Through a set of divinely arranged circumstances, years ago I drove home a university professor I’d just met from a theatre parking lot. When we met again several months later, two hours before he came to Christ, he said, “I can’t get past the idea that someone could live a selfish, no-good life, then repent on his death bed and go to Heaven. It just sounds too easy, too cheap.”
I challenged his underlying assumption, that we can earn Heaven. We discussed the hardest part about grace—swallowing our pride and saying, “I don’t deserve this any more than that criminal does.”
Grace was enormously expensive for God. Yet there’s just nothing we can offer to pay for it.
A thief on the cross asked Jesus to save him. Though every spoken word was agony, Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).
This thief would never be baptized, make restitution, attend church, take communion, sing a hymn, or give an offering. He had nothing to offer Christ, no way to pay him back.
Neither do we.
Imagine a King who invites you to come live in his house and be his heir, even though you rebelled against him, and murdered his son. Suppose you worked hard, saved up money, then came to the King and said, “Here. I’m paying you back.”
Imagine the King’s response. You can’t begin to pay him back. The very attempt is an insult. It cheapens his son’s death.
On the other hand, some people take advantage of grace, reducing it to an excuse for sin. Jude writes: “For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality” (Jude 4).
Any concept of grace that makes us feel more comfortable about sinning is not biblical grace. God’s grace never encourages us to live in sin; on the contrary, it empowers us to say no to sin and yes to truth. It’s the polar opposite of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.”
God has seen us at our worst and still loved us. No skeletons will fall out of our closets in eternity. God won’t say, “Well, if I’d known that I never would’ve let Randy into Heaven!” God knows all my sins. Jesus died for them all. No exceptions.