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Cheap Grace, Costly Grace

Updated on February 21, 2015
Bonhoeffer in Tegel military prison, 1943
Bonhoeffer in Tegel military prison, 1943
Cheap grace is grace without
discipleship, grace without
the cross, grace without Jesus
Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the gospel
which must be sought again and
again, the gift which must be
asked for, the door at which
a person must knock.
    ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer~

A Martyr

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, February 4, 1906—April 9, 1945, was a German pastor and theologian. As a founding member of the Confessing Church, he was a vigorous opponent of the Nazi regime from its first days. He quickly became an active participant in the resistance movement.

Bonhoeffer was a man of great discernment. He could see the inherent dangers of the cult of personality centered on Adolf Hitler. To his sorrow and dismay an idolatrous worship of the Führer was sweeping across Germany.

Two days after Hitler ascended to the office of Chancellor, Bonhoeffer delivered a radio address that sounded the alarm. He warned that the charismatic leader could quite possibly become Verführer—a misleader or seducer. The broadcast was abruptly silenced when Bonhoeffer was in mid-sentence.

He was an avowed pacifist, but as the evil of Nazism metastasized and became horrific beyond all comprehension, Bonhoeffer was gripped by an intense inner struggle. He became involved in a conspiracy within the German Military Intelligence Office to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

In April 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested and imprisoned. Two years later, a sham of a trial took place at Flossenbürg concentration camp, at which there were no witnesses or written record kept.

Bonhoeffer was sentenced to death, and then executed by hanging at dawn the next day, April 9, 1945. He was stripped naked, and instead of a rope, a thin wire was used for strangulation.

An eyewitness—the camp doctor—later wrote: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

As a martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer cast a far shadow. The views expressed in his life and writings became extremely influential. His book The Cost of Discipleship is brilliant and ought to be required reading for anyone who is serious about their faith in Christ.

Raising The Bar

Here’s a bit of reality we’d all like to deny: We humans set the standards far too low. Scripture sets the bar high. We lower it to be comfortable.

Somehow we’ve come up with the idea that if we’re Christians—if we go to church, then we’re good people, and life ought to be kind to us. We expect joy without sorrow, gain without pain, growth without change, and grace without responsibility.

We’ve been lulled into the cheap grace syndrome where there is no accountability, no discipline, and no strength of character. When faced with hardships, difficulties or pain we throw our hands up and cry, “Woe is me…woe is me.”

Too many of us want just enough grace to get by and feel good. We want to use God as a crutch to help us through a difficult time—we expect a quick emotional fix to problems that we’ve spent our lives developing.

There are those who think that one hour on Sunday morning is what living the Christian life is all about—there are others who have heads full of Bible knowledge, but somehow those principles are never allowed to affect their lives.

It is far too easy for us to treat God as a Sugar Daddy in the sky who we call upon when life turns up the heat. That mindset is a trap in which we refuse to understand that grace isn’t cheap—grace is costly and it is all about growth, transformation, and change. We are to grow, and things that grow, change!

Things that grow. . .
Things that grow. . .
. . .change!
. . .change!

Growth Equals Change

Life cannot be lived without change. Discipleship has no meaning if we’re not continually engaged in incremental transformation.

In our fallen state, there is much we do not comprehend—much we must persevere forward on in faith. While resisting the madness of Nazism, Dietrich Bonhoeffer had to nurture and maintain faith in the sovereignty of God as tremendous trials closed in all around him.

What about us? What are we to do with the pain and discouragements that comes with life? Should we get mad at God and everyone else? Gripe, grumble, complain, and be miserable—make everyone else miserable because misery does love company, doesn’t it?

Actually we ought to recognize troubles as an instrument that God can use for our spiritual enrichment—to compel us to depend more fully on him. Pain or heartaches quite often forces us to acknowledge our fragility and our desperate need for God.

Oft-times we don’t get to that point of enlightenment quickly because our free will is intact—we choose how we respond to weakness, insults, persecutions, trials, and pain. It’s not automatic for the hard stuff of life to drive us closer to God, but having nowhere else to go, it’s truly the only wise choice.

As we put wisdom into action and draw near to God we begin to think the thoughts God wants us to think and we begin to change, transform, and marvel at God’s grace. Consider Paul’s perspective-altering insights written to the messed-up collection of Christ-followers at Corinth.

