Good Friday & Cheap Grace

By Matthew Fretwell

Here we are, Good Friday, known as such because humanity has reconciliation with God, through the sacrificial death of Christ upon the cross. By all means, this is good news and an embodied grace. Like the criminal on the cross, who had no way of getting down from it and completing even the minimalist kind of work to repay the gratitude which was given to him, is the grace of Christ. As the Lord proclaimed, “Today, you will be with me in paradise,” (Luke 23:43); this statement takes on a whole new meaning with His usage of one particular word—paradise. The word is derived from Persia, which denoted a nobleman, or king’s, garden. It is the same word utilized in Genesis 2 for the Garden of Eden. Jesus, full of grace and truth (Jn. 1:14), more than pardons the criminal, He proclaims a new creation and new life—(to paraphrase) Today, you will walk with me in my garden. And with no ability to repay the grace bestowed upon him, the criminal receives the free gift.

Unfortunately, from the very beginning of the church, grace has been abused. While Good Friday should bring us into a deeper humility and reflection about whom we are, it is possible that some people can berate themselves so much that they become depressed. A healthy view of grace is one in which the fear of God is exercised when we allow the Holy Spirit to bring conviction and purity into our lives, for the purpose of forgiveness and new beginnings. Unfortunately, there are people who attempt to cheapen grace, by misunderstanding its power and holiness. In theology, we have labeled this term, antinomianism (here’s your full definition of antinomianism). Antinomianism expresses that salvific grace abounds over all things, whether it be moral, ethical, civil, or religious law, and regrettably, it is quite clear, this is what is being practiced today, just as much as it was yesterday.

Cheap Grace

The Apostle Paul defended against cheap grace in his letter to the Romans. When the Jewish Christians (“those of the circumcision”) returned to Rome, after the expulsion from Emperor Claudius in A.D 49, the Jewish believers returned to churches filled and governed by gentile believers. This caused much division. Paul addressed these problems, leveling the “playing field” and proclaiming that no one is justified in the Lord’s eyes, stating, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). However, there is a law—the “law of faith” (Rom 3:27-28).

While Good Friday clearly shows us that Christ put Himself upon the cross (ultimately, no one had the power to crucify Jesus) and that mankind cannot repay his incredible sin debt, but after this impartation of grace, willful sin cheapens grace. And we’re living in a culture surrounded and saturated by too many antinomian Christians.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God. Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner…Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”[1]

Bonhoeffer knew that grace was not without value or cost. There is still a law, which Christians must obediently follow. Jesus made it very clear, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15). There is an imperative verb here; tēreō (translated-to keep, observe, or guard), it is something we all must do. This doesn’t mean that we are required to follow the Ten Commandments or else we lose our salvation. But, Jesus did say, “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19); meaning, it seems that while salvation is still apparent, there is a call to the servant of Christ.

Surely, we live our lives in and by His righteousness, with His strength, through His love. But if we love our Sovereign Redeemer, we must remind ourselves through His Word that grace came at a cost. That cost is ever present in the daily remembrance of Good Friday.

On Good Friday, Christ was nailed to the cross and hanged for six hours. From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Jesus endured the penalty of or sins and fulfilled the law and the prophets. And yet, many would have you to believe that this cost was somehow cheap or oblivious to the practice of sin and immorality. Jesus warned His followers, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’”(Matthew 7:21-23). That should be a sobering thought.

Struggle Vs. Practice

There is a difference between struggling with sin and practicing it. If I want to get better at golf, I practice my drives, wedges, and putts at the driving range and then I apply what I practiced on the course, hopefully. Likewise, if I practice sin, I do so in private and then fulfill that application in public. However, cheap grace denies the work of Christ on Good Friday, by its denial of making a new creation. In essence, cheap grace denies the purifying and redeeming nature of the cross, which allows us to walk with Christ in the garden.

“For you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20).

Cheap grace nullifies Good Friday and as Bonhoeffer stated, it is “grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Either Jesus died to redeem humanity of sin and called us to repentance, for a new life in Him. The purpose of the cross was for His creation to be able to commune with a Holy God once again. As Paul states, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard…” (Col. 1:21-23).

[1] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. (Touchstone, New York, NY, 1995) p.43-45.

995021_10202312484189219_2143795153_n-2Matthew Fretwell is married, has three daughters, loves Jesus, being a dad, people, and coffee. Besides being an author (Denied Desires; Identity Theft, Sanctificagious, 30:1 Manhood), he’s pastor of a 112 year old revitalized church planting church (Oak Hall Baptist) in Sandston, Virginia, and is the founder of Job 31 Ministries. Matt’s an advocate board member of Living Bread Ministries, a global comprehensive Church Planting organization. He also writes for Church Planter Magazine.

Twitter: @w84harpazo or Facebook

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