The cost of grace

A week or so ago, I posted a quote from Dan Allender:

The cost for the recipient of God’s grace is nothing—and no price could be higher for arrogant people to pay.

Bill over at The Thinklings picked that up and posted it there as well, being kind enough to tip the hat to me; in so doing, he sparked a bit of an objection from Joseph D. Walch, whom Thinklings readers will recognize as the site’s resident Mormon commentator. His concern, as it seems to me, was that Dr. Allender’s quote promotes cheap grace; but though his concern is laudable, I think he misunderstood the quote. Walch wrote,

I do believe there is one (and only one) thing that we can offer God that is truely our own: our will (as C.S. Lewis has so beautifully and repeatedly illustrated). Release man from indebtedness to God by saying we owe God nothing; and Man will find other gods ‘worthy’ of his time.

He’s right, but he’s also talking past Dr. Allender here, I think. The point of Dr. Allender’s quote, it seems to me, is that it’s impossible to earn God’s grace, because we cannot do enough or be good enough to merit God’s approval. This is the truth which is so bitterly hard for the arrogant to accept, that we have nothing to be arrogant about. This is the sense in which grace is absolutely and utterly free.

The distinction between cheap grace and costly grace, drawn so well by Dietrich Bonhöffer, deals with what you might call the other side of salvation: not how we’re saved, but what our salvation means for how we are to live (in technical terms, not justification but sanctification). The latter aspect, I think, is what Walch is concerned about here. The key is, though, that to say that grace is a free gift which we can do nothing to earn is not to say anything about whether we owe God anything in return. Indeed, I think it underscores what we do owe God, which is a debt universally acknowledged to anyone who sincerely gives a gift: gratitude to the giver appropriate to the gift (remembering always that “it’s the thought that counts”). What Bonhöffer calls cheap grace is, I believe, a matter of insufficient gratitude—of gratitude which doesn’t understand (or care about) the magnitude and meaning of the gift God has given us. When once we begin to understand, dimly, how great that gift is, and how much reason we have to give thanks, we end up in the same place as Isaac Watts:

But drops of grief can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe;
Here, Lord, I give myself away—’tis all that I can do.

In this sense, as Bonhöffer says, grace is costly indeed; but this doesn’t contradict Allender’s point. If anything, it reinforces it. The greatest cost of grace is the cost to our ego of accepting that it’s free.

Posted in Quotes, Religion and theology.


  1. That’s a great quote by Dan Allender. (I’ve read a couple of his books which were very worthwhile.) I think people really hate the fact they can do nothing to earn God’s grace.

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