Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who was executed in 1945 for his involvement in a plot to overthrow Adolf Hitler. His Letters and Papers from Prison was published after his death, and includes a section on what he calls “cheap grace”.
Cheap grace is the idea that we can obtain salvation and forgiveness of sins without any personal cost to ourselves. Faith in God becomes merely “fire insurance”, and there is no compelling reason to change the way we live. We’re saved and forgiven, therefore we can do as we please without another thought.
Here in Canada, we have relative freedom to practice our faith. We don’t face imprisonment or death, and there are laws to protect us from being fired from our jobs because of our beliefs. Have we forgotten that our salvation cost God everything? We so often live as though His sacrifice is nothing more than a Get Out of Jail Free card that requires nothing more from us.
I read an account of a man who visited a country where it is illegal to practice Christianity. Early one morning, his Christian hosts took him on a boat ride down a river. The boat was loaded with fishing equipment, but no one was fishing. About an hour into the trip, in the middle of the enormous river, they met up with another boat filled with what looked like fishermen. After awhile, another boat joined them. A lookout was appointed to watch for other boats that might carry government authorities or law enforcement, because to be caught could mean their arrest or immediate execution. This group of forbidden Christians spent hours reciting passages of Scripture they had memorized, since no one owned a Bible. They prayed, sang hymns quietly, and encouraged one another. At dusk, with many tears and deep emotion, they parted and went their separate ways.
Another account tells of a man who was taken to a hotel room in a large city. About forty Christians met together, sitting on the floor, to hear the Bible taught for almost eight hours. No one complained that the sermon was taking too long, no one left early to go make supper, no one fell asleep or became restless. Detection would have meant immediate imprisonment. Their faith meant everything to them, and was deemed worth risking their freedom.
I’ve seen videos of Christians across the globe crying and cradling Bibles to their chests like they were priceless treasures. These people had spent years committing entire passages of Scripture to memory, but none of them had ever actually seen a Bible before that moment.
I think about how many Bibles are in my house – six or seven different translations, three different languages, Old and New Testaments, phone and computer apps, Bible verses printed on plaques and wall decorations, devotional books – and I am humbled and shaken at the realization of what an enormous gift I’ve been given.
Last week I watched a video of thousands of Christians in Hong Kong singing “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord”. These people are under the looming prospect of losing the freedom to practice their faith openly, and if they do, it will mean they will join millions of other Christians worldwide in being persecuted, imprisoned, fined, beaten, and killed for their faith. For them, God’s grace isn’t cheap. Their faith comes at a very high price.
If grace is a gift that Jesus paid for with His life, how high a price should we be willing to place on our Christianity?