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The Cost of Discipleship

October 2013
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cost-of-discipleshipAs a product of the Baby Boomer generation (born between 1946-1964), I grew up during the Cuban missile crisis, the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam War; the hippie revolution with its “free love” rampant sexuality and massive drug use; women’s liberation and “the pill”; Roe v. Wade; and a don’t trust anyone over 30 mentality. We tuned in, turned on, and dropped out by the millions. Woodstock was our theme as well as the Arlo Guthrie song, “You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant,” and the Beatles’ song,Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” We were cool, hip, and nobody could tell us what to do or how to live. Groovy, right?

Well, we did change the world, at least the world as we found it, but I’m not so sure it was for the better in the long run. As the years passed we turned our “free-wheeling” lifestyle into massive greed and materialism; played musical chairs with our relationships and marriages (“disposable” comes to mind), left our children to grow up in daycare centers while we made our mark in our careers, and we developed a fierce “looking out for #1” mentality. And now it’s mostly our generation that runs Hollywood, Wall Street, and most of the corporations in America as well as holding many of the important political, military, university, church and religious, and law enforcement positions around the country.

We have made some astounding contributions to technology, the sciences and medicine, military prowess, and a wide assortment of other “stuff,” but when it comes to personal relationships, we haven’t done so great. And our greed has cost us big time. Wall Street has massively crashed twice now (after the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001 and in 2008) sending shock waves around the world and it hasn’t gotten any better (in fact, if we knew the truth, we’d never sleep at night). And regarding our relationships? Well, the divorce rate is at 50% and much, much higher for second and third marriages, and it doesn’t matter if we are Christian or not. And we now have rampant pornography on the internet and just about everywhere else and sex is up for grabs and available in any form or way we want it and just about anywhere, too. And our movies—even the PG rated ones—would make a previous generation roll over in their graves. And modesty? We’ve extricated the word from our dictionary because we are just way too cool for stuff like that.

And what about many of our churches? Hey, “You can get anything you want. . .” in a lot of our churches nowadays, too. Only in many of our churches, we are told that we can get it from Jesus if we know the right words to pray. Sin and repentance are rarely, if ever, mentioned. Sin? How archaic! We are told that we can pray a simple little “Jesus prayer” that might mention our “sins” and then we are told afterward that we now have Jesus and Heaven, too, while we continue to go on living our lives any way we want. Never mind that Jesus probably wasn’t even mentioned in the sermon before the prayer was offered (if it was offered) or if he was mentioned it was only on a superficial level. And besides, everybody knows you can’t grow a church by talking about sin or how we should be living, so we just avoid the whole topic. We just do what we want and be nice to others at least while we’re at church (and sincerity is often lacking with the second half of that sentence).

We are good, however, at pointing fingers at others (you know, those “sinners” out there who aren’t like us) and we are especially good at it during an election year. And we can gossip and destroy others with our words and/or actions and feel smugly superior and justified without so much as blinking an eye. But to actually pay attention to the Sermon on the Mount or any of the other teachings of Jesus as to how to live our lives and follow him? Well, we are just way too busy to have time to pick up the Bible let alone read it. And actually apply what it says to our lives? Are you kidding? Who does that anyway and who has time for it? Right? RIGHT? After all, we’re the cool, hip, “Baby Boomer” generation and we set the standard on how we want to live and how we choose to worship God, and our children are now following in our steps (and their children are, too). And we’ve left a staggeringly vapid spiritual legacy to our children and our children’s children. And it shows, too. It shows in ways we can’t even imagine.

In Luke 9:23-25, Jesus states, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?”

Deny ourselves and take up our cross daily . . . those are not words that “Baby Boomers” are used to hearing. We been so busy trying to “gain the whole world” that we have forfeited our very selves (and sold our souls). We want Jesus on our terms and we want the benefits that come from knowing Jesus Christ without having to do anything in return for it. And a plethora of churches cater to that crowd and bookstores are filled with the latest Christian bestsellers on how “You can get anything you want . . .” in three or four or five or maybe ten easy steps. And it doesn’t work that way, folks, and it never did . . . .

