Woke up today thinking about cheap grace and how it blinds people to the truth, and it seemed necessary to put something down in writing. Now I always hesitate to talk about this for two reasons. First, and most important, there are many people who have been mislead by cheap grace and have placed their hope in a gospel that is not really true. For them to hear the truth can be very unsettling, and even terrifying. I pray that they will not lose hope, but instead will seek out the truth of God and become fully reconciled to Him. My second reason for concern is that those who teach cheap grace are likely to take offense at what I say and may even directly oppose me. I have to leave that in God's hands, of course, or not say anything at all.
Let me use a true story to illustrate why I am so concerned about this difficult issue. I met a young man many years ago when I was in the Air Force, stationed in Thailand. We worked in an electronics shop together, repairing "black boxes" containing radar tracking equipment. To put it bluntly, this man was a terrible human being in many ways — I will spare you the details. One day while working side by side, there was a preacher on the Air Force Radio Network talking about what it meant to be saved. In a joking manner, I poked my co-worker and told him he better listen to the message. His response, which knocked the wind out of me, was nothing short of shocking.
"Oh, I did that years ago, so I don't have to worry. If there is a god, I'm safe, because I said that prayer about going to heaven when I die."
I still don't know how to respond to that. There is so much wrong there, I hardly know where to begin. Somehow, some person in his past had convinced him that if he prayed the "sinner's prayer," God would wipe the slate clean and let him into heaven. So without the slightest desire to know God or to allow God any acces to his life; without even deciding whether or not he believed God existed, he prayed a ritual prayer that he was told would absolve him of his deplorable lifestyle. And having dismissed the possibility of going to hell, he felt entirely free to pursue his debauchery unhindered by any fear of the after-life.
That's cheap grace at its worst. It is evil, masquerading around as light to those who are lost. Anyone who believes it, however, is condemned to an even darker world, because they have been further blinded to the truth. And since their eternal destiny is at stake, they have a vested interest in not letting go of what they have been told. They believe they are saved because they prayed the magic prayer. (and magic is about as close as it comes).
I wish I could say that no one preaches cheap grace any more. Unfortunately, that is not the case. In fact, those who preach it loudest would happily denounce my article here as heretical. But not only does it get preached in its worst forms (as my story demonstrates), it has many cousins that run right on the edge of being a faulty gospel. Whenever evangelizers separate the good news from becoming a follower of Jesus, they are misleading their listeners on the nature of God's grace and His offer to them.
At its core, the gospel is not about going to heaven when you die. It is an invitation to reconcile with God. That means we are being asked to respond to His offer to cleanse the garbage out of our life, to resurrect us from being spiritually dead (Rom.6), to put His Spirit in us and make His home with us (Jn.14-17), and to begin the process of restoration (Col.3:10). God's offer is to make us into new creatures and involve us in His new creation that is underway.
To break this into tiny pieces so we can make one decision about heaven and a separate decision about whether we want to allow the Spirit to impact our life, must be unbelievably offensive to God, and cheapens His offer into a bargain where we try to take advantage of God by grabbing the goods and making off with our "life" intact. I fear for those who teach this stuff. But my real heart is for those who have unwittingly believed what they said, and are unaware that they may have never heard the real Good News.
We do not become a Christian by saying the right words because it looks like it would be in our best interests to do so. Paul says salvation involves a change of heart as well as a confession of what is going on in our heart (Rom.10). Jesus came to save us from ourselves and to make it possible for God to live inside us (instead of just in a temple). That's not about making funeral preparations. It is about having a different kind of life — now, on this planet, and forever. Grace that only removes guilt and eternal consequences is nothing but cheap grace. True Grace is God interjecting Himself into our life in order to have a genuine interactive relationship with us and to give us life we could not have any other way.