A brother in the Northeast asks, “I know that God forgives us again and again and that his forgiveness is forever. But I am sometimes concerned that we presume on God by taking his forgiveness for granted. That seems to me to be cheap grace which fails to appreciate the sacrifice of Jesus.”
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We can never overstate the truth that God loves and forgives sinners, receiving them as his dear children — sinners who do not deserve any of these benefits, and who will always be totally indebted to God for his undeserved mercy and gratuitous kindness. We neither earn, provoke nor entice God’s good will; it precedes anything we ever think or do. Those who have experienced God’s mercy testify that it is everlasting, all-encompassing, inexhaustible and infinite in supply. His grace is free to us, but it cost Jesus heavenly riches, equality with God, earthly comfort, mortal life and a disgraceful and excruciating death.
It is something entirely different, however, to turn God’s grace into license (Jude 3), or to give it a hollow reception (2 Cor. 6:1), or to insult the Spirit by misusing it (Heb. 10:29). The German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer rightly warned against what he called “cheap grace,” a distortion and perversion of the gospel message which really is not God’s grace at all. My friend Max Lucado wisely reminds us that God loves us as we are, but that he also loves us too much to leave us as we are! The grace of God “teaches us” to deny ungodly living and to live righteously in this wicked world (Titus 2:11-14). The person who truly is gripped by divine grace will work harder for God than the person who thinks his or her work is the path to salvation (1 Cor. 15:10).
The statement that God never stops forgiving even when we continue to sin is totally true, but I think we need wisdom concerning when and how we teach this truth. It is not a truth, it seems to me, to be heralded to the unbelieving world, or to lazy or self-indulgent disciples who show no repentance. It is, however, a prized and precious truth to those whose hearts are broken by their own sinfulness, to those who struggle sincerely against a besetting sin or stronghold of Satan in their lives and desire God’s forgiveness, to those who are troubled by the thought that God is so holy and they are so sinful and who wonder whether he can bridge the gap between those two realities. For those people, this is “meat in due season,” and it is a comfortable word indeed.