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The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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This text is from Kjos Ministries, specifically Bonhoeffer.

Introduction

The introduction below, titled Memoir, provides background information to Bonhoeffer's faith and martyrdom. You can skip this section and go directly to the beginning of Bonhoeffer's own message.  

Since everything that follows comes from Bonhoeffer's book (except for a few words in brackets), we have not used quotation marks. The numbers refer to pages in the 1959 paperback version published by Macmillan. 

Memoir

In his hearing before the Gestapo during his imprisonment, defenseless and powerless as he then was only fortified by the word of God in his heart, he stood erect and unbroken before his tormentors. He refused to recant , and defied the Gestapo machine by openly admitting that, as a Christian, he was an implacable enemy of National Socialism and its totalitarian demands toward the citizen—defied it, although he was continually threatened with torture and with the arrest of his parents, his sisters and his fiancee, who all had a helping hand in his activities. … In 1944, when friends made an attempt to liberate him and to take him to safety abroad, he decided to remain in prison in order not to endanger others.

The last service which Dietrich Bonhoeffer held on the day before his death… "moved all deeply, Catholics and Protestants alike, by his simple sincerity."

Bonhoeffer, who was never tried, went steadfastly on his last way to be hanged, and died with admirable calmness and dignity. God heard his prayer and granted him the "costly grace"—that is, the privilege of taking the cross for others and of affirming his faith by martyrdom. 26

Bonhoeffer and his friends… proved by their resistance unto death that… there are loyalties which transcend those to state and nations. … It is a sin again Him… if it degenerates into national egotism and greed. 28

These men raised the claims of a higher loyalty than the national, and challenged politicians and churchmen alike. But they had not experienced the full weight of the tragic issue at stake. Only those who paid with their lives for the tragic conflict of loyalties can claim to be the martyrs of a new age. 29

When a man really gives up trying to make something out of himself—a saint, or a converted sinner, …a righteous or unrighteous man… when in the fullness of tasks, questions, success or ill-hap, experiences and perplexities, a man throws himself into the arms of God… then he wakes with Christ in Gethesemane. That is faith…. How can a man wax arrogant if in this life he shares the suffering of God? 24

Both modern liberal theology and secular totalitarianism hold pretty much in common that the message of the Bible has to be adapted more or less, to the requirements of a secular world. No wonder, therefore, that the process of debasing Christianity as by liberal theology led, in the long run, to a complete perversion and falsification of the essence of Christianity teaching by National Socialism. 30

A Christian must be prepared, if necessary, to offer his life for this. Thus all kinds of secular totalitarianism which force man to cast aside his religious and moral obligations to God and subordinate the laws of justice and morality to the State are incompatible with his conception of life. This explains why Bonhoeffer did not take the pacifist line… 31

The life of the spirit is not that which shuns death and keeps clear of destruction: rather it endures death and in death it is sustained. It only achieves its truth in t he midst of utter destruction." 33

In a modern dictatorship, however, with its subterranean ubiquity and all-embracing instruments of oppression, a revolt means certain death to all who support it. .. The majority of the people in all nations alike does not consist of heroes. What Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others did cannot be expected from the many. The future in modern society depends much more on the quiet heroism of the very few who are inspired by God. These few will greatly enjoy the divine inspiration and will be prepared to stand for the dignity of man and true freedom and to keep the law of God, even if it means martyrdom or death. … because they "look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen; for the things which are seen /are temporal, but the things that are unseen are eternal." [2 Cor. 4:17-18, 33-34]

Jesus invites all those that labor and are heavy laden, and nothing could be so contrary to our best intentions, and so fatal to our proclamation , as to drive men away from him by forcing upon them man-made dogmas. If we did so, we should make the love of Jesus Christ a laughing-stock to Christians and pagans alike. 39


The Cost of Discipleship

Grace and Discipleship

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian "conception" of God. 45

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. "All for sin could not atone." Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world's standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin. That was the heresy of the enthusiasts, the Anabaptists and their kind…. 46

The Call to Discipleship

The call goes forth, and is at once followed by the response of obedience. …. It displays not the slightest interest in the psychological reason for a man's religious decisions. And why? For the simple reason that the cause behind the immediate following of call by response is Jesus Christ Himself. 61

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

Discipleship and the Cross

Jesus Christ must suffer and be rejected. (Mark 8:31-38) This "must" is inherent in the promise of God—the Scripture must be fulfilled. Here there is a distinction between suffering and rejection. Had He only suffered, Jesus might still have been applauded as the Messiah. 95

Jesus is a rejected Messiah. His rejection robs the passion of its halo of glory. It must be a passion without honor. Suffering and rejection sum up the whole cross of Jesus. To die on the cross means to die despised and rejected of men. Suffering and rejection are laid upon Jesus as a divine necessity, and every attempt to prevent it is the work of the devil, especially when it comes from his own disciples; for it is in fact an attempt to prevent Christ from being Christ. (Peter in Matthew 16)

That shows how the very notion of a suffering Messiah was scandal to the Church. … Peter's protest displays his own unwillingness to suffer and that means that Satan has gained entry into the Church, and is trying to tear it away from the cross of its Lord.

