Three Kinds of Grace

I like charts; they capture information in a way that allows clear comparison and contrast. Here is one I drew up regarding grace:

Three Kinds of Grace

Curious for your feedback on this. In particular, is libertine grace similar to what Bonhoeffer called cheap grace? When I wrote this I was not thinking of that, but on reading Bonhoeffer’s words again this week, it brought the question to mind.

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 cheapjacks’ 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 blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing….

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins…. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. ‘All for sin could not atone.’ Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin….

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. 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.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and 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.


41 thoughts on “Three Kinds of Grace

  1. I have not connected with Bonhoeffer’s “cheap/costly grace” dichotomy for some time. I felt (like most here) that it lacked much when put in front of the Cross.
    And as I read this I was struck with another reason why: much of the conversation on grace is focused on the recipient and not the giver. As if it is my response to grace given to me that decides the nature of grace – instead of grace’s value originating with the giver. I don’t determine the grace given to me only the person who gives grace can – if grace is cheap it’s because of myself not grace and not the giver.


  2. Valid point perhaps. And even more reason to:

    1) Take statements in context.
    2) Not hold people’s comments as the Gospel truth.


  3. I like the first two columns, I’m not sure the third column is complete
    Some more motives for change:
    1) awareness that sin does not satisfy, its temporary pleasures lead to addictions
    2) awareness when we come into eternity, we will feel pleased with anytime we sought to serve God, and embarrassed or regretful of times we did not.
    3) the challenge to believe by faith that the “real me” is not my history of desires, but the newness of life in Christ.


  4. Rick, in the context of DB writing The Cost of Discipleship the exact point was to shame the vast segment of the Church which endorsed the Nazis. Perhaps that was justifiable, and may be a lesson for the Church in America at the present moment. However, DB does do damage to grace in his shaming of the Church in his time.


  5. ISAIAH 58

    “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
    Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
    Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness [1] will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
    Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
    and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
    The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
    Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”


  6. Like I said in the threads on Wartburg Watch and Spiritual Sounding Board:

    “Grace” in the name of a church should be approached like “People’s Democratic” in the name of a Third World country.

    As TV Tropes put it, “The more adjectives about Democracy in a country’s official name, the nastier a dictatorship it is.”


  7. –> “the John McArthur camp and boy oh boy does everything out of that group fall under the Disguised Law category.”

    It’s “Grace to You” delivered with a hammer, yes.


  8. I like the idea of grace as a birth certificate. Maybe adoption would be a good analogy also. My niece became my niece officially through adult consensual adoption. She was already functionally my brother and his wife’s kid, having lived with them through high school and having called them mom and dad for years, but they wanted to make it official. There was nothing transactional about it. Both entered into the arrangement freely and happily. She entered into and became part of the story his family. It was as much of an example of pure grace as I’ve ever seen anything in life be.
    And no one ever thought to judge it by measuring whether it was cheap or costly because it simply defies those categories. So yeah, Bonhoeffer had some good stuff to say, but the idea of cheap vs. costly grace seems to miss the point.

    On the flip side, I also have a family member in the John McArthur camp and boy oh boy does everything out of that group fall under the Disguised Law category. Sometimes it’s not even very well disguised.


  9. Iain,

    your schema would correlate with how EO explains what grace *is* – the actual action of the Holy Spirit with in a person. It’s not like some sort of ethereal “stuff” that God sprinkles on us… In communion with Christ, those things you indicated, and more, are what happen. Experiences we can point to as times when we know the Holy Spirit is acting have to do with the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments), but are not limited to them. Most of the time, as was discussed several days ago, these things are hidden from us, but hopefully we can see the results as we turn to God more and more.



  10. Yes, I know the graph is Daniel’s. But I wanted to map Bonhoeffer’s point of view onto it as best I could. Perhaps I don’t understand him as fully as I should and perhaps I see his words in the light of my own “baggage” but it now seems to me, as you say, that there is an underlying “shame” associated with the concept. I had not thought of it that way before, I see it also as a call to strive to better ourselves for God.


  11. –> “And while the first and second columns go for each other’s throats (like the half-white and half-black aliens in that old Star Trek episode),”

    Good reference and analogy!


  12. –> “To use the terms like “cheap” introduces economic language to a gift of God.”

    Yep. It doesn’t take much analysis to read the Gospel accounts and see that God’s economy and accounting are not at all in line with the way the world operates. Quite askew it is, and usually in the direction of people who can’t pay.


  13. I like that idea a lot. It’s a grace that cures, not shames. It makes me reflect on Damaris’ post from yesterday, about Christ/Christianity being for losers. We need the cure, not the shame.

    Cheap grace, costly grace…I don’t care. Grace, to me, is God saying, “I’m going to go to earth and live like my human creation–suffering like they do–and then I will follow God’s will in perfect obedience–something they CAN’T do–all the way to the cross, then I’ll be the perfect priest, sacrifice, and atonement–AGAIN, something they can’t do–and then I’ll die and live again–yet ANOTHER thing they can’t do–all because I love them.”


  14. I believe the graph is Daniel Jepsen’s creation, not Bonhoeffer’s. But I agree with your assessment, which was the reason for my original comment about Bonhoeffer’s statements. There is an underlying “shame” associated with the cheap grace concept, and I’m not necessarily buying it.


