Recommended books & reviews, Theology

When Grace is not so Amazing

Bonhoeffer by Eric MetaxasWell Bono’s words about Karma and Grace have proved to be a bit popular – so far over 170,000+ people have shared it on facebook.  But what is it about Bono’s words that so connected with people?

The power of grace

Some of it relates to the interest in what celebrities say.  Some of it is due the arresting combination of raw language and passionate conviction. But a key part is the subject matter itself: because the grace is at the heart of Christianity and Bono’s words captured something visceral and urgent about its relevance and power.

Ethical problems

And yet…doesn’t grace present ethical problems?  Isn’t Karma a lot more fair: you get what you deserve. Doesn’t all this talk of grace give people a free licence to do whatever they want?  If people are simply forgiven by unearned grace, how do we make sense of the Bible’s consistent message about loving your neighbour? And what about Jesus’ teaching about the radical generosity, justice and love in the kingdom of God?

Too often protestant theology has turned grace into a theory or formula which is detached from any ethical demands on how we live.  Grace is presented almost as a ‘get out of jail free’ card to evade God’s wrath and secure your place in heaven. In some churches it is even lined up against concerns for community action or social justice.  Such works are tainted as a ‘social gospel’ where people are seeking to earn their salvation.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The most eloquent and authentic voice against this form of grace is the German Pastor/theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who ministered during the Nazi regime. He wrote The Cost of Discipleship in 1937 while running an illegal, underground seminary for trainee pastors.

No country had more of a heritage of reformed, grace-based theology than Germany.  But Bonhoeffer was deeply distressed with how ineffectively the Lutheran Evangelical Church made any stand against Hitler’s atrocities.

Cheap grace

Bonhoeffer coined the term ‘cheap grace’ to describe the way that his church’s emphasis on grace had stripped out the radical demands of Jesus:

‘Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate…Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.”

In 1943 Bonhoeffer was arrested by the Gestapo. He was executed in a concentration camp 2 years later aged 39.  Like Martin Luther King (who died at the same age) his theology was not abstract or theoretical but concrete and embodied in his life and his death.  He lived out the ‘costly grace’ he saw in Jesus:

“Happy are the who know that discipleship simply means the life which springs from grace and grace simply means discipleship. Happy are those who have become Christians in this sense of the word. For them the word of grace has proved a fount of mercy.”

And as he was taken away to be hung in the concentration camp, he said to his companions:

“This is the end — but for me, the beginning of life.”

Grace and transformation

I hope that the 250,000+ who have read Bono’s words were helped to grasp something fresh of God’s grace.  But I also hope that his words challenge Christians to take more seriously the implications of this grace.

Grace is a gift which should propel us to a generous and radical living, to really follow Jesus and take his example seriously.  As Bono said of Jesus: “If only we could be a bit more like Him, the world would be transformed.”

Grace is not amazing if we just sing about it, preach about it and pray about it but do not allow it to shape, change and transform us.  In fact we cheapen it and corrupt it.

Grace is the best thing the church has to share.  But it cannot be shared as just an abstract doctrine or a theological concept.  It must be shared with words, actions and our whole lives.  As the old hymn puts it:

‘Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all’.

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18 thoughts on “When Grace is not so Amazing”

  1. I suppose it is how you respond to the grace that is important. I found your blog through someone sharing the last post on facebook and I am glad I did, lots to digest. Also should add Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s books to my list of books to read.


  2. Came across this through a friend from church posting the Bono article and clicking forward to this from that page (was helpful to see it there – an incentive to click around the site).


  3. I have found the writings of Dallas Willard and N.T. Wright to be very helpful in understanding the relationship between grace and the work of the Kingdom. Too many churches see it as an either/or proposition. As Wright puts it, Kingdom and Cross go together in the gospels and in life.

    Thank you for an excellent post.


  4. Grace makes sense because it is not my sin that condemns me. “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man (Jesus) the many will be made righteous.” (Rom.5:18/19) Not being able to gain righteousness through my own works makes sense because otherwise Jesus gave his life in vain. The only way we can appreciate Grace is when we understand how sinful and un-fit for heaven we really are, and what we have been saved from. This then will lead to a deep brokenness and humility. The cheap grace attitude is a result of a person’s flesh still in control of that person. True grace, when it falls on a broken, humble follower of the Way (Jesus IS the Way…) will lead a person to see his inability to live according to God’s standards. Such a person will then cry out to God: “Lord I believe, please help my un-belief. I cannot live this Christian life in my own strength. I need your help.” God delights in such humility. Bottom line: It took God to create us; it took His Son, Jesus, to save us, and it takes His Holy Spirit to lead and empower us to do the things He wants us to do. And since God is really doing it all, HE ALONE gets ALL the glory!


  5. Thank you for sharing your insights on the topic of grace. I’m coming to London on Saturday for a Missional Learning Lab with Matryoshka Haus in East London. Maybe our paths will cross somewhere down the line.


  6. why dont you say the REAL reason why you talk bad about Bono and dont want to listen to Christ’s message: and that is because it spoils your plans to make make money from religiousness. with GRACE there is no need to pay off the priest for sins! greedy pastors pass the basket and collect tithings on every $ their mental slaves earn. they dont really care about Jesus or his message…they are just as good as the followers of karma, moses, custom and law and dont know love.


      1. sorry if you thought i was accusing you of talking about Bono . i dont like to accuse because i am not a judge . maybe it is just the way i write .in fact ,i was reading someones comment in the article….. diffrence between grace and karma …. when i wrote my thoughts and i could comment because the blog was closed ,God only knows why i posted it here …….???? good blog


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