What is costly grace?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer developed the concept of cheap and costly grace in his work, The Cost of Discipleship. In order to understand the power of both concepts, Bonhoeffer identifies what he sees as "cheap grace: "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."  Bonhoeffer is deliberate in his crafting of cheap grace.  He understands that the modern setting is one in which technology and convenience permeated all aspects of existence.  The natural transition in this secularization would be to move into the realm of spiritual identity.  

Bonhoeffer suggests that one cannot appropriate a product- based approach to spiritual identity.  By doing so, one is cheap in their pursuit of grace.  They are cheap because it is only end products that are pursued.  It is valuing end results of salvation and redemption without any of the price being paid for it, thus it comes across as cheap: "Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness."  Bonhoeffer is deliberate about the "cost" of discipleship.  

For Bonhoeffer, there has to be some type of price or sacrifice made in order for one to experience the truly transformative power of religion.  This comes in the form of "costly grace:"

 ...costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: 'My yoke is easy and my burden is light." 

Bonhoeffer suggests there is a price to be paid in religious discipleship.  The price of religious devotion is for individuals to link themselves to something larger than their own selves.  Commitment and submission are difficult prices that need to be paid for the individual who throughly gives themselves to follow a higher power.  It is costly because it means that we have to surrender something and submit.  Religious devotion should not be solely animated by an end product, a type of spiritual "Get Out Of Jail Free" card.  Bonhoeffer argues that to embrace the religion of transformational figures like Christ, devotees must commit themselves to "submit" and surrender a sense of themselves for something larger and more encompassing.  It is here in which one sees the essence of grace that is costly.

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