Occasionally preachers complain about that we have too much “cheap grace” in our churches today. The intentions behind such statements are often good, as these preachers would like to see more purity and Christlikeness among believers. However, despite good intentions, they almost always end up with the wrong conclusions about what to do about the problem.
The expression “cheap grace” indicates that true grace is expensive; something we one way or another need to “pay for” – through good works, sincere regret, or “repentance” in the sense of a changed behavior. The problem with this way of reasoning is that God’s grace is neither cheap nor expensive – it is totally free of charge! Salvation through Jesus Christ is an undeserved gift – by grace through faith. And a gift is only a gift if the receiver has not paid, or performed, in order to receive it!
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)
However, for you and me to be able to receive Gods unmerited grace, God paid a very high price: He sent His only begotten Son to the world as atonement for our sins. With His own precious blood Christ has delivered us from the curse of the law so that the blessing that God promised Abraham – by grace through faith – could become available to us Gentiles (Gal. 3:13-14).
Since God’s true grace is neither cheap nor expensive, but free, we don’t have a problem with too much “cheap grace” being preached today. The problem is that God’s grace has not been emphasized thoroughly and clearly enough and that is has been mixed with the law. It is only by God’s grace that we can grow in our faith, the fruits of the Spirit, and service for God. The Apostle Paul said:
”But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (1 Cor. 15:10)
True ministry and sanctification is a result of Gods undeserved, free-of-charge, grace! All changed behavior that is not a result of God’s grace and unconditional love is based on a “fig leaf” kind of religious forgery.
What comes first – grace or repentance?
Under the old covenant, one had to act right (obey the law) to receive grace, forgiveness, and God’s blessings. In the new covenant, however, things work completely differently. Through the cross God has already reconciled the whole world – including everything in heaven and on earth – to Himself (see 2 Cor. 5:19 & Col. 1:19-20). The whole world has already been forgiven by God. However, the problem is that the whole world has not yet through faith received God’s grace and forgiveness, which is why you and I have received the assignment to spread the good news, the “word of reconciliation”, of what God through Christ has done for all humanity.
Let us not put the cart before the horse. God’s “free-of-charge” grace is the horse that pulls the cart – not the other way around. We don’t have to change our behavior to receive God’s grace. We can come to God “just as we are”. But after having encountered God’s unmerited grace, that same grace will lead to a changed behavior in our lives.
During His earthly life, Jesus gave several examples of this by how He interacted and dealt with people. When the woman who was caught in adultery was brought to Jesus, He did not first require her to “repent” so that He could spare her from the punishment of stoning to death that was prescribed in the law of Moses. He started by acquitting her – although she had not acted in any way that indicated that she had repented from her sin. After having acquitted her, Jesus said: “Go and sin no more” (see Jn. 8:1-11).
As the lame man in Capernaum was brought to Jesus through the roof, Jesus did not require him to repent from his sins to heal him. When Jesus saw the faith of the carriers (not the faith of the lame man), He said: “My son, your sins are forgiven” – before the lame man had gotten any chance to repent. Just like you and I, this man came to Jesus in his sinfulness, “just as he was”. Jesus started by giving him an encounter with God’s unconditional grace and love and then said: “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house”, whereafter the man went home, miraculously healed (see Mark. 2:1-12).
We are not told what happened to them afterwards, but I am personally convinced that both people became dedicated followers of Christ. The one who has tasted God’s undeserved grace cannot remain the same!
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. (Tit. 2:11-14)
If we want to see more of the fruits of the Spirit among Christians, the solution is not to replace what is normally described as “cheap grace” with legalistic sermons on repentance. Instead, we need to more than ever before emphasize and preach the grace that is unmerited and totally free-of-charge – and preach it in its fullness! God’s unmerited grace not only saves us; it also changes us inside out and conforms us into the image of Christ! This transformative grace is not a “thing” or a “subject”, but a person – Jesus Christ! True repentance only comes as me meet and get to know the resurrected Jesus and His unconditional grace and love toward us!