“In the depth of his misery, Luther had grasped by faith the free and unconditional forgiveness of all his sins. That experience taught him that this grace had cost him his very life, and must continue to cost him the same price day by day. So far from dispensing him from discipleship, this grace only made him a more earnest disciple. When he spoke of grace, Luther always implied as a corollary that it cost him his own life. Only so could he speak of grace. Luther had said that grace alone can save; his followers took up his doctrine and repeated it word for word. But they left out its invariable corollary, the obligation of discipleship. There was no need for Luther always to mention that corollary explicitly for he always spoke as one who had been led by grace to the strictest following of Christ. Judged by the standard of Luther’s doctrine, that of his followers was unassailable, and yet their orthodoxy spelt the end and destruction of the Reformation as the revelation on earth of the costly grace of God. The justification of the sinner in the world degenerated into the justification of sin and the world. Costly grace was turned into cheap grace without discipleship.” [Page 53, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Macmillan, 1963 (paperback).]
All four Gospels contain Jesus’ teaching that, “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me…” Jesus lived in obedience to the Father; we are to live in obedience to Jesus. Keeping Jesus’ commandments is a major theme of the Upper Room Discourse – those who love Him are to obey Him. We are called to make disciples, not to dispense the commodity of cheap grace.
God’s grace enables obedience while justifying the sinner, this is costly grace; cheap grace excuses sin and enables nothing, or as Bonhoeffer says, cheap grace justifies sin. God’s grace enables us to deny ourselves and take up our cross, thus knowing the fellowship of the Cross; thus the grace that cost the Son His life enables us to know a measure of that cost in our own lives; it is Costly to God, it is costly (with a lower-case “c”) to us. God’s grace is not limited to a forensic understanding, it is actually transmitted to those who trust in Christ, bearing the fruit of obedience as the followers of Jesus abide in the Vine.
To give grace cost Jesus Christ His life, to live in grace costs us our lives as we once knew them, we are crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20).
Bonhoeffer writes, “But they left out its invariable corollary, the obligation of discipleship.”
An irony is that cheap grace, grace without the obligation of obedience, leaves us powerless; while costly grace, grace that commands the obligation of obedience, drives us to total dependence upon Jesus Christ and ushers us into life in the Holy Spirit - overcoming life, victorious life, conquering life. We do not do people favors by dumbing down our preaching and teaching into the realm of cheap grace; we do them a disservice, we rob them of hope, we give them something other than the Gospel which cost Christ and the Apostles their lives.
Cheap grace requires endless diversions and activities in order to mask its anemia; we must entertain people in order to retain them – there is no substantive change, no transformation into the image of Jesus Christ, for cheap grace cannot empower – it can dull us, it can put us to sleep, it can mask the stench of the carnal – but it cannot empower for obedience to the commandments of Jesus Christ. We may douse ourselves with bottle after bottle of fragrance, but it is not the lasting fragrance of the Holy Spirit but rather the ephemeral fragrance of the religious world.
The invariable corollary to God’s grace is obedience, the invariable corollary to obedience is God’s grace. When we preach obedience without grace we have legalism and man’s attempt at righteousness; when we proffer grace without obedience we have man’s attempt to justify his sinful life – worse, we have man portraying God as justifying the sin and not the sinner, we have God throwing a blanket approval over disobedience. Christ died for our sins, He did not die so that we can deny the heinousness of our sins, nor the ingrained sin of our souls. Jesus died that we might be set free from sin and death and the devil and live lives of obedient freedom in intimacy with the Trinity and with one another.
Is discipleship, is obedience, the invariable corollary to grace in our lives?