I have thought for a long time that the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and particularly the passage below, are as fresh, pertinent, and challenging as when they were written.
In the summer of 1939, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945), a Lutheran pastor and lecturer in theology, was on a lecture tour in America. Already he was known as an enemy of the Nazi regime in his native Germany. He had denounced Hitler on the radio in 1933, before he came to power. He had spent two years in London urging the German congregation there to join the battle against Nazism. And in 1936 he had been banned by the Nazis from speaking, writing, or lecturing. He had also written two influential books – The Cost of Discipleship and Living Together – and his reputation as a radical Christian thinker was growing. If he stayed in America, he would be safe and could pursue his studies. Instead he chose to return to Germany, taking one of the last ships to sail before war broke out.
After four years of resistance work, he was finally arrested for his part in an attempt to assassinate Hitler. On 9 April 1945 – only a short time before the end of the war – he was hanged. His Letters and Papers from Prison, published after his death, show a man who thought deeply about what Christianity means in the modern world, and who lived out his faith to the end with unfailing courage.
Cheap Grace and Costly Grace
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack’s wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessing with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits … Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all of 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.
(from ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ by Bonhoeffer quoted in The Lion Book of Christian Classics 1988)
The reflections here are written by members of our congregation.