I’ve found myself thinking this week about all the Christians I’ve met over the years. Some of them, when I am first confronted with the idea that they are a Christian, I find myself reeling. The revelation comes on the back of them saying something very unChristian… gossiping, slandering, making racist comments, proclaiming love for things that are clearly called sin in the Bible, or over the years I’ve known them they’ve never once talked of anything remotely spiritual. How can such a person exits?
This is, in part, the question Dietrich Bonhoeffer answers with his book The Cost of Discipleship. These people believe in what Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace.” By definition grace is the free gift of God’s love poured out (for now we’ll ignore the more technical definitions of common grace, efficacious grace, and prevenient grace). Cheap grace is grace that is so “free” it has no lasting meaning. You can sin today with no care for consequences, because you know that redemption is one free step away. All you have to do is return to the gift giver and snatch up forgiveness; it has no cost. Bonhoeffer puts it this way: “Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks’ wares… 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.”
The problems with this are immediately apparent. Good and godly behavior, need have no place in your life because grace is always there, and for free! Cheap grace justifies sin, but does not justify the sinner. That is, it forgives the sin but the sinner remains unsaved. This is what a church does when it offers community without offering accountability, when it offers forgiveness of sins without any confession or penalty.*
There have been a very few Christians over the years that when I learned they were believers, it just made sense. Their life reflected their beliefs in their every action. These people are the ones that believe grace comes at a cost. They believe that truly following Jesus costs them everything. They know that in order to be true followers of Christ they must seek him out at every turn, display God’s love in the core of their being, and always, always repent of sin and strive for a more godly way of living. Bonhoeffer: “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 cost a man [Jesus] his life, and it is grace because it gives a man [you!] the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.”
Bonhoeffer puts grace into perspective. He shows that being a disciple of Jesus is not an easy task. He lays out the foundation of grace at the very beginning of his book and then spends the whole book showing you what a Christian should look like.
This is a book I’ve read several times in my life and I will likely read it many more. What you may not know about Bonhoeffer is that he was a Christian in Germany during WWII. He was arrested by the Nazi’s (supposedly for plotting Hitler’s assassination, though proof is lacking). He spent the rest of his life writing letters and books from prison. He was an intellectual and a theologian. His books can take several attempts at reading before the full weight of them is understood, or more accurately a single sentence from Bonhoeffer can take hours to fully digest. Since I’m a big fan of books that make you think, I am also a big fan of Bonhoeffer. He pushes your mind and your theology to new places and forces you grapple with the weighty truths you find there; you cannot read his books and come away unchanged.
For the Christian and non-Christian alike, I highly recommend The Cost of Discipleship. It spells out Christianity in an in-depth and uniquely engaging way.
Overall, I give this book 4.5 stars.
Up next: In the Labyrinth of Drakes by Marie Brennan
*Salvation does not come through good works, but our works do reflect the state of our hearts James 2.