There’s No Such Thing As “Cheap Grace”

I can’t tell you how much I hate the phrase “cheap grace”.

More than I hate bro-country music (sorry Florida-Georgia Line).

More than I hate those online quizzes which “predict” your perfect spouse based on the type of fruit you like.

More than I hate the Star Wars prequels.

Those things are trivial. The words “cheap grace” are not.

Why am I huffing and puffing and steaming so much about it? Because using the phrase “cheap grace” is an insult to the gospel and to Christ.

Let me explain.

Bonhoeffer and Cheap Grace

The phrase originated with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote in his book 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, living and incarnate.

First, let me say that I really do understand what Bonhoeffer was getting at. He was concerned that forgiveness and salvation were being offered and that discipleship was being neglected.

It’s a legitimate concern.

And I too think it’s absolutely essential that we call followers of Christ to discipleship, church membership, baptism, and daily taking up the cross.

But there’s also a huge problem with the phrase “cheap grace”.

It’s Free Grace or No Grace At All

The testimony of scripture, from beginning to end, is that the offer of salvation in Christ is completely and totally free.

No strings attached.

I come sinful, broken, and needy to God and he gives me the righteousness of Christ. I don’t have anything to offer God. The only thing I contribute to my salvation is my own sin. Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.

Revelation 22:16-18 puts it this way:

And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

Romans 10:9 says:

…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

The glory of the gospel is that it is extravagantly free. Anyone can come and receive the full pardon that comes through Christ.

Drug dealers, church kids, prostitutes, and members of the PTA all get the same deal: free forgiveness, redemption, and adoption in Christ.

When we use the phrase “cheap grace”, we imply that there is some cost to salvation – that something must be done to receive it.

After all, a cheap car costs more than a free car. A cheap pizza still requires you to shell out a few dollars.

The gospel isn’t cheap. It’s free. Gloriously, delightfully, dizzyingly free.

Jesus really did pay it ALL.

But What About Repentance?

Before you digitally stone me as an antinomian heretic, let me be clear on a few things.

I firmly believe in calling people to repentance. Christians are called to carry their cross, cut off their hand, and gouge out their eye. I don’t take sin lightly because God doesn’t take it lightly.

I also don’t think that the solution to every struggle is to somehow believe the gospel harder. We’re called to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, which is serious business.

But repentance is the fruit of salvation, NOT a condition of it. Repentance is not a prior requirement for salvation.

We have to be really, really careful how we parse this out. Small missteps can lead to huge problems.

At least two reasons why repentance is a fruit of salvation and never a condition of it.

#1 – We’re Dead In Our Sins

Before God saves us and causes us to come alive in him, we are fully, truly, completely dead in our sins. We have zero power or desire to obey God. When you are dead in your sins, you can’t repent. In fact, repentance is repulsive to those who are dead.

In Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan puts it this way:

The truth is, a repentant sinner first believes that God will do that which he promiseth, namely, pardon his sin, and take away his iniquity; then he rests in the hope of it; and from that, and for it, he leaves sin, and will forsake his old course, because it is displeasing to God; and will that which is pleasing and acceptable to him.

The Pilgrim's Progress (Dover Thrift Editions: Classic Novels)
The Pilgrim's Progress (Dover Thrift Editions: Classic Novels)
Paperback with scene of an angel and the pilgrim; John Bunyan (Author); English (Publication Language)

#2 – Repentance Is A Work

Repentance is, to use the terminology of Ephesians, a “work”. In other words, it’s something that honors God and is pleasing to God. And while this is a wonderful thing, we are absolutely NOT saved by works. If repentance is a condition of salvation, then we are saved, at least partially, by our own works. This is heresy.

In his absolutely amazing book The Whole Christ, Sinclair Ferguson says:

At the end of the day, we cannot divide faith and repentance chronologically. The true Christian believes penitently, and he repents believingly. For this reason, in the New Testament either term may be used when both dimensions are implied…But in the order of nature, in terms of the inner logic of the gospel and the way it’s “grammar” functions, repentance can never be said to precede faith. It cannot take place outside of the context of faith.

The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters
The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters
Amazon Kindle Edition; Ferguson, Sinclair B. (Author); English (Publication Language); 280 Pages - 01/14/2016 (Publication Date) - Crossway (Publisher)

But Isn’t This Just Splitting Hairs?

You may be thinking, Geez Stephen, calm down with all this cheap grace talk. Why are you frothing at the mouth so much about this? It’s just splitting theological hairs. 

Except that it’s not.

The moment we add a single condition or requirement to the gospel, we have totally castrated it. It’s no longer good news.

If we call a person to repent before assuring them of their free forgiveness in Christ, we’ve added a demonic barrier to the gospel.

The phrase “cheap grace” implies that there is a price we must pay in order to receive salvation. That’s a damnable heresy.

Yes, let’s exhort each other toward ongoing repentance. Let’s encourage one another in discipleship. Let’s throw off the weight of sin.

But let’s eliminate “cheap grace” from our vocabulary.

