I will start off this post by quoting from an article from Ligonier Ministries titled Sola Gratia: Christians Are Saved by the Grace of God Alone. I will comment on the sections that I either do not understand or that I believe are commonly misunderstood.
Among Protestants, there is a popular misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on grace. Sometimes it is said, “Rome teaches that we are saved by works, but Protestants teach that we are saved by grace.” This statement, common as it is, is a slander against the Roman Catholic Church. Rome does not teach that one is saved by works apart from the grace of God. She, in fact, teaches that one is saved by the grace of God.
To what, then, did Rome object in the Reformers’ teaching? Where does the line of difference between Rome and the Reformation lie? It lies in a single word—sola (“alone”). The Reformers maintained that the sinner is saved by the grace of God, His unmerited favor, alone. This doctrine means that nothing the sinner does commends him to the grace of God, and that the sinner does not cooperate with God in order to merit his salvation. Salvation, from beginning to end, is the sovereign gift of God to the unworthy and undeserving. As Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians, who were inclined to boasting: “Who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7). No one can ever stand before God and say, “Look at me and at what I have done!” God is no one’s debtor, not least in matters of salvation (Rom. 11:35).
One passage of Scripture in which the doctrine of salvation by grace alone shines brightly is Ephesians 2:1–10. Paul wrote to the Ephesians after having ministered among them for some three years (Acts 20:31). It is clear from the Acts of the Apostles that Paul had deeply devoted himself to preaching and teaching the Word of God to them (19:8–10; 20:20–21).
At this point, I think we need to take a look at Ephesians 2:1-10. “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.“
Noticed that the verbs in the passage are in the past tense: “you were dead”, “you once walked”, “we all once lived” and “were by nature children of wrath”. So, by Paul’s own words, the saving grace of God has changed us. As Christians we are no longer dead, we no longer walk in trespasses and sins, we no linger live in the passions of our flesh and our nature has changed. No longer are we children of wrath! Through grace alone, we have become children of God!
I think that, in some congregations, when the doctrine of Sola Gratia is taught, the fact that we are changed is left out. As a result, the idea that because of grace we can continue in sin is allowed to creep in. This was a problem even in the early church which is why Paul wrote in his letter to the romans “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.”
When Bonhoeffer talks about cheap grace, what he is really talking about is the ability of people to resist the saving grace of God while believing that they are saved anyway. What do you think?