Monday, April 12, 2010

Costly Discipleship

"Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace," declared German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a man who publicly spoke against Hitler, the Nazi regime, the German church's anti-semitism, and Western Christianity. He preached the hard truths of Scripture and he also walked in the narrow way. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, he proclaimed the 'ancient way' of a true disciple of Christ. The majority of his work centers around the Sermon on the Mount, recalling the basic truths that Christ laid down for his followers. He begins his book by making a distinction against the 'cheap grace' mentality that had infected the church (and, unfortunately, is presently still at work) and the 'costly grace' of Jesus Christ.

"Cheap grace he wrote, “is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. . . .” In short, no desire to change. In contrast, costly grace is a call to follow Jesus. “It is costly,” writes Bonhoeffer, “because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”

Bonhoeffer was concerned that with the Christianization of the Western world had come a cheapening of grace, denying the very essence of Christianity. To take the name “Christian” and yet cling to what he called “bourgeois secular existence” disturbed him. And we saw the results clearly in the tragedy of Christians being silent in the face of the Holocaust. My concern today is that we learn this lesson and not become comfortable with cheap grace here in our own land.

We need to re-read this classic because somehow we’ve forgotten how radical it is to follow the call of Jesus. We’ve forgotten that the disciples left behind the security of their nets and boats, for the gracious uncertainty of a life of faith.

And we’ve forgotten that following Christ will lead us down a road likewise marked with suffering. As Bonhoeffer reminded us, “Jesus says that every Christian has his own cross waiting for him, a cross destined and appointed by God.”
~ Chuck Colson

In his book, Bonhoeffer constantly exhorts Christian to self-renunciation and obedience to God's Word - but not in the manner of monastic living, nor by our own standards.

"Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. It remains an abstract idea, a myth which has a place for the Fatherhood of God, but omits Christ as the living Son. … There is trust in God, but no following of Christ." 64

"He wants to follow, but feels obliged to insist on his own terms to the level of human understanding. The disciple places himself at the Master’s disposal, but at the same time retains the right to dictate his own terms. But then discipleship is no longer discipleship, but a program of our own to be arranged to suit ourselves, and to be judged in accordance with the standards of rational ethic." 66

"If we would follow Jesus we must take certain definite steps. The first step, which follows the call, cuts the disciple off from his previous existence. … The first step places the disciple in the situation where faith is possible. If he refuses to follow and stays behind, he does not learn how to believe." 66-67

"To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only Him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us. … All that self-denial can say is: "He leads the way, keep close to Him."
"…and take up his cross." … Only when we have become completely oblivious of self are we ready to bear the cross for His sake. If in the end we know only Him, if we have ceased to notice the pain of our own cross, we are indeed looking only unto Him. If Jesus had not so graciously prepared us for this word, we should have found it unbearable. " 97

"God speaking to Luther: "Discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend—it must transcend all comprehension. … Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. My comprehension transcends yours. Thus Abraham went forth from His father… not knowing whither he went. … Behold, that is the way of the cross. You cannot find it yourself, so you must let me lead you as though you were a blind man. Wherefore it is not you, no man… but I myself, who instruct you by my Word and Spirit in the way you should go. Not the work which you choose, not the suffering you devise, but the road which is clean contrary to all you choose or contrive or desire—that is the road you must take. To that I call you and in that you must be my disciple." 103-4

"If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26)

"Through the call of God, men become individuals… Every man is called separately, and must follow alone. But men are frightened of solitude, and try to protect themselves from it by merging themselves in the society of their fellow-men and in their material environment. They become suddenly aware of their responsibilities and duties, and are loath to part with them. But all this is only a cloak to protect them from having to make a decision. They are unwilling to stand alone before Jesus and to be compelled to decide with their eyes fixed on Him alone…. It is Christ’s will that he should be thus isolated, and that he should fix his eyes solely upon him." 105

"The life of discipleship can only be maintained as long as nothing is allowed to come between Christ and ourselves -- neither the law, nor personal piety, nor even the world. The discipline always look only to his master, never to Christ and the law, Christ and religion, Christ and the world. ... Only by following Christ alone can he preserve a single eye. ... Thus the heart of the disciple must be set upon Christ alone." 173-174

I am three quarters of the way into this book. At every page, I find myself challenged and humbled as Bonhoeffer points me to the way our Lord walked - the road to Calvary. If you are looking for an edifying book that points you to the way of your Master, I recommend this one.

"A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. - Matt 10:24

For more information, I recommend these reviews on Bonhoeffer's book by two well-known Christian writers/speakers.

- Randy Alcorn


Vanessa said...

I have this book on audio, so my goal is to listen to it soon on my way to work. I'm definitely looking forward to it. He was a man with a tremendous commitment to God.