The Cost of Discipleship

 

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The Unfinished Church [Anglican], St. George’s, Bermuda: held up indefinitely by disputes among the parishioners

Now large crowds were traveling with [Jesus]; and he turned and said to them, ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. Luke 14:25-33

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on “Cheap Grace” and “Costly Grace”

In his 1937 book The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer made a famous distinction between “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” Bonhoeffer was one of the few churchmen to stand up to Hitler in Nazi Germany; he died by hanging in a concentration camp in April 1945. Bonhoeffer was essentially willing to “hate… even life itself,” that is, value his own life less than his faith in Christ, as Jesus commands here in Luke. What gave Bonhoeffer this courage?

Bonhoeffer’s description of “cheap grace” and “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 is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism 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 the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace 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.

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 because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, 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.

 

Discussion

  1. It appears that “hate” in this idiomatic sense, doesn’t mean literally “dislike or detest.” Rather, in Semitic languages like Hebrew or Aramaic, it can have a comparative sense: to “hate” something is to value it infinitely less than the thing that you truly value. So in Genesis 29, Jacob loves Rachel more than Leah, and Leah sees that she is “hated.” The Mosaic law in Deuteronomy 21 describes the same miserable situation, where one wife is favored and the other disfavored.Jesus can’t be contradicting all the other instructions in the Bible to honor father and mother, can he? What does this mean? One common interpretation is that he is instructing his followers to relativize and subordinate their other attachments. They are still there, but weigh much less than their commitment to discipleship. Matthew’s gospel states it a bit more clearly: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (10:37).

    As Michael Wilcock says, “Love for parents [and children]… is to be so far surpassed by love for [Jesus] that it will seem in comparison like hated.” Why do his followers choose to do this, and how do they get the strength?

  2. As John Piper points out, Jesus is “unashamed and unafraid of telling us up front the worst” — the worst things about being a Christian. You might end up hanged, like Bonhoeffer, or hanged like Saint Peter, or beheaded like Saint Paul, or beheaded in Libya, or crucified in Syria, or strangled in China…And furthermore, Jesus says this to the “large crowds” following him. It isn’t buried in the fine print. He’s announcing it up front to anyone who might be “on the fence” about listening further.

    This is exactly opposite to the approach that the snake takes in the Garden of Eden: Just eat the apple; you’ll love it, it will be good for you! Never mind about what God said. In fact, sin in general always promises a happiness that turns out never to arrive…

    This ought to be a good reason to believe what Jesus says. He’s forthright about telling you the worst that could happen. Most of us will never be called on to “hate” our family. But it could happen.

  3. This means a total commitment. Wilcock:It is only he who is prepared to ‘renounce all’ who will be able to enter through that narrow door. It is no use hoping for another chance, or for a less uncomfortable stripping, or for a less total yielding. You can only be a disciple if you discard all sloth, all pretensions, all reservations… The time is now. The person concerned is youjust as you are. The demand is everything.

    Furthermore, ancient Israel is a clan-based society: your kinship is your identity, much more than in modern America. Giving up your family would mean giving up your whole position in society. But that is the only way to follow him: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25; Luke 9:24).

  4. Jesus is addressing our hearts — that is, the core of our will, our values, and our desires — so it is about emotions, but not just about emotions. It’s about the heart, because he’s not saying: “give 10%, show up every week and you’re all good.” Rather, he’s after the very core of the self as well.But it’s not just about emotions, and “hate… life itself” does not mean “be morose and despise the world and the people around you.” It means to value those things, but value them infinitely less than him. (cf “hate” discussion above)
  5. At the same time, it is a long-term process, day in and day out. A few chapters ago in Luke, Jesus also said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Cultivating these habits of the heart is something done over the long term. Bonhoeffer was only hanged once. He had a full life up until his imprisonment. The only reason he had the strength to survive all that, and choose as he did, was on the basis of a thousand smaller decisions he made, one by one, to “take up his cross daily.”How are we supposed to take up our crosses daily?

I grant it costs much to be a true Christian. But who in his sound senses can doubt that it is worth any cost to have the soul saved? When the ship is in danger of sinking, the crew think nothing of casting overboard the precious cargo. When a limb is mortified, a man will submit to any severe operation, and even to amputation, to save life. Surely a Christian should be willing to give up anything which stands between him and heaven. A religion that costs nothing is worth nothing! A cheap Christianity, without a cross, will prove in the end a useless Christianity, without a crown. —J. C. Ryle, from Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots (1879)

 

References (by date)

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