If you are like me and grew up around people who were frustrated, or perhaps even incensed, with the lack of authenticity and holiness in mainstream evangelicalism you may have heard the term “cheap grace” thrown around as a descriptor of the problem at the root of this apostasy.
I was among these people. Probably with more spit flying than was necessary I used to decry the “cheap grace” being proclaimed from so many pulpits. But as I consider this terminology now “older” and “wiser” I have come to hate the term “cheap grace”.
The reason being that whether intentional or not, preaching against “cheap grace” can turn quickly into preaching against grace all together. Grace, by its very definition, is free (Eph 2:8) People begin to shy away from talk of grace because of fear of cheapening grace, when in reality grace becomes cheap when it is no longer in demand. It is no longer precious. When they fail to see that grace is the A-Z of the Christian life (Gal. 3:3).
It is often said that “grace is not a license to sin”. This idea is backed up by Scripture (Jude 1:4). However, what is missed is the proper corrective. The answer is not to speak less of grace, but to speak of it more, to speak of its power. Many preachers who bewail “cheap grace” are like the chap in Matthew 25 who hid his talents, because for fear of abuse they bury grace. The “cheap grace” and “license to sin” accusations are leveled against people who misunderstand the entire nature of grace usually by people who also misunderstand the nature of grace from a different angle. Just as Paul labored to teach in the face of critics, I declare that preaching “grace, grace, grace” does not make grace cheap (Rom. 6)
Grace gets abused, both through neglect on one side and misrepresentation on the other, because the nature of salvation itself is misunderstood. The New Covenant in which we experience that grace is misunderstood. The bottom line is that if you are in the New Covenant it is by grace, and if you stay there it is by grace. But it is in that Covenant that you receive a new heart (new affections), the law of God is imprinted inside of you, and the fear of God is irrevocably placed within you so that you will not depart from the Lord (Jer. 31:33, 32:40).
The problem is not preaching grace, but the understanding of what that grace has secured for us. If grace means unmerited favor, then we must ask in what way have we received favor? It is that we who deserved judgment by God’s free choice through Christ’s work have been forgiven, are being changed into the image of Christ, and will be glorified (Rom 8:29-30, 9:15).It is not simply that we have grace from something but we have grace for something.
I hate the term “cheap grace” because preaching grace is not the problem. Understanding what we have by grace is what is misunderstood. This is why some people preach grace and it leads to godless living and license. This is why some people fail to preach grace leading to legalism. People fail to realize that being saved is an A-Z result of a covenant that is by grace. We are born again by grace, we are converted by grace, we are justified by grace, we are sanctified by grace, we are glorified by grace.
Grace is not the problem. Putting a limit on what that grace achieves is. But make no mistake! From start to finish, from now to eternity, it is grace, grace, grace – priceless grace – full and free.