THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP

Although Deitrich Bonhoeffer had his own German Lutheran Church very much in mind when he wrote it in 1937, what he expressed about Christian discipleship is timeless.
This 20thC. martyr and gentle saint was one of the very few who recognised the evil intent of Hitler soon after he came to power in 1933. Bonhhoeffer believed it was his Christian duty to protest against his government that was no longer based on the law of God. He was also just as critical of the national Lutheran Church that compromised itself under Nazism and had thus abandoned Christ's call "to follow me". As a result of his outspokenness he abandoned his academic career and went abroad to teach and lecture as well as being a founding member of the Confessional Church, which naturally opposed Hitler and any watering down of the Gospel. When war broke out in 1939 Bonhoeffer was lecturing in America. He immediately returned to his native land, stating that he could not have any voice in a post-war Germany if he lived in exile. Furthermore he could not expect other members of the Confessional Church to oppose Hitler whilst he lived in the exilic luxury of safety.
At the beginning of this book he compared the difference between "cheap grace" and "costly grace". Part of Germany's problem resulted from Christians living on the former rather than the latter, "the deadly enemy of our Church". Bonhoeffer described  "cheap grace" as "grace sold on the market like cheap jack's ware. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolation of religion are thrown away at cut prices." It is seen as being part of  "the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits." The upshot of all this is that the only duty for Christians "is to escape from the world for an hour or so on Sunday morning and go to Church to be assured that my sins are all forgiven."
"Costly grace" on the other hand "is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock." This "grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ." Furthermore  "it is costly because it cost God the life of His Son  [and] it is grace because God did not reckon His Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered Him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God." 
"Such 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 ecause it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it  is costly because it cost God the life of His Son … and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us."


 Thus Bonhoeffer is unrelenting in what this means for Christians  discipleship. And the cost of that discipleship is the Cross, after grace calls us to follow Christ. Discipleship certainly "is not an offer man makes to Christ". Discipleship means imitating the life of Christ, and those very first disciples. From these Bonhoeffer stressed that we learn that we must leave all behind and set out on "the road to faith" in obedience to Christ. "Unless we obey, we cannot believe."  But this is only the start. We must wait until we are called by our Lord. "Discipleship without Jesus Christ is a way of our own choosing " even if it leads to martyrdom".
Then just as the disciples waited to be taught, so must we. The central teaching for them, as for us, is the Passion, not only Christ's but that of His followers. As Bonhoeffer expressed it:
Just as Christ is Christ only in virtue of His suffering and rejection, so the disciple is a disciple only in so far as he shared His Lord's suffering and rejection and crucifixion. Discipleship means adherence to the person of Jesus, and therefore submission to the law of Christ. In other words it means the cross. 
When Christians encounter Christ with His Cross and follow obediently it begins the process of the dying of the old man (ideally this begins at Baptism). Christians meet temptations every day, and as promised at Baptism, this means warfaring "against the world, the flesh and devil", and suffering anew for Christ. Any suffering "is a joy and a privilege, and a token of His grace" (note the early martyrs).
Moreover discipleship, Bonhoeffer emphasised, makes Christians individuals as every person is called separately and he/she "must follow alone", compelling him/her to make his/her decisions alone. Ideally this is made "with their eyes fixed on Him alone" away from the "protection" of society. "This breach with the immediacies of the world is identical with the acknowledgement of Christ as the Son of God." From then onwards "it is not for us to choose which way we shall follow."

I think everyone who is serious about being a disciple of the Lord should read Bonhoeffer's book, The Cost of Discipleship.

Return to Index


Marianne Dorman