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Grace is free ─ but not cheap

Archbishop Wenski's column for March 2019 edition of the Florida Catholic

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor who lived in Nazi Germany — he was executed just a few weeks before the end of the war for having participated in a failed plot to assassinate Hitler. In a book he wrote 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 believed that complacency led Christians to grow soft in their adherence to the demands of Christian living. The Gospel was no longer seen as demanding because too many came to believe in what he called “cheap grace.”

According to Bonhoeffer, “cheap grace” is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal conversion. “Cheap grace,” then, is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Certain attitudes can betray a “cheap grace,” such as the attitude expressed in the phrase: “God accepts me and blesses me just as I am.” Certainly, God loves us just as he finds us. He does not love us only when we are good, for 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.” We are to ask God to forgive our sins — not to bless them!

Another attitude disguising a “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; and will God understand.” As if God does not care whether we overcome our resentments or our sinful habits. A “cheap grace” that requires no effort, no struggle on our part is a “counterfeit grace.”

As Christians, we are engaged every day 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” (Philippians 4:13). Sometimes we try and fail, and lying wounded at the side of the road, his grace comes to us as the Good Samaritan to bind up our wounds with healing balm.

Was it just mere coincidence that, at the same time the crucifix began to disappear from our sanctuaries and homes, frequent confession was also abandoned by so many Catholics? Grace is free, but it does not come cheap — it costs dearly, for the price of grace was the death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. Grace is given freely — but it is a gift that must be accepted by our taking up the cross and following Christ along the way of discipleship.

Comments from readers

james - 03/27/2019 09:54 PM
Ahhhhhh that infamous word called "complacency". How has that led to our downfall is so true down to last letter "y". Yes, I say unto you, we are headed for doom unless we lead as good Christians and take over the the devil's upper hand. Where is the devil winning? Hmmmm social media. I am truly amazed the crushing blows that Jesus takes. I implore you that unless you stand up we will all be living on our knees. And, Most everyone knows, It is better to live "standing" than it is to be dead "on your knees" Now with that being said my dear brothers and sisters, let us not underestimate prayers. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Finally it is well known that without suffering and pain, often there is no growth. "redemptive" Love you all, God's Grace and Blessings, James

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