perspective on the love and grace of God, is that they simply have not understood the very gospel they sing, preach, and profess. It is just as you’ve said: a judgment in performance that misses the point. This is not grace.

        I see where you’re coming from when you refer to “counterfeit” and “false” grace when it comes to this performance-based approach. I agree this is not grace, although I’d probably just call it error in teaching, not counterfeit or false.

        For instance, I think the godly folk I grew up around–the tradition itself–knew the Lord well but had a low view of the grace of God…didn’t understand it well. Again, we see something like this today in the public square on issues, like with ex-convicts and same-sex issues and people of faith being the most merciless folk to be found.

        Even those Romans 6:1 folk who feel they can live as they please and plead the grace of God–I think many of these people, too, are recipients of the grace of God but are in gross error and need discipleship.

        But I must ask you now: you say “cheap” and “grace” are oxymoronic, although it is a concept being espoused (with Bonhoeffer); but is it possible to use “counterfeit” “false” and “grace” together? Are you saying these folk are without the grace of God altogether? Or, as I’ve stated, in error and need of a better understanding of the gospel?

        I’d like to believe you’re saying the latter because I know how ardently you strive to help us grasp our position in Christ. Indeed, you’ve said as much when you stated, “They are most likely ‘casual’ because of their ignorance of their identity as a son, who they are in Christ.”

        But I’m holding you to explaining counterfeit grace! 😀

        I also agree with your two allegations.

        Thanks for discussing this with me.

        • melwild says:

          I think we’re in agreement here. And, yes, I mean the latter.

          What I mean by counterfeit or false grace is that it’s not defining divine grace at all. So I’m not talking about whether that person is saved or not. I’m saying that the term “cheap grace,” as most people use it, confuses the issue. Born-again believers sin because they are deceived or ignorant of their new nature and the power that works in them. They still believe lies. And they could be in gross sin and be in this state, yet be saved by grace through faith. Whether one is a Christian or not is based on whether they’re a new creation, not based on their performance or lifestyle. Actually, we’re all deceived at some level so we have no place to judge.

          Again, I think the problem is that we have defined grace as unmerited favor instead of the power of God’s life given to us, so it’s puts the focus in the wrong place. For instance, it’s pretty hard to accuse someone of a “cheap” power of God working in us! As you said, it’s an oxymoronic statement.

          So, I do think we agree. And even if we don’t agree somewhere, I’m too tired to figure it out right now and it probably doesn’t matter anyway… 🙂

          Thanks for helping me elaborate here. If I had a couple months to think about it, I could probably be a little more succinct in stating it. It may show up a little more polished in future posts. 🙂

      • Michael says:

        Oh, no worries. I’m more appreciative of the spirit of our dialogue, which speaks of your character. (I wouldn’t expect less of you.) Some people wouldn’t be able to handle another person questioning something they’ve stated, proving a low view of critical review. I’ve said it before: I hope you’d do the same with me. It’s how we together grow, learn more, and be accountable for our ideas–never a show in who’s-right-or-wrong. It also builds relationship. Thanks for taking the time, Mel.

  2. Right. Free grace cost Him everything.

  3. Such a simple concept, yet so difficult to grasp. It always reminds me of the profound scene from Les Miserable, when Jean Valjean is brought before the bishop for stealing his silver. The bishop not only refuses to accuse him of the theft, but offers him the grace of giving him his silver candlesticks as well. It is at this moment – this offer of grace in the face of his sin – that Jean Valjean is freed from his internal captivity. He no longer sees himself as a prisoner of life, but a man freed by love. Unbound, he now dedicates his life to love, honor, dignity and faith – all because of an undeserved act of grace. The grace was not cheap; it may have cost the bishop silver, but the gift was much more valuable to the recipient. It gave him his life.

    • melwild says:

      Amen. Great insights on God’s forgiveness and mercy. And being freed from captivity is getting to it. For grace would actually be the “bishop” giving us himself! Grace can never be about fixing our behavior, it’s about the power source behind our new identity coming to live in us. Grace transforms us and relentlessly and tirelessly works Christ into us. We’re not well-behaved, fully-contrite sinners, we’re a new creation altogether!

