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The Cost of Discipleship Paperback – September 1, 1995
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"When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." With these words, in The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave powerful voice to the millions of Christians who believe personal sacrifice is an essential component of faith. Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor and theologian, was an exemplar of sacrificial faith: he opposed the Nazis from the first and was eventually imprisoned in Buchenwald and hung by the Gestapo in 1945. The Cost of Discipleship, first published in German in 1937, was Bonhoeffer's answer to the questions, "What did Jesus mean to say to us? What is his will for us to-day?" Bonhoeffer's answers are rooted in Lutheran grace and derived from Christian scripture (almost a third of the book consists of an extended meditation on the Sermon on the Mount). The book builds to a stunning conclusion: its closing chapter, "The Image of Christ," describes the believer's spiritual life as participation in Christ's incarnation, with a rare and epigrammatic confidence: "Through fellowship and communion with the incarnate Lord," Bonhoeffer writes, "we recover our true humanity, and at the same time we are delivered from that individualism which is the consequence of sin, and retrieve our solidarity with the whole human race." --Michael Joseph Gross
Without a doubt, the book that has most changed my life is Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship. It is incredible. I first read it at Bible college and then read it again three years ago. Bonhoeffer writes about cheap grace - how we can make the gospel what people want to hear so that we get a bigger response- and how we must fight against that. As an evangelist, I can sometimes feel the temptation to give a softer message to get more people responding, but actually we need to be true to the message that belongs to God. You can change the style, but don't change the substance. -- Gavin Calver * Christianity Magazine, Jan 2016 * --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I found this book to be significantly instructive on how to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. However, Bonhoeffer does not make a clear distinction between being saved by grace through faith and following Jesus as His disciple in obedience to His commands. He does not distinguish the salvation passages from the biblical warning passages to Christians. Nevertheless, if Bonhoeffer’s exhortations are taken by the believer to embrace costly discipleship as an invitation to follow Jesus there is great benefit.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer succinctly explains justification in chapter 31, “The justification of the sinner consists in the sole righteousness of God, wherein the sinner is utterly and completely unrighteous, and has no righteousness whatever of his own, side by side with the righteousness of God…But when we are brought to faith in the death of Christ, we receive the righteousness of God triumphant on the cross in the very place where we receive our own condemnation as sinners.” Yet later in the chapter we read statements that contradict the truth of faith alone in Christ alone. “Discipline in a congregation is a servant of the precious grace of God. If a member of the Church falls into sin, he must be admonished and punished, ‘lest he forfeit his own salvation’ and the gospel be discredited.” When a Christian sins, he never forfeits his salvation, but severs his fellowship with God and harms his relationship with other believers.
Above all I was drawn to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life as he lived it sold out to Jesus Christ as described in the Memoir section given by G. Leibholz before the text. He was truly a man of God who gave his life as a martyr for the sake of Christ. But he was full of life, a believer who served the Lord by serving others. This description by Leibholz gives the reader a look into Bonhoeffer’s heart:
“Bonhoeffer was as open as any man could be to all the things which make life beautiful. He rejoiced in the love of his parents, his sisters and brothers, his fiancée, his many friends. He loved the mountains, the flowers, the animals- the greatest and the simplest things in life. His geniality and inborn chivalry, his love of music, art and literature, the firmness of his character, his personal charm and his readiness to listen, made him friends everywhere. But what marked him most was his unselfishness and preparedness to help others up to the point of self-sacrific. Whenever others hesitated to undertake a task that required special courage, Bonhoeffer was ready to take the risk.”
Bonhoeffer believed that only a turn to Christ could save a nation, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer more than anybody else realized that nothing less than a return to the Christian faith could save Germany.” I believe that his words are true for us in the United States today. Our only hope is revival in Christ Jesus.
Here are some lessons in discipleship that I took from reading The Cost of Discipleship:
-“’Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ That is the love of the Crucified. Only in the cross of Christ do we find the fulfilment of the law.”
-“Adherence to Jesus allows no free rein to desire unless it be accompanied by love.”
-In agreeing to pray for our enemies (his enemies, the Nazis would ultimately martyr him) Bonhoeffer sees a prayer of love: “It will be the prayer of earnest love for these very sons of perdition who stand around and gaze at us with eyes aflame with hatred, and who have perhaps already raised their hands to kill us.”
-More on prayer: “It matters little what form of prayer we adopt or how many words we use, what matters is the faith which lays hold on God and touches the heart of the Father who knew us long before we came to him.”
-“Earthly goods were given to be used, not to be collected”
Finally, Dietrich Bonhoeffer in these words speaks prophetically of himself: “A few, but only a few, of his followers are accounted worthy of the closest fellowship with his sufferings—the blessed martyrs. No other Christian is so closely identified with the form of Christ crucified.”