In his analysis of discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer declared “cheap grace” to be the deadly enemy of the Church. We, unfortunately, have not moved beyond that reality some 70 years later. By cheap grace, Bonhoeffer meant the presumption that I can receive forgiveness for my sins without abandoning my life to Jesus and his way. I do this because I think because I have been taught that God’s grace is freely given that there is no cost associated with it. After all, if I have to pay for it, it’s really not a gift and really not free. That seems to make perfect sense to me.
Indeed, the Scriptures teach us that this gift is free. But the reality is that someone paid for it. When you get a gift from someone, they bought it and paid a price for it. It is because of their generosity that you don’t pay anything. The one who paid the price for the forgiveness we need was Jesus. In other words, although the gift is free, it doesn’t mean there was no cost associated with it. The truly hard work has already been done. But there is a catch. When offering this gift to us Jesus tells us that if we accept it, our “Thank you” need only be obedience to this request: “Go and sin no more.”
As humans, we all too easily slip into an understanding that Jesus died for sins in general: we don’t really expect it to get personal, or have any real implications for us as individuals. In this way of thinking, it is so much easier to dodge individual responsibility. When we make a generalization like “Jesus died for the sins of mankind” we can avoid the reality that “Jesus died to pay for my lie last week at work.” When it remains a mere generality, nothing in my life needs to be any different.
But Jesus offers me an individual gift of grace. When I hear those words, “Go and sin no more,” it means that I must undertake to change my habits, my thoughts, my behaviors, my attitudes, and my relationships in such a way that they align with the will of God. This is true repentance.
Once I accept Jesus’ invitation, I cannot remain the same because I am no longer the same – I have been changed. “Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ,” says Bonhoeffer. It is costly because it costs one his life, and it is grace because it gives a one the only life that really matters in the end. This kind of grace condemns sin and the evil it creates in our lives. It is grace because it changes the sinner.
To be a disciple, then, means that I can’t just see myself as part of some large abstract crowd that believes some sort of doctrinal statement. I must seek a personal relationship with the teacher. I must be able willingly to respond to the invitation to follow.