Asking how the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany was so easily co-opted by Hitler and the Nazi party, Keller, in a warning to us today, writes that the answer "is that the true gospel, summed up by Bonhoeffer as costly grace had been lost. On the one hand, the church had become marked by formalism. That meant that going to church and hearing that God just loves and forgives everyone, so it doesn't really matter much how you live. Bonhoeffer called this cheap grace. On the other hand, there was legalism, or salvation by law and good works. Legalism meant that God loves you because you have pulled yourself together and are trying to live a good, disciplined life."
Towards the end of his foreword, Keller writes in the true spirit of Bonhoeffer when he says "we know that true grace comes to us by costly sacrifice. And if God was willing to go to the cross and endure such pain and absorb such a cost in order to save us, then we must live sacrificially as we serve others. Anyone who truly understands how God's grace comes to us will have a changed life. That's the gospel, not salvation by law, or by cheap grace. Costly grace changes you from the inside out. Neither law nor cheap grace can do that."
I think this is worth considering right now in the wake of so many conflicting reactions to the death of Osama bin-Laden. As followers of Christ we must insist that how we live and what we do matters, we cannot shrink back in the face of evil, using cheap grace as an excuse to take a powder, or, even worse, to smugly condemn out of self-righteousness those whose response is to stand-up to evil. This is the challenging legacy and witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
This puts me in mind of something written by my brother deacon of old, St. Ephrem the Syrian, which I posted over Lent:
"On that dreadful and amazing day, You shall say to us sinners, O Lord: ‘You men know well what I have undergone for you; what have you suffered for Me?’…The martyrs will point to their wounds, their sufferings, the severed parts of their bodies… The ascetics will point to their asceticism, to their long fasts and vigils, to their liberality…But I, idle, sinful, transgressing as I am, what shall I be able to point to? Spare me, O merciful One! Spare me, O Thou Lover of mankind!"
You see, grace is costly, which means that cheap grace is no grace at all.