Jesus must therefore make it clear beyond all doubt that the "must" of suffering applies to his disciples no less than to himself. … Discipleship mean adherence to the person of Jesus, and therefore submission to the law of Christ which is the law of the cross. 96 [See John 15:20-21]

When Jesus begins to unfold this inescapable truth to His disciples, He once more sets them free to choose or reject Him. "If any man would come after me," He says. For it is not a matter of course, not even among the disciples. Nobody can be forced, nobody can even be expected to come. He says rather, "If any man" is prepared to spurn all other offers which come his way in order to follow Him. Once again, everything is left for the individual to decide…. 96-97

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

To endure the cross is not a tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ. When it comes, it is not an accident, but a necessity. … the suffering which is an essential part of the specifically Christian life.

It is not suffering per se but suffering-and-rejection, and not rejection for any cause of conviction of our own, but rejection for the sake of Christ. If our Christianity has ceased to be serious about discipleship, if we have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands and which fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence, then we cannot help regarding the cross as an ordinary everyday calamity… We have then forgotten that the cross means rejection and shame as well as suffering.

The Psalmist was lamenting that he was despised and rejected of men, and that is an essential quality of the suffering of the cross. But this notion has ceased to be intelligible to a Christianity which can no longer see any difference between an ordinary human life and life committed to Christ. The cross means sharing the suffering of Christ to the last and to the fullest.

Only a man thus totally committed in discipleship can experience the meaning of the cross. The cross is there, right from he beginning, he has only got to pick it up there is no need for him to go out and look for a cross for himself… Every Christian has his own cross waiting for him, a cross destined and appointed by God. Each must endure his allotted share of suffering and rejection. 98

But each has a different share: some God deems worthy of the highest form of suffering, and given them the grace of martyrdom, while others He does not allow to be tempted above that they are able to bear…. The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. … we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with His death—we give over our lives to death. … When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die. …death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man [or nature] at his call. Jesus' summons to the rich young man was calling him to die, because only the man who is dead to his own will can follow Christ. In fact, every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts. But we do not want to die…

The call to discipleship… means both death and life… [It] sets the Christian in the middle of the daily arena against sin and the devil. Every day he encounters new temptations, and every day he must suffer anew for Jesus Christ's sake. The wounds and scars he receives in the fray are living tokens of this participation in the cross of his Lord. 99

But there is another kind of suffering and shame which the Christian is not spared. While … only the sufferings of Christ are a means of atonement, yet…the Christian also has to undergo temptation [and] bear the sins of others; he too must bear their shame and be driven like a scapegoat from the gates of the city. (Heb. 13:12-15) …The passion of Christ strengthens him to overcome the sins of others by forgiving them. "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal. 6:2) …

Suffering then is the badge of true discipleship. The disciple is not above his master… That is why Luther reckoned suffering among the marks of the true Church… If we refuse to take up our cross and submit to suffering and rejection at the hands of men, we forfeit our fellowship with Christ and have ceased to follow Him. But if we lose our lives in His service and carry out cross, we shall find our lives again in the fellowship of the cross with Christ. The opposite of discipleship is to be ashamed of Christ and His cross and all the offense which the cross brings in its train.

Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ… It is a joy and token of His grace. … Christ transfigures for His own [the early Christian martyrs] the hour of their moral agony by granting them the unspeakable assurance of His presence. In the hour of the cruelest torture they bear for His sake, they are made partakers in the perfect joy and bliss of fellowship with Him. To bear the cross proves to be the only way of triumphing over suffering. …

Jesus prays to His Father that the cup may pass from Him, and His Father hears His prayer; for the cup of suffering will indeed pass from Him—but only by His drinking it. 101

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

Discipleship and the Individual

"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


Note & Scriptural References

Note: God calls us to have fellowship with each other. But in a fallen world, His people are often separated from those who share their faith. Many today are standing alone in the midst of nominal "Christians" who neither know God nor desire to follow Him.

Bonhoffer was surrounded by lukewarm pastors and cultural "Christians" who supported Hitler. To most people in the established German Lutheran church, security and wealth had become more important that Biblical truth and faithfulness to God. Though Bonhoffer led a small fellowship of committed Christians, his circle of acquaintances at work and in the community did not share his convictions.

Then, when he was imprisoned, he was separated from those he who, like him, trusted God. Compromise was not an option, so He put all his trust in God. (Of course, so did Moses, Joseph, David, Paul and many others whose faith deepened when totally separated unto God alone)

Here are some Scriptures that speak to that side of life:

"If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.... If they persecuted Me they will persecute you... for they do not know the One who sent Me."    John 15:19-2

"...do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."    Romans 12:2

"...the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one."    1 John 5:19

"Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

"I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people."

"Therefore, come out from among them and be separate," says the Lord. "Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters."    2 Corinthians 6:12-1

"Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues." Revelation 18:4

"...the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me ."   John 16:2-3

"... they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you."   1 Peter 4:3-4

"Therefore prepare yourself and arise,
And speak to them all that I command you.
Do not be dismayed before their faces,
Lest I dismay you before them.
For behold, I have made you this day
A fortified city and an iron pillar,
And bronze walls against the whole land—
Against the kings... princes... priests,
And against the people of the land.
They will fight against you,
But they shall not prevail against you.
For I am with you,' says the Lord, 'to deliver you.'"   Jeremiah 1:17-19

"Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn away from it and pass on ."  Proverbs 4:14

"... in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!

"...all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned ..."  2 Timothy 3:1-14


This text is from Kjos Ministries, specifically Bonhoeffer.

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