“I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.” Hosea 14:4
As we continue our walk with Jesus this Lent, we would do well to meditate on the ever-present tendency to fall into teaching and believing in cheap grace. A term originally coined by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his 1937 work The Cost of Discipleship, 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.”
We may not like to admit it, but cheap grace abounds. It abounds in televangelism, in prosperity gospel preaching, in Hallmark-card Christianity, and in a million other ways, shapes, and forms. It’s a “warm and fluffy” Christianity that says that God loves us for who we are and that we don’t really need to repent and turn because we’re always forgiven and rarely sin. It’s a tendency to say, “I’m freely forgiven, and Jesus loves me no matter what, so why does it matter what I do?” It could be argued that cheap grace is a prideful grace that lifts us up and brings Jesus down; it denies that we are poor miserable sinners in need of a Savior. If true grace is costly, arising out of the lifegiving blood of Christ poured out for us on the cross, cheap grace is just that: cheap. It doesn’t take sacrifice and it leaves no room for repentance.
One of the best antidotes for cheap grace is a thorough reading of Scripture, and especially Christ’s Words and those of the Minor Prophets. In this past Wednesday’s midweek devotional, we dove into Hosea 13-14. These two chapters serve as a wonderful Law-Gospel sermon, in which God wrathfully confronts the sinfulness of Israel, but promises salvation, love, and the destruction of death. On one hand, God firmly reminds His people: “I am the Lord your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior” (13:4), “He destroys you, O Israel, for you are against me, against your helper,” (13:9), and speaks in language of wrath, while on the other hand, He lovingly promises: “I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol; I shall redeem them from Death. O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting?” (13:14) and “I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them,” (14:4). Without recognizing our own sinfulness and inherent inclination to go against the will of God, you and I can fail to realize how truly gracious salvation is. Recognizing the misery of our own natural condition heightens and highlights our understanding of the love and mercy of Christ, who, when we were still sinners, died for us. Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” (Mt. 16:24). Thomas said “Let us also go, that we may die with him,” (Jn. 11:16). Peter said “‘Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!’ And all the disciples said the same.” (Mt. 26:35). Yet, when the time came, all left Him. Peter denied Him (Mt. 26:69-75), Mark ran naked from Him (Mk. 14:51-52), and while John stood by the cross, He did not die with Jesus (Jn. 19:25-29). All knew their shame intimately and wholly. All knew their weakness and their sin. All knew that when it came time to do what they had said they would do, they couldn’t. Here is the power of grace: those sins were nailed to the cross as well.
What grace! What love! What power is in the forgiveness of Jesus! Recognizing that we have nothing naturally good inside of us, that we are ever inclined to sin, helps us to realize how truly gracious Christ’s love is! My advice? Throw away cheap grace – like most cheap things, its quality is lacking and it doesn’t hold up. Cling to Christ’s real grace, and let it wash over you in a cleansing flood. When you sin, turn, repent, and see the grace, and love, and power of Christ for you.
O God, O Lord of heav’n and earth,
Thy living finger never wrote
That life should be an aimless mote,
A deathward drift from futile birth.
Thy Word meant life triumphant hurled
In splendor through Thy broken world.
Since light awoke and life began,
Thou hast desired Thy life for man.
Our fatal will to equal Thee,
Our rebel will wrought death and night.
We seized and used in prideful spite
Thy wondrous gift of liberty.
We housed us in this house of doom,
Where death had royal scope and room,
Until Thy servant, Prince of Peace,
Breached all its walls for our release.
Thou camest to our hall of death,
O Christ, to breathe our poisoned air,
To drink for us the dark despair
That strangled our reluctant breath.
How beautiful the feet that trod
The road that leads us back to God!
How beautiful the feet than ran
To bring the great good news to man!