I encountered this term somewhere in Tozer recently, and though I have heard it before, I have not heard it often. Perhaps it would be best to present the definition Tozer gives: “We are busy these days proving to the world that they can have all the benefits of the Gospel without any inconvenience to their customary way of life. It's "all this, and heaven too."”1 Thus, cheap grace, as I understand it, is the attitude that a Christian is free to live anyway they want, and they will have heaven anyway. Is cheap grace even possible?
Well, according to one of the best, it is possible, at least in theory. “Forgiveness of sin and salvation are not synonymous terms. On the other hand, when sin has entered into the life of a Christian it becomes a question of sin and sin alone which is involved. The remaining features of his salvation are unchanged.”2 Thus, a Christian has complete freedom to sin, but he is called to better things. While Jesus came, as he said, that we might be free indeed, Paul called himself over and over a “slave” of Jesus Christ. In other words, Paul considered his new life in Christ to be such a marvelous wonder that he was willing to lay everything in his life at the feet of Christ.
This doctrine is nothing new; both Calvin and Luther held that salvation was through faith, but that faith, properly grown, was to produce fruit. Luther said it this way, “Although the Christian is thus free from all works, he ought in this liberty to empty himself, take upon himself the form of a servant, be made in the likeness of men, be found in human form, and to serve, help and in every way deal with his neighbor as he sees that God through Christ has dealt and still deals with him.”3 The reformers did not believe that Christians were not to produce good works; rather they knew that these good works were to come out of a proper faith. And that is the problem that this question brings up: what happens when the faith is not properly secured?
First, I would like to affirm that I too agree that we are saved through faith, “and that not of ourselves. It is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8,9). I think it is apparent that the workman who is hired yet in the eleventh hour, and works but one hour, is yet to be included. My father received Christ, waiting until he was 86, and on his deathbed, and few, if any works were possible in that situation. Yet, he is as the workman hired in the last hour, and will receive his pay (salvation) from the owner of the vineyard.
But having said that we are saved by faith, faith, over time, should always produce good works. Looking around our churches, we can readily see many examples of people in which this is not true. What might have happened? I say might have happened, because I cannot see into the heart of people, and know whether or not they have found faith. But let me suggest a something to consider. Our Lord spoke of a parable of seeds being sown—some falling into hard ground and not germinating, others sprouting in stony places, and yet being withered in an untimely fashion by the hot sun. It is these seeds, the ones that are withered by the hot sun that I wish us to consider.
My mother accepted Christ at one of the earliest Graham crusades, and yet never found a beginning in a local church, and never found the food which is supposed to sustain our Christian living—the word of God. Perhaps she was one of those seeds which had the misfortune to germinate in stony ground, for certainly her Christian witness was very low—she held tightly to her decision and knowledge of God, but that knowledge remained shallow, and her Christian life was arrested for all of her life.
I think maybe all of us can think of such examples—that is, of Christians who do not ever seem to grow as they ought to. My heart weeps for my liberal Christian friends who claim to know Christ, but often live lifestyles contrary to their profession. Our lifestyle choices are what we are called out of, that we might live a new life in the presence of God, and through the strength of his Spirit. Instead, some of my brothers declare their freedom (which, if they be in Christ, is true), but then they depart from the very rules of the New Testament for living, and declare themselves approved of
God. Such claims we can never make!
Rather, we are sinners saved by grace, and we are saved for the plan of God. But the problem seems to be that we have brothers and sisters who (might) have taken the initial step of faith, but they never learned to regard the word of God in its proper light. Recently, I heard a brother in Christ declare that Jesus himself had never said a word against his chosen lifestyle. Even my brother in Christ, whom I dearly love, could not bring himself to say what he was so clearly implying. Christ must approve his lifestyle since he did not explicitly condemn it.
Such a statement is all the more sorrowful for me because it contains such an implicit poor understanding of who Jesus is. The Word of God. Jesus himself many times quotes both Moses and the prophets, and each time he does, he quotes them as the final authority, the ones who should settle all disputes. The Bible teaches us that Jesus, the great “I am”, was present with all writers of scripture, and that there is no point of contention ever with what they say, and what Jesus intends. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is “God-breathed” so that what is written is exactly that which God intended, and is wholly and completely in line with everything that Jesus said. Thus, it is no good declaring that Jesus never spoke on this sin or that sin; rather the condemnation of sin and sinful living is well covered by all the New Testament, and certainly by Paul in his treatment of the completeness of sin in Romans.
This past week my daughter posted a site which she had found where alleged married Christians were swapping mates. Such lifestyle choices are excluding godliness—always. When we choose to turn our back on the rules of the New Testament, which has repeated most of the Ten Commandments to us, it is not freedom from the Law which we are finding. Rather, we live lives which are destitute of the things of God, and we will produce very little fruit which remains. We are finding our “old man” wherever we can. The “old man” that was to be buried forever with Christ, that we might be raised to a new life in Christ. Instead, we take out our shovels, and we dig in the dead of night in the cemetery, trying to find our old corpses. When we are successful in resurrecting the corpse, we smother with all the attention and love we can muster, but in the end it is just a dead body, a zombie. We succeed, if success it can be called, in slaving ourselves anew to the master that has had us all along, and nothing has changed. We are slaves to the sin that Christ gave himself to free us from. We are indeed in “cheap grace.”
Of course, grace is never cheap. God put more of himself into your salvation than he did in fashioning all of creation, for he gave nothing less than himself. He can do no more. Can we not do better in living our lives in the freedom that he has given—freedom and the very power to live our lives in a godly fashion? Paul does indeed talk about the hapless Christian who finds all of his works burnt up at the judgment seat of Christ. I daresay that those who continue in their “cheap grace” will one day find it a most expensive grace indeed.
Paul tells us that we need to examine ourselves now, to see whether indeed, we are in the faith. It is imperative that we should do that now, lest we should be surprised, either to find ourselves not at all in the faith, or basing our faith on our own morals, rather than on the word of God. By all means, examine yourself to find whether or not you pass the test. Nothing less will suffice. And when you find yourself out of accord with the word of God, it is you who must change, and never the word. We should dare not mock the things God has told us—rather let us mock our own poor attitudes, and get busy submitting to that which He declares.
1. Tozer, A. W. (2014-06-14). Keys to the Deeper Life (Kindle Locations 82-83). Chariot eBooks. Kindle Edition.
2. Chafer, L. S. (1948). Systematic Theology, Vol. 2, p. 327 Kregel Publications
3. Martin Luther, On Christian Liberty