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Beware Cheap Grace

The thing about debtors is, they owe you.

Debtors aren’t debtors because of misunderstandings.  (Or oversights, inconsideration, or failed communications.)   Debtors are the people to whom you could say, “You abused me.  You took advantage of me.  You injured me.  You were wrong.  You owe me.”

Debtors didn’t offend us;  debtors owe us.

If, when you consider where you should extend forgiveness, you think first of workplace foibles – of excusing tardiness, dismissing gossip, and generally tolerating annoyingness – then your struggle isn’t unforgiveness.  Your struggle is being too easily offended.

If it’s lack of common courtesy (or sense) that burns you up, you don’t need to forgive as much as you need to get over it.

I am wary of extending cheap grace and calling it forgiveness.  I’m afraid that, when challenged by the doctrine of forgiveness, we choose to forgive foolishness, because it’s too hard to forgive debts.

Cheap grace is:

“She took my baby name even though she knew I wanted to use it, but I forgive her.”

“He clocks out early every day and I have to clean up alone, but I forgive him.”

“She didn’t text me back, but I forgive her.”

Of course these offenses should be resolved, lest bitterness take root and brotherly love erode over time.  But if these are the sorts of things you pride yourself in forgiving?  Well, that forgiveness didn’t cost you much.  Your personal preference if anything.  It’s cheap grace.

Jesus didn’t die on the cross so you could politely tolerate annoyances or learn to let go of frustrations.  Frustrations don’t require the shedding of blood to be set right.  Nobody ever had to die to make up for being kind of a jerk.

But the debt we owed to the God who requires justice?  That debt had to be paid in blood.  For generations God’s people slayed a million lambs on a million alters, sin offerings, blood in their place.  They did it right up until Jesus put an end to it.  He was the spotless animal, the sacrifice – the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  When Jesus died in your place, He didn’t do it because he was frustrated with you.  He did it because you owed a debt you could not pay and live.

He demonstrated radical, scandalous, unthinkable, could-only-be-divine grace.  And it cost Him.

The gospel is not a story of cheap grace.

So as I live out the gospel, I dare not cheapen it.

“But where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more.”  The bigger the offense, the bigger the forgiveness.  That’s how it works in God’s economy.

To forgive our debtors will cost us.  If it doesn’t cost us, they weren’t debtors.  Real grace is anything but cheap.


I had this post half-written, waiting in my drafts, when I saw this article from the New York Times called “Portraits of Reconciliation.”  I saw the first image and my heart broke and leapt at the same time.  I knew, “It’s time.

The piece is a collection of portraits of victims of the Rwandan genocide with their perpetrators.  The perpetrators that killed their husbands and fathers and children.  The perpetrators that burned their houses down.  The perpetrators THEY FORGAVE.

This is not cheap grace.  This is huge, agonizing, torturous loss, and huge, lavish, unimaginable mercy.  It was difficult for me to read, because my insides ache to think what this kind of forgiveness costs.  But it challenged me.  It forced me to consider my own ugliness – that I am first a sinner, and only then sinned against.  It reminded me that people can do hard things – and God can do impossible things.  It reminded me not to settle for cheap grace.  I hope it reminds you, too.

Dominique Ndahimana
Perpetrator (left)

Cansilde Munganyinka

NDAHIMANA: “The day I thought of asking pardon, I felt unburdened and relieved. I had lost my humanity because of the crime I committed, but now I am like any human being.”

MUNGANYINKA: “After I was chased from my village and Dominique and others looted it, I became homeless and insane. Later, when he asked my pardon, I said: ‘I have nothing to feed my children. Are you going to help raise my children? Are you going to build a house for them?’ The next week, Dominique came with some survivors and former prisoners who perpetrated genocide. There were more than 50 of them, and they built my family a house. Ever since then, I have started to feel better. I was like a dry stick; now I feel peaceful in my heart, and I share this peace with my neighbors.”

You can read the whole New York Times Article, and see more photos, here.  I recommend it.


  • inalaska

    I wish I could have read this as a teen, or that anyone would have explained it to me as a child. As it is this was something I had to come to on my own in the last few years. True forgiveness feel like having your heart torn out and I guess in a way it kind of is. True forgiveness is letting God tear out your bitterness, your hurt, and your “righteous” anger. It hurts for a bit, but the new life that replaces it is more amazing then words can describe.

    • Kate Conner

      Yes! I love the way you describe how it feels to have your hurt and righteous anger torn out. A reader on Facebook said it this way: “We think so much about the cost of unforgiveness that we we forget to talk about the cost of forgiveness.” Thanks for sharing!

  • Erica

    This is beautifully written. What a powerful thought to start the week with – working towards forgiving the big stuff. The important stuff. The stuff that needs forgiveness most of all. Thanks, Kate. What a great message that we hear not often enough!


  • TwoPretzels

    “Jesus didn’t die on the cross so you could politely tolerate annoyances or learn to let go of frustrations. ”

    The bigger the offense, the bigger the forgiveness. That’s how it works in God’s economy.”

    Oh, oh, oh, I needed to read both of these things today.

    **Thank you.

    • Kate Conner

      Oh, man. I need them EVERY day. Thanks for reading! So glad this was timely for you. :)

  • Liz

    I’ve come back and read this post just about every day this week. It has just really hit home as I am always bothered by people saying “will you forgive me” or “I forgive you” and I never can put into words why. I think this post explains my feelings exactly. I’ll ponder on this for some time to come. So good.

    • Kate Conner

      I’m so glad this resonated with you, Liz. It is interesting to hear your thoughts on the phrase “I forgive you” for those more trivial offenses. I’ve been thinking about it because I use that language with my kids a lot! I think I’ve decided that I really like using “forgive” when I’m (or my kids are) asking, even for something small. I think I like it because when I ask to be excused, I’m saying “I know I didn’t meet your expectation, please don’t hold it against me,” but when I ask to be forgiven, it’s an acknowledgement that I may have hurt or offended you. “Forgive” sounds more about relationship, and “excuse” sounds more about the behavior. I think the challenge for me then, as I use this language with my kids, is to extrapolate the idea of forgiveness (that they’re familiar with) onto bigger issues as they get older – to show them, “You know how you forgive your brother for such-and-such? Well God forgives me of SUCH-AND-SUCH.” Whoa.

      Thanks for sharing. I’ll be thinking about this one!

  • Chris Carter

    One of my dear blogging friends JUST wrote a similar post involving this horrific tragedy and the unbelievable relentless grace that has lived through these victims… survivors. I love that you both have had such powerful messages about this very truth.

    My friend is Stephanie Clinton from Hugs, Kisses and Snot. (Cute eh? Check her out- she posted recently about this topic.)