Salvation cost Jesus everything and it costs us nothing. Let’s keep it that way.

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Hey, I'm Stephen Altrogge. I'm a dad and published author. I've written for The Gospel Coalition, Desiring God, ERLC, Church Leaders, Crosswalk, and many more outlets. You can follow me on Instagram and Facebook .

65 thoughts on “There’s No Such Thing As “Cheap Grace””

  1. The term cheap grace is not used to refer to what we have to pay to receive forgiveness. It is used to refer to the cheapening of the unimaginable costliness of this grace to Jesus, who laid down everything He had to obtain our salvation. Grace is not cheap or free. It is very costly. The beauty is that we are not the ones bearing the cost.

    • The Bonhoeffer quote would indicate otherwise. In other words, he uses the term cheap grace to mean grace without the call to discipleship and repentance. I’ve also heard it used that way by numerous other people

      • Hey Stephen, I really appreciate your blog and follow regularly. I’m just wondering though, is that really Bonhoeffer was indicating by his quote?

        “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, living and incarnate.”

        When he says “requiring repentance” (and the rest), I don’t hear him saying that repentance is a requirement for salvation. Or that it is the necessary pre-payment for the cost of salvation in any way. What I hear is a warning against offering one aspect of the Gospel while failing to mention the rest of it. What I hear is that when we teach people to receive the completely free gift of salvation, but fail to inform those people of the cost of discipleship, we who teach/preach/invite cause the wonderfully free gift of grace to be cheapened.

        The grace is cheapened, not because we put a price on it before it can be received, but because after receiving it, we treat it as though it were an inconsequential gift by neglecting its benefits and demands. To be clear, the problem is not that we’re failing to earn or merit the gift afterwards, but failing to treat the gift in keeping with what it truly is: the most precious, priceless gift ever.

        To use your picture of the free car, I would suggest (as a broken analogy!) that cheap grace is the receiving a Rolls Royce and then failing to enjoy it or maintain it. And for those of us sharing this gift with others, it is the offering of the Rolls Royce to another as a completely free gift but failing to also let them know the effects of receiving this gift, namely its call for your affections as well as time, the cost of upkeep, and learning to drive it according to its unique operating instructions.

        Its very rare that I post comments anywhere. The main reason I’m posting is because I’ve been thinking through Luke 14:25-33 lately and the way Jesus called people to discipleship (and I believe that call to be hand in hand with the invitation to salvation). And practically, I’ve been wrestling with what needs to be included when inviting someone to follow Jesus. I see a difference between telling people the implications of following Christ (as they’re considering whether or not to follow Christ) versus making those out to be requirements prior to following Christ.

        So, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that Luke passage, especially the manner (and demands) in which Christ called the crowds to come to him, and how they relate to your closing statements in this blog post. God bless!

      • Yun Aiseng excellent and well said. There is Cheap Grace out there being taught. I’ve encountered much of it. Been accused of legalism because all the rest is done away. The Lord says, whatever you do in word and in deed, or say do all in the Glory of Jesus. So what I do determines how I view or better yet receive This Well undeserved Grace. What do I watch? What do I Listen to? Who do I Associate with? This isn’t a to do list but really it will show who I am putting First then determines my Gratitude For His Grace. Cheap? Or Honored

      • Hey Yun – Great thoughts! I certainly agree with your general sentiments. I don’t know for certain if that’s what Bonhoeffer meant. I simply think that using the word “requiring” is slippery and dangerous. And I also think we need to be clear that repentance is not part of the gospel. It’s the result of receiving the gospel.

        I think it’s essential to look at how salvation was preached and received and the NT. Salvation was freely offered. Then the call to discipleship came when that was received. I think that when we bunch the offer of the free gift of salvation immediately with the call to repentance, it can confuse the two.

      • I wonder if you may be misunderstanding the concept of Bonhoeffer’s doctrine of Cheap Grace.

        Grace most certainly is NOT free. Fortunately, Christ has paid the “price” for this grace. It was very costly. It was Costly Grace.

        Grace is much like a gift we receive on Christmas morning. We did not do anything to deserve or earn this gift. It was given to us entirely free by our parent(s). They paid the cost for this gift, not us. However, in order to fully “receive” this gift from them, we must still unwrap it and open the package. This is not a “work.”

        Opening our gift of grace from Christ, is our confession and repentance. When we confess and repent, we remove the wrapping paper and fully receive His grace.

        When Christ was on the cross, He told one of the men on the cross next to Him that he would be going to Paradise. He said this to the one man who expressed confession and and who showed remorse. For his ounce of repentance, Christ gave him a ton of grace.

    • Deborah, the way Dietrich Bonhoeffer intended the phrase when he created it was not referring to the unimaginable costliness to Jesus, but rather, as a criticism of those who believe that because of grace, no repentance, no discipleship is required.
      Although I understand Mr. Altrogge’s argument, I fundamentally disagree. “WE” are not the ones who place certain conditions on salvation, but Jesus Christ, Himself, when He said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” (Matt. 7:21) “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved…” (Mark 16:16) And of course the repeated requirement to keep His commandments in John chapters 14-17.
      Apostle Paul emphasized the need for us to “crucify our old man” of sin and to come forth a “new creature… dead to sin.”
      Those who confess Jesus is Lord and say they accept Him as their Savior, but who do not manifest “by their fruits” that God has taken from them their stoney heart and given them a heart of flesh… my advice would be to “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling,” (Philippians 2:12) rather than counting on grace to compensate for what might be less-than-sincere lip service.

