The Cost of Discipleship

(The Nationalist, 3 September 2004)


A German Lutheran pastor called Dietrich Bonhöffer lived most of his adult life in the years between the two world wars. He saw what he regarded as a betrayal of the church in the face of the Nazi challenge, since some of its leaders were enthusiastic Nazis and went out of their way to endorse the new semi-paganism. Bonhoeffer, with others who felt as he did, formed what came to called the Confessing Church. They set themselves in opposition to Hitler and were determined to stand firm no matter what the cost.

In a book called The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhöffer wrote, ‘Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like huckster’s wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. 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’.

‘Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it people will gladly go and sell all that they have. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake people will pluck out the eyes which cause them to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which disciples leave their nets and follows him’.

‘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 people their lives, and it is grace because it gives a person the only true life’.

Bonhöffer was imprisoned, and, in 1944, was hanged for his alleged part in a plot to kill Hitler.

‘Lord God, I know that if I do not love you with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul and with all my strength, I will love something else with all my heart and mind and soul and strength. Grant that, putting you first in all my loving, I may be liberated from all lesser loves and loyalties, and have you as my first love, my chief good and my final joy. Amen’.
(From George Appleton)