What is required of a Christian? The question would receive a different response from every person of Christian faith to whom the question was asked. Dietrich Bonhoeffer would respond like this: “Being a Christian is not about cautiously avoiding sin. Being a Christian is about actively seeking God’s will.” To me, that is a beautiful and simple response. CS Lewis said that “God does not love us because we are good. We are good because God loves us.” Equally beautiful and simple. Both of those statements have no significance or meaning without the concept of grace.
But what is “grace?” Grace is the practice of receiving a gift for which the receiver of the gift has done nothing to earn the benefit of the gift. That sounds so wonderful and fantastic! Many will stop reading and go on with their lives and use grace as their personal “sin license.” But is that the correct approach? Is God’s unconditional love to be cheapened and abused? In the theological masterpiece, “The Cost of Discipleship” based on living out the Sermon on the Mount from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it this way:
“Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks' wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?
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 treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
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.”
One of the Rev. Dr. Bonhoeffer’s contemporaries, Karl Barth, stated the idea this way: "Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Gratitude evokes grace like the voice and echo. Gratitude follows grace as thunder follows lightning."
The appropriate response to Grace is gratitude and faith. Can we really abuse the power of grace if the faith within us is authentic? If our faith is authentic, it is the gift of the Holy Spirit working within us and bringing us to a new life. Faith is a gift of grace put into motion by the power of the Holy Spirit. Faith brings us to the full understanding of the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness liberates us from the power of sin and death. Not only our own forgiveness, but also the forgiveness of those who have sinned against us. If we have freely received forgiveness, we are compelled to forgive others with reckless abandon. Forgiveness has no value when it is retained, but once it is given away freely, its value is beyond measure.
Grace and forgiveness are beautiful and essential to the Christian life. Karl Barth says it better than I ever could: "Grace creates liberated laughter. The grace of God...is beautiful, and it radiates joy and awakens humor."
May God bless you and keep you safe. May you feel the presence of God and feel the gift of Grace through the power of the working of the Holy Spirit. Amen.