  2. While I agree grace is not “cheap,” I do not believe it is wrong to reject the phrase as Bonhoffer intended. There is an abundance of cheap grace in the Church. I believe the bigger issue is not “cheap grace” but the “cost of discipleship.”

      • Stephen – What is a Covenant? It is an agreement between God and someone else. What are the terms JESUS stipulates for HIS gift of salvation by His grace? You are incorrect to state that any strings attached would be of our doing. We all agree that we must HEAR the word, Believe (Confess) that Jesus Christ is Lord and that He is the only mean by which we can be saved, and many believe Baptism is also a requirement (John 3:5). So obviously, there are SOME strings attached. I simply maintain that when Jesus said that doing the will of the Father is a requirement to entering into the kingdom of God, he actually meant it. This isn’t a “string” that WE are attaching. The Author of the Covenant did.

    • AMEN. Was hoping I was wrong. The news is now saying we are living in a Bonhoeffer time. Thank God this is just about A theological opinion.

  3. Hey Stephen,
    I really enjoy reading your work. I can’t think of anything I’ve disagreed with you about…until today. Don’t worry, though. It’s just the part about rom-coms. (and maybe a few of those country songs.) 🙂 But I’m totally with you on the Patriots!!! And I agree with your assessment of grace and salvation. And I agree with what we bring to the table, which is absolutely nothing. And I see why you warn us about the dangers. I don’t think I’ve ever even used the term cheap grace, but I will probably avoid it in the future for exactly the reasons you outlined. But I have to say, I thought it meant something else. Salvation is free because it’s a gift. A really, really, really costly gift. I always assumed that the “cheap” referred to the price paid by the Giver. I thought it meant that when we don’t disciple people, we are effectively teaching them that the salvation we wanted them to receive isn’t really a big deal. After all, it was cheap. Now that you’ve pointed it out, I can see the danger in using the phrase. And I can see how it could be understood heretically, even from the original quote. Thank you for your writing. Thank you for always being willing to challenge us, and quick to encourage us. Keep it up!

  4. I’m not going to get into that argument, because I do not argue the Bible, it is the Word of God and what He wrote is what He wrote or said and that’s that. Yes, Grace is not cheap, Jesus died for it and that is a very high price. As always, Stephen you are right on, keep up the good work and keep us posted on your thoughts.

  5. I am delighted with your commentary. Especially the Pat’s part. You have hit the nail on the head with your insight. Nothing about receiving grace is cheap. It is glory in the purest form. Rejoice!

    • I’m pretty enamored of Bonhoeffer at the moment, and appreciate you reminding to think critically about what writes. But I do have a bit of a different interpretation. I think he makes quite clear that Christ calls, and you follow, and that’s it. No strings. The only barriers in the way are those we put in front of ourselves. The cost of discipleship is to let go of those things and accept that Christ’s call is enough. Cheap grace is that which tells us we can hold on to those strings that we ourselves have attached (doubt especially), and still freely heed the simple call fully.

  6. Thank you for your article. “Cheap grace” is a big concern in the church I’ve gone to all my Christian walk. In fact, it seems feared at times. My church doesn’t want to baptize anyone until they’ve shown that they’ve repented. (“faith without deeds is dead” is one of many scriptures they use to confirm this) For instance, if someone is living with their boyfriend, they have to move out before they’re baptized. After all, I was told, she needs to be set up for success. She would find it hard to follow Jesus while living with him. The temptations are too great. This sounds reasonable. But I can’t help think it’s unbiblical. But I change my mind again thinking of Acts 2:38 where Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” NIV

    A lot of people think repentance means you stop sinning. I used to.
    Looking up the Greek for “repent” Strong says it’s a change of mind. Not some deed you do or sin you stop doing.
    Repentance will eventually lead to a change in behavior. When I think of repentance this way, Acts 2:38 becomes different in meaning.

    Because of Acts 2:38 and other scriptures my church believes baptism is the point of salvation. I know a lot of people will say baptism is a work. I’ve studied it out hoping they were right, but I couldn’t agree with them. I’ve looked at so many articles full of scriptures written by people that believe baptism is a work and I left disappointed because they didn’t convince me.
    So baptism being the point of salvation isn’t an issue with me so much as requiring someone to change their behavior before they’re baptized. This has been a huge hinderance for me with my church family.
    Suggestions are welcome, but I don’t want to argue.
    Thanks for reading this!

