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Nov. 18, 2020

“Cheap Grace” and “Cheap Citizenship” (EP.282)

“Cheap Grace” and “Cheap Citizenship” (EP.282)


Cheap Grace is the selling of or wanting forgiveness and salvation from God without discipline or responsibility. A thought from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Cheap Citizenship is the selling of or wanting freedoms and benefits from government without discipline or responsibility. A thought from Will Luden.

That is the subject of today’s 10-minute episode. 


All con games, where a grifter, a con artist, cheats a mark rely in no small part on the mark’s desire to get something for nothing. For example, a “pigeon drop” is a con game in which a mark or “pigeon” is convinced to give up a sum of good-faith money in order to secure the promise of sharing a larger amount of “found money”. Ultimately, the scammers disappear with the good-faith money and “drop” the mark who is left holding a worthless bag filled with news clippings cut into the shape of previously observed currency.

When either pastors or politicians sell us on the idea of something for nothing, we are being conned. And cons work only when the mark wants something for nothing, and believes that somehow there might indeed be free lunch, and runs after it. So-called “Good News” pastors want our donations and everyone’s adoration; “It’s Free” politicians want our votes and other people’s money. And both cheat us out of the life on this earth and after that we would have earned by taking responsibility and exercising discipline.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian known for his support of ecumenism and his view of Christianity’s role in a secular world. His involvement in a plot to overthrow Adolf Hitler led to his imprisonment and execution. His “Letters and Papers from Prison”, published posthumously in 1951, is perhaps the most profound document of his convictions. When Bonhoeffer was asked why more Christians did not resist Hitler, his response was, “Cheap grace.” He went on to define it, “Cheap grace is 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.” In other words, the Christians he was referring to wanted forgiveness and salvation, without the hard work of acting like real Christians, in this case resisting the evil of Hitler and Nazism. We live at a time when cheap grace is sold in thousands of pulpits, in person and online. Joel Osteen is but one example.

Just as perniciously, we are being sold–hard–on the concept of Cheap Citizenship. Allow me to paraphrase. Cheap citizenship is rights without responsibility, wanting other people’s money without first having done our very best over time. Cheap citizenship is declaring victimhood to absolve oneself of responsibility. Cheap citizenship is enjoying the freedoms and abundant lifestyle afforded to us today by the agonizing sacrifice of those who lived and died to provide them. All while declaring those very same people to have been so deeply flawed, so deeply evil, that all of them should either be totally forgotten, or identified as the scum of the earth. Cheap patriotism is demanding to vote with marginal credentials, and the voting choices made with cliche-based thinking.

Today’s Key Point: Cheap grace and cheap patriotism both promise something for nothing. Both lead to disaster.

Q. Okay, Will, what do we do? A. Remember that any right, privilege or benefit comes with an equal or greater responsibility.

Let’s hear another voice.Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.”Dr. Viktor E. Frankl is a Holocaust survivor who went on to publish the best-seller Man’s Search for Meaning.

Frankl was prescient; he wrote that book in 1946–over 70 years ago. We do need a Statue of Responsibility to make us constantly aware of the importance of balancing freedoms with responsibility. And let’s go a step further and create a bit of an imbalance; we need to shoulder more in the way of responsibilities than we ask for in the way of freedoms and rights. It is a little bit like a bank account; in order to succeed over time, we need to put in more than we take out. And, yes, it really is that simple.

Caution: We live at a time when freedoms and rights are increasingly being touted everywhere, with little or no mention of responsibility. In fact, if one has the nerve to bring up personal responsibility, many of those pushing more freedoms and rights go immediately for the kill by shouting “racist!” Huh? How on earth did bringing up responsibility become a dog whistle for racism? Sadly, we also live at a time when an accusation–true or false–can be seen as both evidence and a conviction. 

The diagram below shows in an easy-to-remember way that responsibility should flow. Responsibility begins with and in the final analysis rests with the Individual. If a person cannot (emphasis on cannot) do what is needed, the next step is to turn to Family and Friends. If they cannot add what is necessary, the needs are elevated to Community and Charity, then, as a last resort, to the Government. First local, then state, and lastly, the feds. 

The push we have all seen in recent decades has reversed this, with the government–at all levels–being where responsibility starts, and puts the Individual last in the        responsibility flow. That’s the push toward Cheap Citizenship.

Let’s fix that, by pushing toward personal responsibility and Contributing Citizenship.

Tell me what you believe. I and many others want to know. 

As always, whatever you do, do it in love. Without love, anything we do is empty.


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Will Luden, coming to you from 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.