James 4v14I love what Rick Warren has to say in his “Foreward” in the book, Costly Grace: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s ‘The Cost of Discipleship’,” by a friend and associate, Jon Walker. Here are the opening paragraphs from his forward (p. 11):

Contrary to popular book titles, there are no “Easy Steps to Christian Maturity” or “Secrets of Instant Sainthood.” Mature Christians are grown through struggles and storms and seasons of suffering. But most of all they are grown through obedience to Jesus.

The Cost of Discipleshiphelped me understand this when I read Dietrich Bonhoeffers book as a young believer. In fact, it is one of the reasons I’ve spent a lifetime encouraging believers to follow Jesus with purpose, to surrender their lives wholeheartedly to him.

Sadly, millions of Christians are confused about what it means to surrender to Jesus and so they go on living their lives without ever changing the way they live. Thecheap gracethat Bonhoeffer describes inThe Cost of Discipleshiphas so deeply saturated our congregations that, despite our evangelical theology, the idea of surrender is as unpopular and misunderstood as the idea of submission.

Surrender implies losing, and no one wants to be a loser. Yet, Jesus says we must be losers, losing our lives in order to find life in him (Matthew 16:25-28).

We speak too often of winning, succeeding, overcoming, and conquering and too little of yielding, submitting, obeying, and surrendering. Yet, we can only follow Jesus when we obey Jesus and his commands. To say “No, Lord” is to speak a contradiction.

Surrendered people obey God’s word, even if it doesn’t make sense. Surrendered hearts show up best in relationships. You don’t edge others out, you don’t demand your rights, and you aren’t self-serving when you’re surrendered. Being surrendered to Jesus costs us just as it cost Jesus when he surrendered himself to the cross for us . . . .

The idea of surrender, submission, or being thought of as a loser goes against our very grain; yet, that is exactly what is required of us if we are to be followers of Jesus Christ. As Rick Warren stated, “We speak too often of winning, succeeding, overcoming, and conquering and too little of yielding, submitting, obeying, and surrendering. Yet, we can only follow Jesus when we obey Jesus and his commands.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in The Cost of Discipleship,” describes “cheap grace” as follows: “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. 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, living and incarnate” (quote source here).

Cheap grace, in effect, makes Jesus Christ out to be our magic genie of sorts here to grant us our every request instead of our Savior and Lord to whom we owe everything, including our very lives. And while that may suit our lifestyle, it has absolutely nothing to do with knowing and following after Jesus.

Again, Jesus stated in Luke 9:23-25: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?”

It’s time we stop trying to gain the whole world while pretending to follow after Jesus Christ. And the first step in doing that is by really getting to know who Jesus Christ really is as he stated in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father [God] except through me.” In fact, the very best place to start learning exactly who Jesus Christ really is is by reading the Gospel of John and following it up with the other three gospel accounts that include his teachings: Matthew, Mark and Luke. And then if you really want to see what the Church is supposed to look and act like, read the Book of Acts. And pray!!! And if you aren’t sure how to pray, just talk to God and ask Him to show you the truth about Jesus Christ. He will if you truly want to know and seek him.

I highly recommend Dietrich Bonhoeffers book, The Cost of Discipleship,” as well as Jon Walkers book, Costly Grace: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s ‘The Cost of Discipleship’,” as an addition to–but not in place of–the Bible (starting with the four gospel accounts) in order to truly understand the true cost of discipleship in following Jesus Christ. However, the Bible should always be, first and foremost, our ultimate guide.

As the saying goes, “this life is not a dress rehearsal.” It’s the only one we get, and while we are frantically trying to get everything that we can in this life, it is all-too-quickly slipping away. James 4:13-14 states, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Don’t let your life slip away. It’s never too late to start, so why not consider starting today?

Now is the time . . .

Before it slips away . . . .

YouTube Video: Bob Dylan’s song, “Gotta Serve Somebody” sung by Shirley Caesar:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here


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