  7. Living in the heart of the Bible Belt, where cultural Christianity is a veneer too easily and commonly worn, I see great value in the phrase “cheap grace” to warn people of its power. To put a Southern spin on Bonhoeffer, cheap grace is the kind of “grace” that assumes good people go to church, and bad people don’t – that prompts professions of faith in 11-year-olds followed by decades of prodigal lives – that makes Sunday have little to do with Monday. Bonhoeffer’s rant on “cheap grace” – in fact, his entire “The Cost of Discipleship” – ought to be strongly urged on every professing Christian in the Western world.

    • I also live in the Bible belt, and I entirely agree with your sentiment, Errol.

      While I appreciate the author of this blog and would not argue against the merits of his ideas, it should be noted that Bonhoeffer’s ideas are also compelling and timely.

      Also. It seems a bit ludicrous and disappointing to make a whole blog about a turn of phrase pulled from a quote; Bonhoeffer was a professor, a pastor, a theologian, an activist. He wrote and preached sermons; he wrote books; he issued theses. He died in an internment camp for his commitment to Christ and earnest grappling with theology in action.

      His contributions to theology and discipleship should not be conflated with an italicized quote, nor should it be dispensed with in such a manner.

  8. Jesus Christ is full of grace and truth. God became a man, lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sins, and rose bodily on the third day from the dead. Only God gives grace. Every good and perfect gift comes from above. I agree that the grace of Christ Jesus is not cheap but rather cost His blood as well as Him bearing our sins, being separated from the Father.

    No one does good, no not even one. We can’t believe the Gospel on our own power. Even that belief is a gift from Him, giving us the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our salvation and eternal life both now and forever, knowing God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. We repent (change our minds) about who Jesus Christ is and what He did, thus believing the Gospel. That changing of mind comes from Him. He is our Sanctification; it comes from Him. He is our Wisdom; it comes from Him. He is our Salvation; it comes from Him. He is our Way, Truth, and Life; it comes from Him. I could go on. All good things come from Him, all summed up as “His grace” as shown to us through the Lord Jesus Christ.

    We take His name in vain when we, as believers in Him, choose not to obey Him in discipleship or believe His Word, taking up our crosses and following Him, dying daily. In this sense, our behavior may cause us or others to view Him as not as great as He truly is. Perhaps in this sense His grace is cheapened, but only from our self-centered perspective, when we take our eyes off of Jesus Christ. His grace, His Name remains pure, perfect, magnificent. We cannot change it. We can only affect our or others’ viewpoint of Him. Let’s represent Christ Jesus properly according to who He is and what He’s done, resting in His pure and perfect grace as shown to us through Jesus Christ our Lord.

  9. Acts 3:19 “Repent and be converted that your sins may be blotted out”
    Rom 2:4 “the goodness of God leads you to repentance”
    Acts 5:31 “Him God has exalted to his right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.”
    2 Tim 2:25 “in humility correcting those in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth”
    John 6:65 “No one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father”

    In Luke 24:46-48 Jesus in His Great Commission said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem”.

    I am no theologian, but it seems to me that repentance is not a condition or requirement for salvation but a work of God on our behalf. A gift just like faith is a gift. It is God seeking us first, loving us first, bringing us to repentance … because if He didn’t, we wouldn’t come to Him – there is “none who seeks for God” Rom 3:11). And honestly? Why does one need a Savior from sin if they don’t realize they are a sinner and in that realization repent?

    • Good points, Pam. To further emphasize the point that repentance is a gift from God rather than a work of man I’d add 2 Timothy 2:24-26. God grants repentance to the lost (those who are in opposition).

    • Pam I challenge you to search the word repentance out in the Greek. It is the word metanoia. It literally means change your mind. Did you know the Scriptures records that God has repented? Meaning He changed His mind when Moses prayed.
      Repentance isn’t required for salvation, that is the latin definition to turn away. Peter in Acts 3 was speaking to Jews to change their mind about who Jesus is, their need for a Savior, and to then trust in Him. The Apostles were all about teaching embracing right thinking and rejecting wrong thinking.
      When the Good News is proclaimed, people do experience a change of thinking. As for the actual plan of salvation, look at Acts 16. Paul was asked what must I do to be saved? He responded “believe in Jesus and you will be saved.” Simple Gospel. 🙂

  10. Cheap Grace is ” I do what I wish”, because the Law no longer applies. Grace isn’t cheap but the individual is living as though it’s cheap. It’s one thing to say I’m saved by His Grace and then live as though you have freedom to do as you please. On the other hand one lives In a manner of Gratitude, “his purpose”. He says, it is to walk worthy of his calling. So like many who walk around and say this and that, or poor me a sinner, who will deliver me from this Body of death? Surely the MASTER would say, depart from me I never knew you. Those who LOVE me keep my commandments. Plain and simple. We don’t come up with somthing to defend our twisted thinking or our self proclaimed theology. Cheap Grace is Cheap Grace. Those who don’t Love nor respect the Savior walk in Cheap Grace. How else are you to say it. The Cover looks good, but the the content reveals deception.

