Saturday, April 4, 2009

Weekly Recommendation: "The Cost of Discipleship"

In just a few hours, we will come together and worship our Savior. This week we will be looking at the crucifixion of Christ, the very foundation of Christianity. We will be looking specifically at Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross for Jesus on the way to Christ's execution. And as I was studying (have referenced about 50 books and completely read 3!) I can think of no better book to recommend on the issue of discipleship and its cost than Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "The Cost of Discipleship."

Bonhoeffer, who was executed by Hitler, believes that Christianity, and the gospel, has become cheap. He begins his book arguing:

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks' wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?...

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before...

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptist without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate...

[Costly] grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly beaus it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner... (43-45)

Bonhoeffer's concern is evident, the gospel is being smothered by cheap grace. And I think he is right. Even today, decades after he wrote this book, the Church continues to preach a message that is simply "joining the team" without any commitment. As I will say in a few short hours, we want forgiveness without repentance, we want mercy without discipleship.

Loved ones, we cannot have one without the other. Bonhoeffer goes on to add that self-denying obedience is demanded of the Christian: "Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes" (63).

Oh that all Christians would heed Bonhoeffer's words who is giving us the words of Christ. Grace is not cheap, it is very costly. It cost God His Son, and it must cost us our lives. We must be willing to give up and forsake all for His Kingdom rather than to expect God to give us all for our Kingdom.

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