Cheap Grace and the Problem of Sin

It’s interesting to me how much we hear about grace these days in contrast to how little we hear about sin. How can the two be so separated? Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor and theologian who lived in Nazi Germany during WWII. He wrote a book entitled, The Cost of Discipleship in which he identifies this kind of grace as, cheap grace, and calls it “the deadly enemy of our Church” (43). He goes on to explain that, “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” (44-45).

Without the existence of sin, we have no need for grace. Furthermore, if we fail to understand the dire problem that sin presents, then we cannot fully comprehend or appreciate the value of God’s grace. That is a big spiritual problem. It is only when we begin to see the unfathomable value of the grace so freely offered, that we surrender to, fall in love with and give our lives for the One who went to great lengths to provide it for us.

So, while sin is never fun or exciting to talk about, it is important. That is why this post will focus on what sin is, how it affects us and how God defeated the problem of sin.

What Is Sin?

Sin is the failure to conform to the moral law of God. This failure affects our nature, our thoughts and our actions. Scriptural References: Exodus 20:17, Matthew 5:22 and 28, Galatians 5:20, Mark 12:30, Romans 5:8, Ephesians 2:3, and 1 John 3:4. Sin also separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2).

The Origin of Sin
God did not create sin nor is sin (or evil) an eternally existent thing (Deuteronomy. 32:4, James 1:13). To say that either sin or evil is eternal is to elevate it to the same status as God. Only God is eternal. In respect to the human world, sin originated in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-19). However, before the disobedience of Adam and Eve, sin was present in the angelic world (Isaiah 14:12-14, Ezekiel 28:12-18).

How Does Sin Affect Us?

Inherited Sin
Understanding the reality of inherited sin requires an understanding of what’s called, Federal Headship. In other words, when Adam sinned we were all present in him (Romans 5:12-21). He was our representative, and thus in Adam’s sin we are all counted guilty. Many people, especially those learning about Federal Headship for the first time, consider it to be unfair. After all, we weren’t in the garden with Adam and Eve. Wayne Grudem, in his book, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine makes several defenses for Federal Headship. First, Scripture clearly teaches that we are all accountable for our own sin (Romans 2:6, Colossians 3:25). Second, it is also beyond unlikely that we would have acted differently from Adam in that situation. Finally, the strongest argument to be made is that if it is unfair to be represented by Adam, then it’s also unfair for us to be represented by Christ. In the fall, relationship was broken, and the consequences were instantaneous, but at the cross, the remedy was instantaneous as well. (Romans 5:18).

Inherited Corruption
With our inherited sin we also inherit a corrupt (or sinful) nature (Psalms 51:5). In our corrupted nature we are bankrupt of any spiritual good before God (Romans 7:18, Titus 1:15, Jeremiah 17:9). In other words, we can’t come to him of our own strength, the Holy Spirit must first draw us to God and we must respond (Romans 8:8, Hebrews 11:6, Ephesians 2:1-2, John 8:34).
Degrees of Sin

We have seen that sin is breaking God’s law. It is therefore, a legal guilt before God, who is the righteous Judge (Genesis 2:17, James 4:12, Isaiah 33:22). In terms of our legal standing then, all sins are equal (James 2:10-11, Deuteronomy 27:26). Different sins, however, affect our life and relationship with God in different ways. So, practically speaking, certain sins are worse than others in that they have more harmful consequences (Ezekiel 8:13-15, Matthew 23:23).

The Punishment and Solution for Sin

The Punishment
Punishment for sin is required because God’s righteousness demands it (Jeremisah 9:24.) If God did not punish sin, he would not be a righteous judge. It’s logically inconsistent to believe that even a good human judge could intentionally ignore broken laws. In fact, even in our corrupted state we revolt at a child molester or murderer being pardoned by a judge or being released due to a technicality. How much more offensive is sin to a perfect and just God?

So what is the fitting penalty for sin? It is death (Romans 6:23). This death is more than the physical death then ends when a person dies. Scripture clearly teaches that there is a second, spiritual death (Revelation 20:14) that affects the soul. This death results in the soul’s separation from God (2 Thessalonians 1:9) and conscious torment forever (Luke 16:23-28).

The Solution
Just as there is a second death which affects the soul, there is also a second, spiritual life available to those who will receive it (John 3:15, Romans 10:13). God’s desire is that all would be saved (2 Peter 3:9), and in his rich mercy he made a way for us to be born again and enter back into relationship with him (John 3:3-6). That way of reconciliation required the Second Person of the Godhead to willingly take on the form of humanity, remain holy, living a perfect life and ultimately pay the penalty of death for our sin – which he did on the cross. (Ephesians 2:4-10, John 3:14-17, Romans 5:8; 6:23). This one and only God-man’s name is Jesus.

If Jesus had not taken on the form of humanity, he could not have died in our place. If he wasn’t like us, the “propitiation” (the sacrifice) wouldn’t have been an acceptable substitute (Hebrews 2:16-17). Unlike when God created us holy and we rebelled, thus becoming sinful, Jesus, the God-man, never rebelled and so he remained sinless. He was, therefore, the perfect sacrifice and our only hope (Hebrews 7:26).

The problem of sin and the cost of the cross are the reasons why cheap grace is unacceptable. It was not cheap at all. Yes, God’s grace is for sinners, and yes, he loves us as we are; but it is also his love for us that commands us to both, follow him and sin no more. Author and Pastor Mark Batterson once wrote that the Gospel costs nothing but demands everything. That made sense to me because, in other words, God’s gift of grace is free, but it isn’t cheap. In fact, it will require all of you, which is only fair since God gave all of himself first.

I will leave you with these words that I love from the old hymn, To God be the Glory:

“To God be the glory, great things he hath done! So loved he the world that he gave us his Son, who yielded his life an atonement for sin, and opened the lifegate that all may go in. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the earth hear his voice! Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the people rejoice! O come to the Father through Jesus the Son, and give him the glory, great things he hath done! O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood, to every believer the promise of God; the vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.”

Sources used for this post:
Batterson, Mark. All In. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York, NY: Touchstone Books, 1995.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology; An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.
Lewis, Kevin. Personal notes from Essential Christian Doctrine Lectures. Biola University; La Mirada, CA, 2013.
Shedd, William G.T. Dogmatic Theology. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2003.

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