I recently had a less than pleasant exchange with a well known theologian and I’ve been trying to decide how to write about it for a couple of weeks now. I know, who am I to take on a theologian, right? Blame it on my age or the fact that I am my mother’s daughter, but I’ve always believed in seeking the truth even when it means asking questions of those whom other people may just take at their word. For this very reason this particular theologian called me “arrogant”. Perhaps you also think it’s arrogance, but I hope not.
Rather than tear this person and his beliefs apart in a public space, instead I just want to address one topic from the exchange, the heart of it really- “cheap grace”.
I’ve heard the term “cheap grace” used A LOT recently and it immediately registers both pain and anger in me because I don’t think there’s anything cheap about grace. My understanding is that grace costs quite a lot. It cost our Savior his life, can it be more costly than that? It seems the part that some people are referring to as “cheap” is wrapped up in what it doesn’t cost to receive grace and that’s the part I want to speak to.
Why Grace Isn’t Cheap
In a moment of divine intervention as I struggled with writing, my friend sent me this message
“This is an excerpt from a book I’m reading for school called Sin and Grace in Christian Counseling by Mark McMinn. It is so good. I’m in class right now reading it and here McMinn is writing about a friend who suffered from clinical depression and how most of the people who tried to comfort/counsel him were not helpful at all. But he had one friend who would come every afternoon and massage his feet. They would talk some, but usually just enjoy silence together. He said he ‘offered human touch and comfort to a sacred soul with weary feet.’ I just thought this was beautiful…”
“It is one human being sitting with another, being present in a time of darkness, offering a ministry of mercy while avoiding trite words of advice or comfort… But as they sit together in a posture of sorrow, there is a glimmer of hope because, however sorrowful they may be, they are still sitting together, enveloped in a common faith that God is good even in the darkest moments. Hope may be found in a steady thumb caressing a calloused foot, in a timely smile, in a simple prayer offered by one for the sake of the other or in a word of compassion. Our world is broken, terribly broken – God knows- but it is not shattered. Creation is still good, God is still active, Christ is still sustaining our world (Col 1:17). And so there is love and hope and faith, and where they all intersect there is the possibility of grace.”
For me this really captures what I believe grace looks like and then 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 got my attention-
14For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and there for all died. 15And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 16So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
I can wrap my brain around the mentality that looks at what I call grace and calls it cheap, it’s not pleasant, but I can go there. The disconnect between the Theologian and myself on the issue of grace seems to come at the point of receiving grace; I believe that it costs nothing to receive grace and he believes it should cost something.
My trouble with this and why I will continue to believe that it doesn’t cost anything on the receiving end of grace is that the very nature of grace is that it is something given that is undeserved or unearned, otherwise how could it be grace?
What I find amazing is how little responsibility we place on ourselves in giving grace. So many people put all of their emphasis on earning the right to receive grace, even in their personal lives, that that pay very little attention to the responsibility of giving grace, and this for me is where the cost actually does come in, and Jesus’ example to us is paramount.
Do we understand what happened on the cross? Truly? Can we wrap our heads around what it literally means for God to have become sin for us and then murdered sin itself on the cross? It’s a sacrifice that I can’t fully take in, it defies all of the “rules”, how could we earn that kind of sacrifice? We can’t so we’ve received grace freely, no strings attached, no questions asked, no expectations. It’s terrifying. Does this mean that people are allowed to have a relationship with God with zero cost to themselves? Absolutely. Here’s the thing… Corinthians says that God committed to us the message of reconciliation, that it is as though his appeal to the world is being made through us! Those are serious and beautiful words! We are given the ministry of reconciliation, we are called to reconcile as God did, through grace which costs a life- that is our time, our money, our emotion and energy, it costs sitting in silence with a hurting friend, not demanding that they give, but just offering them the opportunity to receive freely.
Grace costs a great deal- do we realize that we pay that cost so that others can receive grace just as Christ paid the cost so that we could receive? How might the world change if we were committed to making God’s appeal to the world for reconciliation by bearing the cost ourselves, as Jesus did through grace instead of drawing lines in the sand and demanding that people earn the right to receive grace?