II Corinthians 12:7-10 - NIV

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

  "A wonderful Savior is 
   Jesus my Lord, 
   He taketh my burden away,
   He holdeth me up and I 
   shall not be moved,
   He giveth me strength
   as my day."
      ~Fanny Crosby~

When assaulted by weakness do you allow God's grace to provide strength in your life?

See results
 "Standing on the promises
  that cannot fail,
  When the howling storms of
  doubt and fear assail
  By the living Word of God
  I shall prevail
  Standing on the promises
  of God."
     ~R. Kelso Carter~

Strength In Weakness

That passage was written by Paul, a man who had much experience with bitter adversity. He had been whipped, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, hungry, thirsty, cold, naked, and constantly in danger.

There is much speculation as to what tormented Paul—what was the thorn in his flesh? Was it incessant temptation or ruthless foes? Was he referring to chronic maladies such as cataracts, malaria, epilepsy, or migraine headaches?

We simply don’t know. What we do know is that Paul reached the point where he comprehended that divine power was best displayed in human weakness—God’s grace would sustain him and be made perfect in his affliction and weakness.

Paul spent his life plumbing the depths of God’s grace—God’s mysterious and marvelous grace transformed him. He came to grasp a paradox: When he was weak, then Christ by his wondrous strength could make Paul spiritually strong.

Physical or emotional weakness is an opportunity for spiritual strength and growth. It’s an open invitation for us to trust God and his awesome grace; a challenge to us to put our faith into action. We get to decide to put up or shut up about our faith—do we trust God or not?

God’s grace is a free gift that costs our personal surrender. It’s not cheap and it’s not easy. Personal surrender does not happen all at once—it is a process of trusting God minute by minute and day by day through the good and bad times.

Faith is forged in the hard places of our lives as we put misfortunes in the context of God’s purposes. No situation or circumstance should ever slow us from investing our lives probing God’s grace. We do so—we learn the extravagance of grace—as we claim, affirm, and endeavor to live out the promises of God.


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    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I hope my faith is never tested to the extent of death or troture. I'm not sure if I would do all so well.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      dahoglund - Thanks for stopping in & sharing. I share your honest assessment. One never knows until the fire starts how they will respond. Blessings & encouragement.

    • 50 Caliber profile image

      50 Caliber 6 years ago from Arizona

      Ken, observing the above comments, I have to disagree but the paths the tattered boots I wear have been through foul and dark places, mix that with the heart of a Jackass, and I will not be moved! God be my witness.

      Love and peace, dust

    • profile image

      Friar Tuck 6 years ago

      Right on Ken! The Cost of Discipleship changed my view of what Christianity should look like. I recommend it to just about everyone who has a desire to grow in Christ. So many today have created a god in their own image. Bonhoeffer's writings... his life and death, shatter that idolatrous thinking.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Dusty - Thanks for the reminder about plain old fashioned stubbornness. Blessings.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Friar Tuck - Thanks for the good word. You'll note I used one of your bumpersticker truths about growth. Blessings.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

      Ken, This was a very good hub and I love the scripture you quoted. My Grace is sufficient for you. God Bless you.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Pamela - Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it. Peace, blessings & encouragement to you.

    • CYBERSUPE profile image

      CYBERSUPE 6 years ago from MALVERN, PENNSYLVANIA, U.S.A.

      If the world would read your words Ken, it would be a far better and thinking world. If you don't believe in the prime mover you are sorely missing in that which stablizes your moral and social behaver. The bar is definitly way to low today. Maybe missing altogether.

    • Mekenzie profile image

      Susan Ream 6 years ago from Michigan

      Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived true discipleship .. He was connected to the LIVING GOD and drew on HIS strength til the very end. What a godly example to us all!

      You said, "Life cannot be lived without change. Discipleship has no meaning if we’re not continually engaged in incremental transformation." God uses ALL things for the Good of those that love Him .. ALL THINGS .. good, bad and ugly .. as you have so clearly written.

      Great Hub Ken .. may we all be personal respresentatives of the Living God .. submissive to HIM in all things.



    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      CYBERSUPE - Thank you for your wise observations. Yes, on some days I wonder if the bar even exists.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Mekenzie - Thank you. Your thoughtful words are exactly right. Blessings.

