Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The High Cost of Discipleship- Luke 14





“Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer


For some time I have been reflecting on an image that seems to come back to my mind regularly- Is prayer in my life like a spice or a marinade? Do I live my life my way and then sprinkle some spirituality on top of it? Or, do I soak my whole life in prayer so that every piece of it is drenched in spirituality? I hear Jesus’ call on my life and I can feel that he is calling me deeper and deeper into himself. I’m afraid that too often prayer in my life is a spice that rests on top rather than a marinade that penetrates deeply into my soul. So, I strive, and am called to strive for a deeper life with God. I strive for a life that is more and more marinated in God.                 
A German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote a book called TheCost of Discipleship.  In that book he says, “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.” What Bonhoeffer is saying is that we can be so overwhelmed by God’s love and mercy that we might be tempted to forget about God’s call on our lives. Cheap grace is when we offer forgiveness without really ever repenting or feeling the pain our sin has caused God and our neighbor.  Cheap grace is taking hold of God’s forgiveness without believing our own sin, or without really acknowledging the cost Christ paid. Many of Jesus’ words are difficult to hear with ears attuned to “cheap grace”.
Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27). There are some things we wish Jesus didn’t say, but just ignoring these difficult sayings won’t help us. So, why would Jesus say something like this? Jesus is trying to shock us out of our normal assumptions. We are always in danger if we try to read a passage like this on its own apart from the rest of scripture (e.g. 1 Tim 5:8; 1 Cor 7:12-13; 1 Tim 5:8; 1 Pet 3:1-2). Jesus wants us to have our priorities in correct order. He doesn’t want us to hate our family, especially when he teaches us to love our neighbors (Luke 10:27) and even our enemies (Luke 6:27). Jesus was more full of love than any other human being that ever lived. ... Jesus also placed his love for his Father first. I notice that I am at my best when I place my love for God first, then I find that I love my family more deeply and truly and sacrificially. When I place God first then it is as if God’s love flows through me. If I place my family first, however, then I run the risk of making them an idol. That means I might use them and expect them to have a god-like place in my life. This leads to disappointment and maybe even resentment because it is an impossible role for them to fulfill.  This might seem counter intuitive, but I believe that it is true. I have more love when I focus, first of all, on God. 
This is a hard lesson to hear. It is purposely shocking because Jesus wants us to know that there is a cost to following him. He wants us to offer him everything. He wants us to offer our whole life to be marinated. In so doing our lives will be filled with his flavor. When we offer him everything then he will make it eternal and offer it back to us.
We sometimes focus on the eternal blessings he offers us without speaking about what we are called to offer him. There is a cost. Jesus asks us to consider that cost. He says we shouldn’t even begin if we aren’t ready to pay the price. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?  For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish’“(Luke 14:28-30). He’s saying it’s better to not begin than to begin and not follow through. If we aren’t willing to pay the price, then we shouldn’t start. Following Jesus is more like a marinade, than a spice that rests on top. Just to make it really clear Jesus says, “those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (Luke 14:33). It doesn’t get much clearer than that.
This sounds really harsh, but we should also realize that there is a cost to not being his disciples. The cost to not being his disciple is a life offered to the systems of this world rather than to God. The world will not offer our lives back to us blessed with an eternal flavor. The systems of this world will consume our lives and use them up until there is nothing left of them. We have to offer our lives to something. Christ is just asking that we offer our lives to Him. Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” We die to the broken systems of the world. We offer ourselves to God so that our lives will have the correct priorities, and we can live a life that is more like the one we were created for.  
When we consider what Christ is asking of us we sometimes get into questions of grace. Grace is what God offers us freely. Grace cannot be earned. Nothing we do can force God to save us. So how does grace work with Jesus’ call to us to carry our cross and offer him everything? How can he demand everything, and give freely?  Bonhoeffer calls this “costly grace”.  Bonhoeffer says, “Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: 'Ye were bought at a price', and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
What Christ offers us is a particular kind of life. That particular kind of life is the grace he offers us. To not enter into that life by offering our lives up to his teachings and Lordship is to not accept his offer of grace. To choose to not live the life he is teaching us is to not accept the grace he is offering us. He is offering us a life filled with his Spirit.  To deny the life he offers is to deny the grace he offers. Bonhoeffer said it this way, “The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ.”
These are hard teachings, but we do ourselves no favors by ignoring them. Yes, they are demanding and uncomfortable, but they are also rewarding. The cross ends with resurrection. If he demands much, he offers infinitely more. So let us strive, not to earn, but to live the life he is so graciously offering us.  

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