The Doctrine of Cheap Grace

The single most effective word in the marketing world may be the word “free.” If you are selling cereal, put a toy in the box and slap the word “FREE” on the label. If you want to sign up more people for your credit card, give a “FREE” shirt or hat. If you are selling vacuum cleaners, shampoo their carpets for “FREE.” The word “free” is powerful to consumers. After all, the best things in life are “free”!

There is no greater free gift available than the gift of God’s grace. The free toy from the cereal box is going to be thrown away. The free t-shirt is going to fade and get worn. Your kids are going to spill their juice on the carpet that was just cleaned for free. But grace… grace is something you cherish. It is the free gift that you will never let go. It’s the free gift that you never throw away.

The interesting thing is that grace may well be the most abused “free” gift that has ever existed. The mainstream religious marketing machine has been quite successful in touting the message of Free Grace. But it is sad to see that they have also changed the nature of grace to a “Cheap Grace” – not cheap in the sense of cost, but cheap in the sense of value.

Consider what Sam Morris, a Baptist preacher from Stanford, TX, wrote about grace in an article entitled “Do a Christian’s sins damn his soul?” He states, “We take the position that a Christian’s sins do not damn his soul. The way a Christian lives, what he says, his character, his conduct, or his attitude toward other people has nothing whatever to do with the salvation of his soul. All the sins he may commit from murder to idolatry will not make his soul in any more danger.”

Exactly how far does the doctrine of “Cheap Grace” extend? Homosexual relationships? Adulterous relationships? Adulterers remain in unscriptural marriages because they believe God’s grace covers their sins. This view of grace changes Paul’s message in Ephesians 4:28 completely when he said, “Let him who stole steal no longer.” If one can continue in the sins of homosexuality and adultery, certainly he could steal as well.

Paul’s comments in Romans 5:20 are interesting, “where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” Many have misused this passage to show that the presence of sin in the life of a believer is further proof of the power of grace. John Calvin called it “The Perseverance of the Saints” which simply means once you have been saved, you are always saved.

This doctrine of “Cheap Grace” is popular and followed by many. It is easier to live the Christian life when it is void of the challenge of overcoming temptation and conquering sin. The doctrine of “Cheap Grace” removes the problems of sin and temptation completely from one’s future.

It is a doctrine that seeks to scratch the itching ears of a self-satisfying society that Paul warned us about: “…because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers and they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). That’s exactly what this doctrine of “Cheap Grace” is – a cheap myth that tickles ears.

Those who teach cheap grace fail to continue reading into the next chapter. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2). Paul makes it clear that those who are saved should no longer live sinfully.

Perhaps no one illustrates the foolishness of this popular doctrine better than Peter. In 2 Peter 2:20-21, Peter discusses the fact that some will turn aside from the Lord and return to sin even after being saved. He uses two illustrations to describe the foolishness of such: “But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.’”

Certainly the imagery of a dog lapping up his vomit is one that churns our stomach. The clean pig returning to the mud makes his cleansing useless. Peter is saying the same of those who return to sin after being saved by God’s grace. It is senseless and repulsive.

The gift of free grace cleanses us from the stains of sin. It is up to us to remain clean and refrain from wallowing in the mire once again. So, can we continue in sin to show the power of God’s grace? Paul said, “Certainly not!”

by Terry Francis -Biblical Insights, April 2006

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