What is Costly Grace? (2 of 2)

by jpserrano on December 7, 2012 · 3 comments

Yesterday, I wrote What is Cheap Grace?  Today’s post is the flip-side of that coin.

As I noted previously, in The Cost of Discipleship Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes a clear distinction between cheap grace and costly grace.  Often people are eager to mention what is cheap grace but are less willing to bring up what Bonhoeffer means by costly grace.

According to Bonhoeffer costly grace is the antithesis of cheap grace.  Unlike cheap grace which is monotone, costly grace is a harmonious melody with substance.

Bonhoeffer writes:

“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door which a man must knock.”

Costly grace demands work (post facto) from the receiver. Apathy in the pursuit of God is not an option once it is received.  Followers of Jesus are called to return again and again to God in repentance and seek out the good news–that Jesus is incarnate and through him is forgiveness of sins.  In Jesus the answer is always “your sins are forgiven.”  But, even though the answer is known, believers are called to seek it out repeatedly.

“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, it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.
It is costly because it condemns sin, it is grace because it justifies the sinner.”

There is a wide gap between costly grace and cheap grace.  Cheap grace is given and nothing is expected.  Costly grace is given and change is expected.  God’s word is able to affect change in the person. 

“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.  Grace 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.'”

The grace of God always comes without any work on the part of the sinner, but it calls that same person to a new life and in fact brings forth new life.  But, that does not mean the person who receives this grace does nothing.  In fact, the impetus then hangs on the person to follow through on what is being given from God.  Lethargy in seeking God is a denying of God’s grace and transformation that is created in the person when grace comes.

“It is costly because it cost God the life of his son: ‘ye were bought at a price,’ and what 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.”

Lastly, costly grace doesn’t cost us anything, but it did cost God the Father his only begotten Son.  Grace is costly, not because we are asked to do anything beforehand to receive it, but because it cost God.  The price was God’s son, but grace is given freely to us.  Therefore, we are called to respond in submission.

Costly grace then is first to be sought regularly because it is needed again and again.  It calls the person to a transformed life and submission to Jesus.  This grace cost the believer nothing, but cost God his only Son.

A grace that is wantonly poured out on humanity, not given through word and sacraments is cheap grace. 

Cheap grace does not speak to the incarnation of God, but is from a God that is of our own making that solely makes us feel good with a grace we bestow on ourselves.  Cheap grace is an impostor of costly grace; it offers forgiveness of sins freely to all people and affects not change.  True grace, the grace that Bonhoeffer calls “costly” is one that reveals the gravity of the sinner’s situation and call them to a new way of life.  Our sins our real and therefor they need costly grace.

For an in depth look on cheap and costly grace check out The Cost of Discipleship.


How has grace been costly for YOU?  What does grace call YOU to do as a believer?  What are your thoughts on grace?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric S Ludwig December 7, 2012 at 9:05 am

“True grace, the grace that Bonhoeffer calls “costly” is one that reveals the gravity of the sinner’s situation and call them to a new way of life. Our sins our real and therefor they need costly grace.”

A+ for explaining the essence of Christian Existentialism and the necessity of existential authenticity as an essential part of the framework of grace. You make Tillich seem to ramble.

(Kirkegaard might have set you up though, with ‘fear and trembling.’) But I know these are your thoughts and insights.

Have you read Bonhoeffer by Metaxa? Very good biography and excellent introduction to his theology and the controversies that have followed him.


jpserrano December 7, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Eric, Thank you for the very nice comment.

No, I have not read Bonhoeffer By Metaxa. It’s on my reading list though.



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