  15. I think that Bonhoeffer’s piece on Cheap Grace, while very insightful, is a bit over the top. It seems to me that in his condemning the first column he is flirting a bit with the second column.


  16. “Transformative grace” to my mind doesn’t sound awfully transformative in many ways. I am not sure it is as distinct from “libertine grace” as it would like to think. It’s still stuck in the mould of grace being about God not being cross with me any more.
    I’d have another column of, shall we say, “curative grace” – that actually does something of itself:
    Grace is: healing: it cures me of my sinful nature and makes me more Christlike and fully human
    Grace is experienced as: enlightenment and healing
    Grace is symbolised by: a first aid kit
    Motive for change: the harm sin is doing to me and others, the joy and freedom not being stuck in it brings
    Method of change: experiencing and embracing the healing grace of God and responding to it
    Basic operating principle of Christian life: learning to follow Christ, experience Christ and grow in love of God and neighbour
    God is: love itself
    Focus is on: loving God and neighbour
    What do people think?


  17. And while the first and second columns go for each other’s throats (like the half-white and half-black aliens in that old Star Trek episode), the third column gets completely ignored.


  18. Grace isn’t a transaction. To use the terms like “cheap” introduces economic language to a gift of God. We do not earn it or pay for it. God doesn’t “pay” for it on our behalf. It’s free, not withheld ever, but given without condition, without indemnity on our part — but simply to be received. Because of its nature, it cannot be given back or lent out. We may hide from it or run from it, but in the end, it will pursue us even into the depths of hell itself.


  19. I think that when it’s all said and done every one of us function as hedonist–even the warped masochist does what they do for pleasure.

    The first two columns represent persons totally devoted to idiosyncratic forms of pleasure, whereas the third column imo represents the kind of person who derives pleasure from “spreading the pleasure around” which I view as a “higher” form of pleasure. I would argue that persons in the second column actually derive pleasure from restricting pleasure in both themselves and others.

    The OP chart could also be seen as a very simplified example of spiritual growth (left to right). A more complex treatment would be;


  20. “I never said there is no response to be made to Grace, just that faith is the only possible response. It’s the only response, in fact, that Jesus and Paul insist on. And what’s more, neither one of them is about to allow you to turn faith into it work, not even if Bonhoeffer flirted with just that mistake (which I think he did) . I think he was having an off day when he came up with the phrase “Cheap Grace”. Grace can’t be cheap, it’s free. All you have to do is believe it, nothing else. I happen to think Jesus meant it when he said his yoke is easy and his burden light. When his audience ask him what they should do to work the works of God, he said “this is the work of God, that you believe in the one whom he sent.” He even went so far to say “God did not send the son into the world to judge the world but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not judged.” God simply doesn’t count our works he only asked us to trust the work he’s done for us in Jesus.”

    ~Robert Capon


  21. I like that you made a birth certificate the symbol of grace. It has long been my conviction that the salvation achieved for us by Jesus Christ is not conferred by either ritual baptism or right confession/belief, important as these may be in other respects, but by birth. We come into this world already gifted with salvation by Christ; the gift of existence is contemporaneous with the gift of grace.


  22. Good insight. And I believe Bonhoeffer’s thoughts about Christ being at the center of human life, in strength, joy, and vitality, not merely on the periphery, or at the edges, in weakness, suffering, and loss, is connected with his appreciation of the Incarnation as you have outlined it.


  23. Agree. As Capon said, in response to Bonhoeffer’s words about cheap grace: “God’s grace in Jesus Christ isn’t cheap. It’s not even expensive. It’s free.”


  24. “Costly grace is the Incarnation of God”

    I think Bonhoeffer understood something of how the Incarnation was a part of the Paschal Mysteries.
    Take a look at this from his writings on the ‘Incarnation’:

    ““Through fellowship and communion with the incarnate Lord, we recover our true humanity, and at the same time we are delivered from that individualism which is the consequence of sin, and retrieve our solidarity with the whole human race.
    By being partakers of Christ incarnate, we are partakers in the whole humanity which He bore. We now know that we have been taken up and borne in the humanity of Jesus, and therefore that new nature we now enjoy means that we too must bear the sins and sorrows of others.
    The incarnate Lord makes His followers the brothers of all mankind.”
    (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship)

    In short, I think Bonhoeffer understood much about how our humankind was affected by the Incarnation. And how, now, we are linked by Christ not only to the Trinity but to one another in a new reconciling way. This is a great mystery of Christianity that not many in the West have explored theologically. Something about what Bonhoeffer encountered in the Nazi era must have turned his attention to that orthodox mystery; as he had an insight into it that I think we, in Western Christianity, might come to appreciate if not now then after we have experience our own domestic version of a very ugly fascism for a season (or two).


  25. Daniel,
    The title of the second column seems to set a preconceived agenda of sorts.
    It might be less “in your face” to title this column “Transactional” or something to that effect.
    Other than that I find this very insightful and useful.


  26. Bonhoeffer wrote some really good words–and some may think these are some of them–but I never really liked the cheap grace concept. To me, cheap grace reintroduces shame into the salvation equation, and I’m not convinced Jesus would want shame associated with his Good News.


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