And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.Mark 2:14
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.James 1:22
“Only he who is believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I just started rereading Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, a work I have read several times before, although I must admit I don’t remember ever finishing it. For those not familiar with the author, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor in Germany during the reign of Hitler, and he eventually died in a concentration camp as a result of working with resistance forces to overthrow the Nazi government. Discipleship is a scholarly (sometime difficult to follow) but excellent text for anyone who desires to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ. I highly recommend reading it.
The world (and sadly, some of our churches, and by extension, us) would have us believe in what Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace”. It is self-applied forgiveness of sin while demanding no change in behavior or lifestyle. Cheap grace requires nothing of us; it is a ‘get out of Hell’ ticket we give ourselves. As Bonhoeffer puts it:
“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.”Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
Jesus’ call to the disciples was a simple one: “Follow me”. There was no hesitation on their part; they immediately left what they were doing and followed. Peter, James, and John left their nets; Matthew (Levi) left his tax collectors’ booth. The scriptures give no indication that any of them were previously acquainted with Jesus. They followed because of the One who called them.
Jesus also calls us to “Follow Me”. It’s not a call to follow a set of rules or regulations, a checklist of to-dos, or a philosophical discussion. It’s a call to follow Him. A call given by the authority of the Son of God, God Incarnate. It is a call we dare not fail to answer. It’s a call to give up everything in our lives that would hinder our following Him, including ourselves.
Bonhoeffer’s seemingly contradictory quote cited above is actually quite precise and applicable to this discussion. It must be taken and understood in its entirety. If we accept only the first half of the quote, the result is a claim to belief without evidence of repentance or contrition- ‘cheap grace’. On the other hand, acceptance of only the second half produces belief in salvation by works, and a denial of grace altogether. Both result in damnation; both represent an attitude that excludes Christ’s sacrifice altogether.
The choice to follow Jesus means we travel the same road and come to the same destination. He knew from the very beginning His purpose was to go to the cross and die in order to defeat the power of sin and death. Jesus was born to die. He tried to teach that to His disciples, but they never understood it until after the resurrection. Such is the call that He gives to us. “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” For most, it is a death to self, to all those things which would hold us to the world and draw us away from Christ. Until we are willing to suffer ‘the loss of all things’ (Philippians 3:8), we are none of Christ’s. We are not disciples because we have not followed Him.
Ture discipleship is demanding. It’s why Jesus told his followers to ‘count the cost’, because for the disciple there is no turning back or halfway measures. The way is narrow, because we follow the only One who can lead us to the Father. It is a way of trouble and death. But if we share in Christ’s sufferings and death, we will also share in His resurrection. We have a Shepherd who has already traveled this path, and who guides us every step of the journey, to strengthen and reassure us, and to help bear the load. And that’s worth giving up everything to Follow Him.