  11. I can come up with free and free only indicating all else is works. So then the final end is do as I please. By the way the evidence that God’s Grace has recked our lives is our repentance, and evident that I’m walking in faith not by my works. Faith without works is dead. My faith in Christ should produce my works compelled by The holy spirit. Therefore works are a byproduct of my TRUE CONFESSION OF CHRIST which is given freely bar none. Therefore one who claims salvation by Grace BUT yet fails to “not produce” but, “rather Display”, ACT THESE FRUITS OUT, therein lies Cheap Grace. It is what it is. Jesus said not everybody who says Lord Lord will enter the Kingdom. Anything that falls short of Evidence of His Grace is Cheap.

  12. He’s not saying God’s Grace is Cheap but those who claim Grace but yet walk like they never knew HIS GRACE. Yea today we have a rack of so-called believers claiming Grace and I’m free to do as I please. Yes that’s CHEAP grace. Don’t forget Jesus said REPENT the Kingdom is at hand. NO THE LAW IS NOT DONE AWAY. NO THE GOSPELS IS NOT LAW. Retance isn’t a work it’s a byproduct evidence of God’s Free Grace received. Repentance is a changing of the mind towards Christ. So then a gospel (Grace), preached with out repentance is HERESY….R.C Sproul

  13. I really enjoyed reading the article, but I have one concern with it. I think that someone could misinterpret it as to say that repentance is not necessary at all for salvation. However, repentance and true faith are two sides of the same coin, and both are gifts of God, just as salvation itself is. I guess I’m more just curious how Altrogge feels about repentance and the gospel, which is related to the controversial lordship salvation.

  14. Hello Stephen,

    A couple of thoughts that you may want to do a follow-up about. First, as others have suggested, we all need “cheap grace” (meaning FREE grace) because the truth is, none of us could afford any other kind — and if we could “buy” it then it wouldn’t be grace at all.

    Second, and hugely important — please reconsider your statement that repentance is a “work”. NO — it’s the inevitable effect of the Holy Spirit’s conviction of sin. Remember we’re called to “repentance and faith” — can’t have one without the other. Repentance never happens apart from faith, and true faith is always accompanied by repentance. Remember also that Jesus’ first recorded sermon was “unless you repent, you will perish.”

    Just sayin’.

    • Hey Bill! Great thoughts. Let me push back a little. Repentance is the action *we* take in response to the Holy Spirit’s conviction. We can’t repent without the Spirit making it possible, but it is still something that we do.

      The moment we say that repentance is a condition *for* salvation as opposed to result of salvation, we’ve placed a work into the salvation equation. We also put ourselves in a dilemma of trying to define exactly what repentance is and how much is needed. Does that make sense? In other words, how much has a person sufficiently repented before they’re granted salvation? Is it just a change of mind? Do they need to make some sort of promise to God? Or is it simply saying that they’re sorry for their sins?

      I really do think this is an important distinction.

  15. Can I admit something? I hate the word grace, or the use of it. I actually try and not to use it. If you ask the average person what grace means they can’t tell you. Outside the ol’ verbiage “it’s un-merited favor” most folks are confused and frankly can’t give you a real answer. Go ahead ask the average parishioner. With the neo-cal’s and their description like it’s the fourth person of the godhead of un-deniable or irresistible grace that seems like something that blows in and takes you over and melts you into god’s arms to the descriptions in bad songs we sing. The flippant use of it without the real explanation… to me that’s what’s really cheapened it. It’s not cheap grace, it’s that most folks don’t what it is, truly is.

    • Seems like you’re going to have to talk to God about that one, given that the word grace is everywhere through Scripture. Just because it’s misunderstood doesn’t mean we should stop using it. It means we should patiently help people understand just how beautiful it is!

  16. Amen. Very well stated article. I too despise the term cheap grace. To some, DB is as set apart as some infallible source because he stood up to resist Nazism. While that is commendable, personal courage, and activism isn’t a part of the Gospel message or plan of salvation.
    We are saved by Grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Rome was a cruel regime. How many lands and people did Rome oppress and torture and murder in their conquest? How oppressive were they to Christians? To Jews? Yet we see no record of Jesus actively resisting the Caesar. We don’t see the Apostles rise up and demand social justice for those impoverished and oppressed by the Roman Empire.
    That said, it is certainly true then activism and resistance aren’t the Gospel. When Paul was asked what must I do to be saved by the Philippian Jailer, how did he respond? Repent? Turn from all your bad deeds, stop any idol worship, forsake all the bad stuff right here and now and never ever mess up again? Nope, he simply said believe in Jesus and you and your house will be saved. That’s free Grace. That’s the Gospel. No works, no promise to behave better, nothing but faith alone in Christ.
    When we place our faith in Christ, He comes and abides within us, He gives us His perfect righteousness, exchanging our fallen nature with the new, making us a new creature in Christ. (2 cor 5:17-21) Grace is only cheapened when we put a price tag upon it that man can actually afford to pay, via some work, some promise to be good or to do better, not by proclaiming the Gospel truth that salvation is by faith alone in Christ.