    • Investor Dean profile image

      Investor Dean 6 years ago

      I have to echo the words of Mekenzie above - well said.

      Great Hub Ken. Blessings to all.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Investor Dean - Thank you for stopping in & sharing. Blessings.

    • Ann Nonymous profile image

      Ann Nonymous 6 years ago from Virginia

      I hope to God I never have to be in Bonhoeffers shoes. His story has always challenged me from an early age on. Thank you so much, Ken, for reminding me of Dietrich, of God's grace, and the price paid! Great hub!

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Ann Nonymous - You're welcome. Thank you for stopping in & sharing. I appreciate your perspective.

    • allpurposeguru profile image

      David Guion 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Bonhoeffer is truly one of the spiritual giants of the 20th century. In this day of feel-good praise choruses and constant invitations to seek faith as a means of obtaining health, wealth, and self-esteem, the modern church dare not forget the lessons he proclaimed. Thanks for the reminder. (Costly) grace and peace to you.

    • Tricia Ward profile image

      Tricia Ward 6 years ago from Scotland

      Great hub, really well written

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      allpurposeguru - You're welcome for the reminder. It was good for me to look again at his life & consider the real message of grace anew. Blessings.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Tricia Ward - Thank you for your kind words. Blessings.

    • Wayne Brown profile image

      Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas

      Ken, I think we all ask ourselves 'what is faith?' from time to time. Your example of Pastor Bonhoeffer shows us the far reachings that real faith can have. It also demonstrates that our faith is not tested in the good times, no, it is the bad ones that determine how deep our roots really are. Faith bring serenity in sadness, order in chaos, and peace under the worst of circumstances. We probably all deserve credit for our attempts to attain it but it is an elusive butterfly for many. Thanks for a great hub with much wisedom and elightenment. WB

    • Solnyshka profile image

      Solnyshka 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Thank you for this word, brother! I am ever so thankful for the sufficient grace of our Lord. It bothers to see two extremes among the Church....those who think grace gives us license to do whatever we want, and those who believe such legalism that stifles grace altogether. I believe that when a person has really been reborn, realizing that we are filthy compared to Christ and wretchedly undeserving of His gift of salvation, our thankfulness should naturally PRODUCE obedience to Him, good works, as a BI-PRODUCT of a our salvation. I strive to please Him not because He will cast me away if I don't but because I understand that He took on the penalty that I deserved, sparing me from the hell that I have earned. He bought me at a price that I can never repay, and it's the LEAST I can do to give Him my all, in return.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Thanks, Wayne. I appreciate your visit & thoughtful comments.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Solnyshka - Thank you for stopping in & sharing. I appreciate your affirming words of encouragement.

    • Kaie Arwen profile image

      Kaie Arwen 6 years ago

      Somebody recently gave me a copy of "The Cost of Discipleship," it's on my summer reading list. Thank you far yet another informative Hub.........


    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Kaie Arwen - You're welcome. Enjoy reading Bonhoeffer's work. Blessings.

    • carolina muscle profile image

      carolina muscle 6 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      A beautiful tribute to a great man and his faith.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Thank you, CM.

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 6 years ago

      Very n ice Ken! Thank you again Sir!

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Micky Dee - You are welcome again. Thank you.

    • A M Werner profile image

      Allen Werner 6 years ago from West Allis

      Ken, you leave me speechless. This is pulpit preaching at its best. I loved every word. I had heard of Bonhoeffer but did not know there was a book. I will defintely have to check it out. Keep up the inspirational work. Peace.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      AM - Thanks. Glad you enjoyed your visit here. Bonhoeffer's writings ought to come with a warning. They are deeply profound & extremely challenging. Blessings.

    • PlanksandNails profile image

      PlanksandNails 6 years ago from among the called out of the ekklesia of Christ

      I agree!

      Once God strips and burns the man mad foundations we have made for ourselves, then from the ashes of humility, brings forth strong roots, immovable foundation, and strength of character forged by the grace of God that can weather any adversity.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 6 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      PlanksandNails - Thanks for stopping in & sharing. Blessings & much encouragement to you.

    • jstfishinman profile image

      Bill Akers 2 years ago from Bakersfield,Ca.

      A wonderful hub, thank you for sharing.

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