My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if you do sin, there is someone to plead for you before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who pleases God completely. - 1 John 2:1
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young Lutheran pastor in Germany before World War II, fiercely opposed the policies of the Nazis out of profound Christian conviction. Because of this, he was captured by the Gestapo, imprisoned, and eventually executed in April, 1945, shortly before the prison camp where he was held (Flossenburg) was liberated by the Allied forces. He died a martyr.
In his well-known book The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer deplored what he termed “cheap grace.” He defined “cheap grace” as “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”7 Bonhoeffer recognized this as an abuse of the biblical doctrine of grace—that most wonderful truth that God, out of a heart of love, reaches out to lost and sinful people, favors them in ways that they do not deserve, and grants them blessings that they could never earn. Bonhoeffer’s concern about cheap grace was right on target, and he lived and died in accordance with his convictions.
The apostle John expressed similar concerns when he wrote, “I am writing this to you so that you will not sin” (1 John 2:1). John was not promoting sinless perfection—he immediately added, “But if you do sin, there is someone to plead for you before the Father.” John wanted to remind believers that their sins are not forgiven in order that they may casually and contentedly continue in them. He wanted them to experience the freedom of victory over the sins that had formerly held them captive.
A reminder that Jesus “is the sacrifice for our sins” (2:2) should be sufficient to encourage believers to view sin seriously and to seek freedom from its bondage. Who can sin without remorse when he remembers that the penalty for sin is death and that Jesus assumed our penalty in that most horrendous of deaths, crucifixion?
But how do we enjoy this freedom and victory over sin? John suggests two foolproof methods. First, out of love for the Lord Jesus we embark on a lifestyle characterized by obedience. “Those who obey God’s word really do love him” (2:5). Second, we intentionally adopt the Lord Jesus as our role model. “Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Christ did” (2:6).
No one, least of all Dietrich Bonhoeffer, would suggest that doing these things is easy. Look where obedience and following Jesus took Bonhoeffer! But if we are to avoid the abuse of God’s grace, we must accept the disciplines of discipleship.
There is nothing cheap about God’s grace—it is costly, both for Christ and for us! Yet it has great worth.
For Further Study: 1 John 2:1-6