      According to Paul, the object of redemption was not forgiveness but sonship. We’ve looked at it with such stainless steel legalism in our evangelical world, but God IS love, and love is about relationship more than anything else. Forgiveness was simply the means to a much greater end. As he says in Eph.1:3-6, we’ve been predestined by God to be “holy and blameless,” which means formed or fashioned, custom-built, so we would be fit to join in the Triune Union that has been taking place between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit since before time began. This is eternal life. Entering into His life! If we miss this, we miss the whole point. And that’s what so over-the-top amazing about it all! That’s what 200-proof grace empowers! 🙂

      • Absolutely. It’s the adoption and the fullness of the heart connection that so many people miss. It’s so difficult to explain, yet so easy to live once your heart is yoked to him. Words. just. mess. it. up. Aaaaaah!

        • melwild says:

          LOL! I completely understand. 🙂 And you’re right about the adoption and heart connection being missed. It’s like trying to explain to an orphan what a loving family and a home is like. They have no mental grid for that. I’m sure this is what frustrated Paul. That’s why I used my Morpheus analogy (Matrix) in my other post (“When the Father’s love touches our orphan heart”). It can’t be adequately explained, must be experienced. But God is always willing and waiting to show us Himself. 🙂

  4. betsyjacobs says:

    THANK YOU!

  5. Ben Kilen says:

    Agree w Mel,

    Grace or the Gospel is based on ALL was done by God, my requirements = 0 (beyond entering in to it)

    http://benkilen.com/2013/11/05/cheap-grace-what/

    It is not our job to exert any “labor” to get closer to God.But doesn’t the Bible say that we are to “labor” to enter God’s rest?“Let us LABOR therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.” Heb. 4:11 KJVIt sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it? ”Labor” in order to “rest?”The Greek word translated LABOR is “SPOUDAZO” (Strongs’ #4704) from the root word “SPOUDE” (Strongs #4710). It means, “make haste, move swiftly, as fast as you can, immediately.”In the Greek, Heb. 4:11 says: ”Make haste, move quickly, don’t waste another minute– enter into His Rest!”Read it in the context of verses 9 & 10:9 “So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. 10 For all who have entered into God’srest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world.” Heb 4:9-10 NLTHeb. 4:11 isn’t saying: “LABOR,” but conversely, CEASE from your own labors!Our own labor cannot add to the absolutely perfect, finished work of Christ.You cannot add to perfection.God’s REST celebrates His PERFECT work & FINISHED work in you!

    • melwild says:

      Amen. I had forgotten you wrote that post. No wonder I liked that title! 🙂 It’s a great post that everyone should read, which will bring out more good stuff on this important topic.

      You bring up an important point about striving and rest here. The “striving again sin” in Hebrews 12 was striving against our UNBELIEF, against our religious bent–that we must crucify ourselves, try harder, do our spiritual pushups, add requirements, basically, live like in the Old Covenant….but instead, running to the radical reality that God has already done for us in Christ. God already nailed us to the cross. We just have to believe it and walk by faith.

      Our problem is that we default to doing works, performance, in our human understanding, and that’s nothing more than religious bondage. The writer of Hebrews is trying to get the Jewish believers to see the reality of our new life in Christ in the Spirit under the New Covenant. That we HAVE (past tense) come to Mt. Zion, the heavenly city. It’s IN US!

