The Cost of Discipleship is a book by the German Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, considered a classic of Christian thought. The original German title is simply Nachfolge (Discipleship). It is centered on an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, in which Bonhoeffer spells out what he believes it means to follow Christ. It was first published in 1937, when the rise of the Nazi regime was underway in Germany and it was against this background that Bonhoeffer’s theology of costly discipleship developed, which ultimately led to his death. One of the most quoted parts of the book deals with the distinction which Bonhoeffer makes between “cheap” and “costly” grace. According to Bonhoeffer, “cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.” Cheap grace, Bonhoeffer says, is to hear the gospel preached as follows: “Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness.” The main defect of such a proclamation is that it contains no demand for discipleship. In contrast to cheap grace, “costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow Him; it is grace because Jesus says: ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light.'” Bonhoeffer argues that as Christianity spread, the Church became more “secularized”, accommodating the demands of obedience to Jesus to the requirements of society. In this way, “the world was Christianized, and grace became its common property.” But the hazard of this was that the gospel was cheapened, and obedience to the living Christ was gradually lost beneath formula and ritual, so that in the end, grace could literally be sold for monetary gain. Notice what is emphasized in Bonhoeffer’s definition of cheap grace and what is de-emphasized. The emphasis is on the benefits of Christianity without the costs involved; hence, the adjective cheap to describe it. You can further read about it by clicking on the following link: Cheap Grace
According to the Bible, grace is available to us as follows:
God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT)
According to the dictionary, grace is the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. According to these two definitions, this means in reality that God’s grace, in and of itself, is never ever cheap. It is only man that treats it cheaply by not receiving it with a contrite heart and broken spirit that leads to repentance. This is most evident with the two thieves who died beside Jesus, where one had a contrite heart and the other had a hardened heart. Literally grace personified was being crucified right between them:
And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death. And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:32-43 KJV)
It is also evident with the Jewish leadership at the time of Christ. In general, Jesus spoke out harshly against this leaderdhip because of their hardened hearts and the fact that they loved the praise of men. But He never held it against any of them if they came with a contrite heart and a broken spirit. As far as we can determine, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea both became disciples of Jesus. But we know that they were not the only ones:
Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. (John 12:42-43 KJV)
Having a contrite heart can be best described as recognizing the full effects of one’s sins and recognizing the fact that one must deal with it. Did you ever notice that whenever Jesus displayed a righteous anger when He walked this earth, it was when hardened hearts were displayed? But when someone had a broken and contrite heart, He never turned them away. As He was approaching Jerusalem just before His crucifixion, He proclaimed:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! (Matthew 23:37 NKJV)
There is a contemporary Christian song that says, “Grace wins every time.” But as we have seen with the two thieves on the cross, it is more proper to say that grace is offered to everyone but it only wins if there’s a contrite heart that leads to repentance. True repentance is evidenced by a complete turnaround and following Jesus as LORD and being His disciple.
The Bible tells emphatically that on the individual level SIN MUST BE DEALT WITH. When it is, with a contrite heart, sin cannot stand against grace:
Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? (Romans 5:20 and 6:1-2 KJV)
There are many out there in Christian-land today that cheapen grace. The shame of it is that they have huge followings and their faithful followers will defend them to the end. But to clear my conscience, I must be truthful by sharing this. I follow many on my Twitter account to see for myself what is being proclaimed. And yes I know that we must be upbeat in today’s world and we must encourage others, but I have a beef. How come whenever I read Paul’s writings they are not centered about me or you? They always are centered on Jesus and what we can do for His kingdom. But whenever I get Joel Osteen’s tweets, they are always centered around the word “you”. “Today is your best day.” “God wants to bless you today.” “We count it a privilege to inspire you today.” etc. Sorry, but I crave the meat of the Word. I don’t want to be coddled with the milk. In many cases, it cannot even be referred to as milk, especially the ones that strike the word ‘sin’ from their dictionary.
Chew on the meat of what I have shared for a while, for we may very soon face the same type of regime that Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced almost 80 years ago!
Indeed. But then again, most ignore the warnings of the Prophets (in all reality of God Himself) as did ancient Israel. If they were around today they’d probably be languishing on death row somewhere. Or perhaps die mysteriously in their sleep, as so recently happened with a certain Godly Supreme Court Justice.
This post inspired me to pick up and start reading my old, tattered copy of The Cost of Discipleship. In the 80 years since Bonhoeffer wrote it, things in the church have only gone from bad to worse, at a quickening pace, it seems, in the last 30 or so. Shines a brighter light on Jesus’ Own words “Many are called, few are chosen…” Bonhoeffer and Tozer: two of the 20th century’s greatest prophets.
Don Coyote, Dietrich Bonhoeffer tried to rally the Ministers (and thus would of been the common people) of Germany against Hitler because he saw what Hitler truly was. But the Ministers cowered because they feared for their own necks. They wanted a discipleship but they did not want to pay the costs that went with it. Thus, they ended up with no real discipleship at all.
You are right, Bonhoeffer and Tozer were two great men of God. We have their writings and warnings, but most ignore them.