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'Cheap grace' will not save us

Discipleship has a cost, archbishop tells catechetical leaders

Archbishop Thomas Wenski speaks to directors of religious education during the Mass that took place as part of their day-long meeting.


Archbishop Thomas Wenski speaks to directors of religious education during the Mass that took place as part of their day-long meeting.

Homily preached by Archbishop Thomas Wenski during a Mass with nearly 100 archdiocesan catechetical leaders (directors of religious education) who had gathered at St. Martha Parish Feb. 23 for a day-long workshop on “Envisioning the Future.”

A  Protestant pastor, Dietrich Bonheoffer, who lived in Nazi Germany – and was executed by Hitler just a few weeks before the end of the war — wrote a book called “The Cost of Discipleship.” He was highly critical of the state of the church in Germany at the time of the Nazi takeover. He felt that too many Christians came to believe in a false idea of what Christian living was about. The Gospel was no longer seen as demanding because too many came to believe in what he called “cheap grace.”

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal conversion. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ who, while risen, still carries the wounds of his Passion.

We cannot save ourselves; only God can save. But God will not save us against ourselves. Too often, we hear spoken or expressed in so many words certain attitudes that hide this counterfeit version of grace. The first attitude is expressed in the phrase: “God accepts me just as I am.” Certainly, God loves us just as he finds us — he does not love us because we are good — Jesus died for us while we were still his enemies. Yet, because God loves us, we can become good. God desires our conversion — he wants us to turn to him and not stay “just as we are.”

Another attitude disguising this “cheap grace” approach to the spiritual life is expressed in saying: “I am saved — period! It doesn’t matter what I do — if I do good or evil — because we’re all going to heaven anyway.” Or we say, “I can't do any better; God understands.” As if God doesn’t care if we do not overcome our resentments, or our sinful habits. Cheap grace, indeed! Similar to this attitude, one that we sometimes hear from the young, but also too often from the not-so-young: “This is a stage I need to go through until I've really dealt with my issues. God is patient.” Oh yeah, God is patient — but will your wife be as patient as you go through this “stage” with another woman? All this is counterfeit grace — a grace that requires no effort, no struggle on our part. Yet, real grace is costly grace.

It is costly because it cost a man his life, and it is grace because it gives man true life. It cost God the life of His Son: “You were bought with a price,” and what has cost God so dearly cannot be cheap for us.

As Christians, we are engaged everyday in a spiritual warfare — to resist temptation and do what is right, what is pleasing to God. Cheap grace tells us we can give up the battle, that we don’t have to fight, to struggle. Why should we not give up the battle? Because it is only in the battle that we will experience God's grace. 

Sometimes we try, and we find that truly “we can do all things through him who strengthens us.” Sometimes we try and fail, and lying wounded at the side of the road, his grace comes to us as the Good Samaritan. He binds up our wounds, lifts us up and carries us to a safe place, a place of healing.

Lent is a time of grace — to choose life; to turn to the Lord who dying destroys our death and in rising restores us to life. This realization more than compensates for whatever price we must pay to walk with him along the way of discipleship.

Comments from readers

Norma T. Molina - 02/26/2012 04:29 PM
Thank you for these profound words, that are really words of eternal life. Too often we see "cheap grace" being offered. May the Lord give us all the grace to be willing to pay the price that comes with offering true and liberating grace, that heals us, make us better human beings and helps us advance in that "holiness of life" that God wants for us for our own goodness and happiness.

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