Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
I’ve been meditating some what James calls “true religion” in his book–to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. The word used for distress here is “thlipsis” which is also translated “tribulation” and “affliction.” It is the same word that John used when he spoke of the saints coming out of great tribulation in Revelation 7.
It’s interesting to me that James would draw such a comparison. Could it be that God views injustice to those who cannot defend themselves on the same level as physical violence? I would argue yes. Jesus made it very clear in Matthew 23:23 that justice ranked as one of the top three most important attributes of the law, right alongside kindness and a dependable character. The crux of Jesus’ mission statement (quoting Isaiah 61) revolved around freedom for the oppressed. This God of compassion and abounding in love, who unleashed upon Himself the fullness of His own divine rage so that we would no longer have to bear the burden of the law and the pain of separation from Him, despises injustice.
I think sometimes we have a tendency to push the concept of “free grace” too much. No, God does not want us to live under condemnation, and yes, salvation is a free gift and not one of merit. I would never want to try and argue that anything we do could make us deserving of the sacrifice Jesus paid for us.
However, God is intimately tied up with our works. In the first four chapters of Revelation, Jesus dictates letters to seven churches in Asia, and He begins each letter with the same phrase: “I know your works.” The final judgment at the end of time is also one that considers works, although the final deciding factor is whether the individual embraced the gift of salvation.
What it comes down to is closeness of relationship. We don’t become intimate with someone without becoming involved in what stirs his or her passions. Just ask any parent who sits through fifteen of his or her child’s soccer games. The point is not whether the child wins or loses the game–it’s about the parent communicating, “Hey, you’re valuable to me, and I’m going to make what is important to you a priority.”
When the Father judges all things at the end of time, He’s not going to be looking to see if our works justify us before Him. We’ve all already failed that test. His concern is relationship. His question is, “Did you love me enough to get involved in what matters to Me?”
Grace is free, and yet it isn’t. We only prize that which costs us something. To preach a passive grace that does not require action on our part devalues its status in our lives. When I open my mouth to stand for integrity in the face of popular opinion, it is my ultimate expression of love. In doing so, I acknowledge a relationship that is more important to me than the esteem of men, and I overwhelm the heart of the One who loved me enough to do the same.