In this season of Advent—this season of preparing for our Lord’s coming—I’ve been thinking about a book I have. It’s an old paperback, worn, and yellowed. It’s entitled The Cost of Discipleship. It’s a classic, really. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the author. Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor during the Nazi era. He resisted the Nazis (and even participated in an attempt to assassinate Hitler). He was caught and arrested, and he was one of the last to die in a concentration camp before the Allies liberated it. In this book Bonhoeffer wrote about something that he himself illustrated with his life and his death: the COST of discipleship. Bonhoeffer wrote about “cheap grace” and “costly grace”:
Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace
without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again,
the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a (person)
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 (us our) life, and it is grace because it gives (us) 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…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.
(Bonhoeffer, pp. 47-8, MacMillan Publishing: New York, 1963)
Did you catch that? Bonhoeffer writes, “Costly grace is the Incarnation
of God.” “Incarnation” is the theological term for what happened at Christmas. It means “taking on flesh,” or “being born.” You see, this may not at first sound like Advent and Christmas “talk,” but it certainly is!
That old book of mine has on the back cover, in big, bold letters a quote from the book:
“WHEN CHRIST CALLS (US) HE BIDS (US) COME AND DIE.”
I actually have a shiny, new copy of the book, too. Guess what? It does NOT have that quote on the back! That kind of quote might not sell books. They are shocking words. But they are also honest.
In this season of Advent—this time of preparing for our Lord’s coming—John the Baptist cries out: “Prepare God’s arrival! Make the road smooth and straight!...I’m baptizing you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”
(Luke 3:4, 16-17 The Message by Eugene Peterson, NavPress: Colorado Springs, 2002)
Yesterday I was installed as Pastor for Discipleship at Worthington Presbyterian Church. THANK YOU to everyone who participated in this celebration of God and God’s call to us! Dr. Walter Brueggemann certainly challenged us to consider the cost of discipleship. In the days ahead, let’s rejoice in and respond to God’s “costly grace.” May God, indeed, “ignite the kingdom life” in us, “changing us from the inside out.”