In a few weeks we are going to be studying the sermon on the mount in the adult Sunday School class. In preparation for that I have been reading what several great thinkers of the past have had to say about that text. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship” is a major contribution to the massive amount of literature on Christ’s most famous sermon. Until now I have not had the pleasure of reading Bonhoeffer, but I’m really enjoying it now. Bonhoeffer was a German theologian that lived during the Nazi era. He was disgusted with the response the German church had to the Nazi’s. He rejected the idea that how we live doesn’t matter, because we are under grace. He believed that Martin Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone had been misused and he saw the church as a counter-cultural force. I want to share an excerpt from “The Cost of Discipleship” that I found powerful.
“Cheap grace means justification of sin but not of the sinner. Because grace alone does everything, everything can stay in its old ways. “Our action is in vain.” The world remains world and we remain sinners “even in the best of lives. . . Cheap grace is that grace which we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of community; it is the Lord’s Supper without confession of sin; it is absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ. Costly grace is the hidden treasure in the field, for the sake of which people go and sell with joy everything they have. It is the costly pearl, for whose price the merchant sells all that he has; it is Christ’s sovereignty, for the sake of which you tear out an eye if it causes you to stumble. It is the call of Jesus Christ which causes a disciple to leave his nets and follow him. Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which has to be asked for, the door at which one has to knock. It is costly, because it calls to discipleship; it is grace, because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly, because it costs people their lives; it is grace, because it thereby makes them live. It is costly, because it condemns sin; it is grace, because it justifies the sinner. Above all, grace is costly, because it was costly to God, because it costs God the life of God’s Son—“you were bought with a price”—and because nothing can be cheap to us which is costly to God. Above all, it is grace because the life of God’s Son was not too costly for God to give in order to make us live. God did, indeed, give him up for us. Costly grace is the incarnation of God. Costly grace is grace as God’s holy treasure which must be protected from the world and which must not be thrown to the dogs. Thus, it is grace as living word, word of God, which God speaks as God pleases. It comes to us as a gracious call to follow Jesus; it comes as a forgiving word to the fearful spirit and the broken heart. Grace is costly, because it forces people under the yoke of following Jesus Christ; it is grace when Jesus says, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2003-05-28). Disciples DBW Vol 4 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works) (pp. 44-45). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.