  17. John the Baptist would disagree with you and your collection of authors. He was the greatest prophet that ever lived by Jesus’ estimation. Abraham believed on the Lord and it was counted to Him for righteousness. The wages of sin is death. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

  18. It is certainly true that the existence of Jesus is evidence that a person can never serve God enough on earth to attain salvation. Without the price paid by Jesus and without grace, we all go to hell. However, throughout the New Testament, Jesus makes clear that without works you will not attain salvation. Jesus said that serving the least among us is required to attain salvation. Jesus said that forgiving other people is a required to attain salvation. And Jesus instructed us to pray that God’s will be DONE on earth as it is in heaven. Just because works alone are not sufficient for attaining salvation, does not mean they are not required for salvation. Jesus said they are. Bonhoeffer was right.

  19. I don’t understand the “cheap” and “costly” to refer to the price paid to receive grace. Grace is grace – a gift given to all freely through the death and resurrection of Jesus. I see “cheap” and “costly” as referring to our understanding and response to this gift. Cheap grace is to say to a baptized member of our church, “sure, continue to suffer a life of addiction, God loves you no matter what,” or “sure, continue to abuse your family member, God still forgives you.” Or, “sure, continue to rip off your customers, you’re still going to heaven.” Cheap grace says God doesn’t care about you or the people around you after your salvation. God only cares that Jesus got you into heaven. Costly grace says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that all may not perish but have eternal life.”

    Costly grace is demonstrated in the tireless love of Jesus in his teaching and ministry. Jesus was very concerned with not only whether or not someone was going to heaven, but also with how well we loved our neighbor as our selves. (And then Jesus goes and defines “neighbor” in a very inconvenient way – as someone who is of a different faith and culture who is in need of help! AKA, the parable of the Good Samaritan.) Jesus demonstrates God’s love for us by not only meeting us where we are – sin and all – but also showing us his way of love and asking us to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.

    Neglecting to teach discipleship – how we live lives of love for God and neighbor – cheapens God’s grace and love by making it a “get out of jail free” gift rather than an experience of the “kingdom of heaven” both in this life and the life hereafter.

  20. I understand where you want to take this. But honestly, one sentence says something along these lines “The Gospel is absolutely free. It doesn’t cost anything.” and the following sentence says “Jesus paid it ALL” If the gospel is free then what was Jesus paying? Which I think was the whole point of Bonhoeffer’s book in the first place. The gospel cost God EVERYTHING. That is not cheap. And if we truly understand that idea; that Jesus paid it all for us, then there should be a response. Faith changes the way you live or it isn’t faith.

  21. //”But repentance is the fruit of salvation, NOT a condition of it. Repentance is not a prior requirement for salvation.”//

    That’s a category error. The apostles always preached faith/repentance as the terms of New Covenant membership. Good works are the fruit of saving faith, but those include a much wider swath than just repentance.

    I think you’re conflating categories when you say that “repentance is not a prior requirement.” If that’s true in the broadest sense, then neither is faith a prior requirement. Both faith and repentance are the gift of God (Eph. 2:8; 2 Tim. 2:25) and are like the two sides of the “coin of salvation.”

  22. salvation , by grace through faith, not of works less any man should boast..
    the next verse states ”we are His workmanship..
    someone has already stated that repentance and faith are on the two-sited coin as is faith and works,,
    repentance is , as someone has already stated , is a change OF MIND..which brings a change of direction and , produced by the WORD AND THE SPIRIT..John 3;
    brings about a new person..2 cor.5;17..and as the Apostle Paul states in Eph.2;15..4;24..Col. 3;10
    salvation by Grace through faith brings a change in our lives , if not , this is true faith..James 2;

  23. There is one sin God says he will never forgive…”Carrying his name in vain”…that is, doing evil in his name…a sin that Grace is no remedy or protection for. Without works, faith is dead…and thus grace is no protection from sin…justification comes through works, faithfulness. There is no insta-salvation, only an invitation. Even Satan was graced, and that was no prevention of he rebellion, or protection against judgement for his rebellion. As Revelation says, the book of life will be opened, and they will be judged by their deeds, not by their faith. You must still be faithful to God. Only Satan says, “you can’t be faithful anyway, so why bother.”

  24. The Gospel says God wishes no one to perish so God freely invites everyone to receive his offer of unmerited grace and eternal life. The Gospel also says God is very selective who actually receives his grace. The many and the few. If you truly think grace is free then why does Jesus say many professing Christians are going to hell? God is just and does not discriminate His grace. Because of our sinful nature the majority refuses to give up complete control of our decisions to God. They lack knowledge of how Holy God is and to the sinner giving up his sins is to high of cost (repentance), salvation is anything but free.

  25. In my view, Jesus leaves the answer to the question of cheap vs. costly grace in relation to the offer of salvation and discipleship/repentance obscure and potentially open to different interpretations. As a Catholic, I do believe that justification and discipleship/repentance are inseparable: you cannot have one with out another. Now, given that many people come to Christ from different backgrounds and have different struggles, some of which are beyond their control (e.g. compulsive addiction, mental illness), I do believe that the Lord will judge each according to what is expected of them, although “what is expected” remains a mystery that only the Lord knows.