      Our striving is to STOP trying to be a “good Christian” and let Christ live His life in us! Grace is the power of HIS life! The “rest” looks like dead people resurrected with Christ, living His life, empowered by His Spirit. To add to this is to actually depart from grace. This was Paul’s whole point in writing to the foolish Galatians. This is why our behavior is so irrelevant to this. Again, dead people don’t sin. The answer, like you said, is entering into the rest, not trying harder next time. So…REST! 🙂

  6. I agree with Susan Irene Fox “It’s so difficult to explain, yet so easy to live once your heart is yoked to him. Words. just. mess. it. up. Aaaaaah!”
    Most people has preconceived mentality towards the grace of God…until its given to you from above, to catch the revelation of the indwelling presence of Christ, freely giving to us to aid us, grace means license to sin. Without grace, Christianity is not different from any religion. This is a masterpiece. I will definitely share it on gravity of grace. Thanks Mel for sharing

    • Mel Wild says:

      Yes, once you “get it” it’s so simple, so clear. Preachers have complicated grace over the years in an effort to control people because of fear. But love needs no control. It trusts the Holy Spirit to manage us and teach us how to live. And I totally agree. Without grace, we’re just another man-made religion instead of a new creation in Christ.

      Thanks for your comments. Always appreciated. Blessings.

  7. isaacraythomas says:

    Hi Mel, great discussion all around. Thanks for writing.
    I’d like to pick up a point you discussed with regards to saying “Unmerited favor” as a problematic definition of grace…

    I hear you with regards to seeing Jesus as having grace – and the natural question to ask is how can Jesus need and receive Grace?

    I’d submit this to you to consider. The wonderful, awesome, beautiful person of the Son of God indeed does not need “grace” because of sin because there is no Sin in Him. However I see an amazing mystery of God emptying Himself to relegate Himself into linear time which He created and inserted Himself into humanity so that He could redeem us as one of us. (Our kinsman redeemer). In emptying Himself of divinity – Jesus relied on the Father for everything – including favor. And in so doing, demonstrated a prototype for what living wholly dependent on God looks like. He proved that every son of man can function as sons of God – Him being the firstborn of many brethren.

    I would venture that we can both agree on that. The question seems to arise as to whether it was an unmerited favor. I would say yes – indeed. It is not “strange” to think that God’s Son – emptied Himself of His position, power, and divinity (which comes with favor). At age 12 when Jesus submitted Himself to His parents (demonstrating the posture of Sonship) and therefore grew in wisdom, stature, and Favor – it was indeed unmerited (because He did not do anything to deserve it – merit has to do with a reward). It’s the relationship we have with our children – they have unmerited favor with us as our children NOT because they obey but simply because they are ours. It’s their identity of being our children (just as Jesus is God’s Son).

    The problem for me as defining favor as empowerment (while I agree Grace empowers!) is that we actually need to go further back to the first mention of Grace in the Bible for us to define Grace.

    http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/grace/

    And that first mention is Noah. For Noah found “Favor” with God. Behaviourally – Noah made mistakes as much as the best of us, and yet – he found Favor with God. (“For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”) Of course there are explanations for why Noah… but that’s for another discussion. (I tend to think it’s because he was not tainted by the nature of fallen angels co-habitting with man the Bible talks about – Nephilim, thereby corrupting the human DNA genome, and preventing God’s Son to come to redeem us).

    The link to a word study of Grace across the old testament defines grace as “unmerited favor”. If you supplant “empowerment” in the old testament where 5 times Bible says Moses found favor with God – that too doesn’t work.

    “Unmerited Favor”, once seen in the light of the Son of God condescend to become the Son of Man, demonstrating how as sons, we don’t have to earn favor with the Father – but out of that identify of Sonship, we become dependant on Him for all things – including the power to heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out spirits…. and live life in righteousness (which is a gift) and blamelessly before Him.

    • Mel Wild says:

      “In emptying Himself of divinity – Jesus relied on the Father for everything – including favor. And in so doing, demonstrated a prototype for what living wholly dependent on God looks like. He proved that every son of man can function as sons of God – Him being the firstborn of many brethren.”

      Amen. I totally agree with that. And this grace is God’s power working in Jesus’ life, not His own power, which He is the prototype for us all. Again, while unmerited favor is not necessarily a wrong definition, it doesn’t give us the most important aspect of grace–God’s power to live a godly life (Titus 2:11-12). In other words, while grace certainly is God’s unmerited favor, this common Bible dictionary definition doesn’t properly define the purpose of grace.
      Thanks for your comments, Isaac. Blessings.

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