    A couple of scripture passages come to mind in this conversation:

    Luke 12:47-49 – “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

    Matthew 7:21-23 – “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

    Luke 21:5-19: “Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

    “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”

    He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

    Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

    “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. And so you will bear testimony to me. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. Stand firm, and you will win life.”

    Bonhoeffer, who could have stayed in the United States in 1940 but decided to take the very last ship to Germany before the war so that he could be with his suffering people and join the underground Christian resistance to the Nazi regime–which he viewed as a necessary condition for him to participate fully in the rebuilding of the Church in post-war Germany–was quite literally betrayed, imprisoned, tortured, and brutally put to death by his fellow countrymen, in my view is one of the best examples in recent history of when Jesus says “Stand firm, and you will win life.”

    Regarding his involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler, he felt very guilty about being complicit in the sin of murder, but due to the unique historical circumstances, saw his guilt as part of his cross that he needed to carry. He said: “When a man takes guilt upon himself in responsibility, he imputes his guilt to himself and no one else. He answers for it… Before other men he is justified by dire necessity; before himself he is acquitted by his conscience, but before God he hopes only for grace.”

    As unsavory the term “cheap grace” may be to some, to extract and criticize a very limited quote from Bonhoeffer when he developed an entire theology in various books, sermons, and actions, is possibly misguided. What would we have done if we were in Bonhoeffer’s situation? Would we have taken the last ship back to Germany to help bring Christ to a world of darkness knowing that it would have lead our persecution and possible execution? That is true discipleship, because the personal cost emulates the cost that Jesus had to pay to reconcile the world to Him. It is hard for me honestly to say that I would have the faith and determination to do the same.

  26. Stephen,

    I came across your article while looking for information for a friend.

    I responded some time ago to an article about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I was concerned that the author had no idea of what he believed and sent him this email…….

    The following is a summary of beliefs and influence of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as taken from some of the over 14 books and documents attributed to him:
    1. He believed that “God is teaching us that we must live as men who can get along very well without Him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us.” Bonhoeffer also believed that the concept of God as a “supreme Being, absolute in power and goodness,” was a “spurious conception of transcendence,” and that “God as a working hypothesis in morals, politics, and science … should be dropped, or as far as possible eliminated” (Letters and Papers from Prison, S.C.M. Press edition, Great Britain: Fontana Books, 1953, pp. 122, 164, 360).??2. He believed that mankind had become of age and no longer needed religion, which was only a deceptive garment of true faith; he suggested the need for a “religionless Christianity.” To Bonhoeffer, “the Christian is identified not by his beliefs, but by actions, by his participation in the suffering of God in the life of the world” (Letters and Papers from Prison, S.C.M. Press edition, Great Britain: Fontana Books, 1953, p. 163). Thus, Bonhoeffer’s final writings have given impulse to Marxist theologians sponsoring “liberation theology” and to others wishing to promote a worldly social gospel.??3. He refused to discuss the origin of Christ, His relationship to the Father, His two natures, or even the relationship of the two natures. Bonhoeffer was adamant in his belief that it was impossible to know the objective truth about the real essence of Christ’s being-nature (Christ the Center, pp. 30, 88, 100-101).??4. He questioned the Virgin Birth, and in reality denied it (The Cost of Discipleship, p. 215).??5. He denied the deity of Christ; he advocated that “Jesus Christ Today” is not a real person and being, but a “corporate presence” (Testimony to Freedom, pp. 75-76; Christ the Center, p. 58).??6. He denied the sinlessness of Christ’s human nature and further questioned the sinlessness of His earthly behavior (Christ the Center, pp. 108-109).??7. He believed that Christ exists in three “revelatory forms” — as Word, as sacrament, and as church. From asserting that Christ is the church, he followed that all persons in the church are identical with Christ (Christ the Center, p. 58; The Cost of Discipleship, p. 217). This amounts to pantheism!??8. He believed that Christianity is not exclusive, i.e., that Christ is not the only way to God (Testimony to Freedom, pp. 55-56).??9. He was a prominent figure in the early ecumenical movement, as evidenced through his associations with the “World Alliance for International Friendship” (a forerunner of the apostate World Council of Churches [WCC]), Union Theological Seminary, and Visser ‘t Hooft (who later became the first General Secretary of the WCC) (Testimony to Freedom, pp. 22, 212, 568). Bonhoeffer also reached out to Roman Catholics, prefiguring the broader ecumenism that blossomed after Vatican II in the mid-1960s.??10. He was a practical evolutionist (No Rusty Swords, p. 143), and believed that the book of Genesis was scientifically naive and full of myths (Creation and Fall: A Theological Interpretation of Genesis 1-3).??11. He adhered to neo-orthodox theology and terminology concerning salvation (Testimony to Freedom, p. 130), was a sacramentalist (Life Together, p. 122; The Way to Freedom, pp. 115, 153), believed in regenerational infant baptism (Letters and Papers from Prison, Macmillan, pp. 142-143) as well as adult baptismal regeneration (The Way to Freedom, p. 151), equated church membership with salvation (The Way to Freedom, p. 93), and denied a personal/individualistic salvation (Letters and Papers from Prison, Macmillan, p. 156).??12. He placed little or no value on the Old Testament –“… the faith of the Old Testament is not a religion of salvation” (Letters and Papers from Prison, S.C.M. Press edition, Great Britain: Fontana Books, 1953, p. 112).??13. He denied the verbal-plenary inspiration of Scripture, believing that the Bible was only a “witness” to the Word of God and becomes the Word of God only when it “speaks” to an individual; otherwise, it was simply the word of man/men (Testimony to Freedom, pp. 9, 104; Sanctorum Communio, p. 161). To Bonhoeffer, the Bible was meant “to be expounded as a witness, not as a book of wisdom, a teaching book, a book of eternal truth” (No Rusty Swords, p. 118). He also believed in the value of higher criticism/historical criticism, which is a denial of the inerrancy and authenticity of the Bible (Christ the Center, pp. 73-74).??14. He had no faith in the physical resurrection of Christ. Bonhoeffer believed the “historicity” of the Resurrection was in “the realm of ambiguity,” and that it was one of the “mythological” elements of Christianity that “must be interpreted in such a way as not to make religion a pre-condition of faith.” He also believed that “Belief in the Resurrection is not the solution of the problem of death,” and that such things as miracles and the ascension of Christ were “mythological conceptions” as well (Christ the Center, p. 112; Letters and Papers from Prison, S.C.M. Press edition, Great Britain: Fontana Books, 1953, pp. 93-94, 110).
    –  Dr. G. Archer Weniger declared, “If there is wholesome food in a garbage can, then one can find some good things in Bonhoeffer, but if it be dangerous to expect to find nourishment in a garbage can, then Bonhoeffer must be totally rejected and repudiated as blasphemy. It is worse than garbage” (FBF Information Bulletin, May 1977, p. 12).

  27. Interesting. . .I too have come to dislike the term “cheap grace”, though for perhaps a different reason. While I agree with your assessment, for me the problem of cheap grace is that it infers a hierarchy of faith. Those Christians (this is who is being talked about) who are living with cheap grace are not as strong in their discipleship as the Bonhofferian believers. Carried out, this can cause a Pridefulness as we compare ourselves to those other believers who have not yet reached the same level of discipline as we have. Again, you are correct in that it sets up a barrier that is not in the gospel, but more than that IMO it categorizes Christians into two camps–those with cheap grace, and those with sincere or costly grace. . .This is wrong. We all are united in Christ, as their is no separation: God’s grace is free to all, forever and without condition. The struggling, wavering Christian is in the same league as the devout faithful stalwart, as it nothing that we have, or can do to advance Grace.

  28. Stephen,

    Thank you for your thought-provoking article! I appreciate your caution about using the phrase “cheap grace.” However, when I looked up the full context of the quote, I noticed Bonhoeffer makes ample reference to Jesus’ own words to illustrate the cost of discipleship. Salvation isn’t something we earn, but sanctification–the natural “working out” of our salvation (Philippians 2:12), is something that requires sacrifice. Taking up our cross, losing our life to gain it, loving Jesus above spouse or parents or child, selling everything we have to buy the treasure hidden in the field … that’s a heavy cost. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the continuation of the Bonhoeffer quote:

    “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.”

  29. Short answer: the article is wrong.

    (Long answer: read the New Testament closely, notice the parts about taking up your cross, and then read The Cost of Discipleship. Like real Grace, this will take a while and will take work.)

  30. If you actually read Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, you will find that he specifically argued for free grace. He said he was not arguing against free grace (a very Lutheran emphasis) but against cheap grace. I think he had a very biblically accurate understanding of grace and salvation. There is no cost to our salvation but it cost Jesus his life. There is no cost to our salvation but salvation means that we are surrendering everything to the lordship of Christ so it costs us everything.

  31. Bonhoeffer’s theology (and all Biblically grounded theology) understands salvation, grace, discipleship, etc… in a relational context. It is covenant based. There is give and take, a dialogue of faith between us and God.
    I think you have compromised the relational concept for a purely legal concept of forgiveness, and thereby unintentionally cheapened grace.
    It is free to us, but not without a relational commitment to Jesus as Lord.
    Remember the Unforgiving Servant Parable in Matt. 18:21-35?
    The servant was forgiven, but did not forgive his fellow servant. Jesus taught that because the relationship was not real, the forgiveness was withdrawn. The forgiveness was offered for free, but there were (and always are) relational strings attached. Forgiveness was available in the Old Testament. What Jesus brings is new life (that includes forgiveness).
    Dietrich had it right. Jesus never offered cheap grace. God’s love is unconditional, but all His promises have relational conditions… because salvation is relational.

    • Have any of you ever read his “Letters from Prison?” Bonhoeffer reexamines this issue. He does admit the book was written out of a sense of holding to the Solas, but as he saw his death around the corner and he realized that grace was costly to him personally. So, as it should be for us all. That is because we share in Christ suffering. Love is unconditional and relational.


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