What it costs to follow Christ

Was Bonhoeffer right about divine grace being costly?

Discipleship doesn't come cheap

"Every pupil, when he has completed his training, will be like his teacher" — Luke 6:40 (Today's English Version)

Week 5 (February)

Commentary on Luke 6

I was eavesdropping on a conversation in a church parking lot. The service had been dismissed nearly half an hour before. Everyone had gone except a young architect who was still talking to the pastor.

"Well, Pastor, it sounds easy when you say it," this new Christian was saying, "but it's not so easy living it."

How true. It can be very easy to talk about living by the principles of the Kingdom of God. However, every pagan who has observed Christians closely knows that the way we live is not always exactly what Jesus outlined in His Sermon on the Mount.

In the message recorded in Luke 6 (which Matthew also records), Jesus talks about the ideal Christian life; a life profoundly different in both motivation and lived-outness of the natural man's life.

Living by the Sermon on the Mount principles is not something that just happens. It's not always easy to love our enemies, to do good things to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, to not be condemning of others and to forgive. Such a high degree of Christ-likeness can only grow out of a clean heart, a sanctified heart. And even then, we have to conscientiously discipline ourselves under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

During our home assignment time after our first term of missionary service in Italy, I noticed that discipleship had become a fashionable spiritual word for North American believers. At that point in time, it seemed like everybody was either taking a course in discipleship or else teaching one.

Actually, discipleship is a good way of summing up the lifestyle Jesus calls us to accept in His Sermon on the Mount. The fact that discipleship is now being highly emphasized doesn't mean, of course, that a way has been discovered to streamline the discipling process.

book cover of Cost of Discipleship

While pastoring in Uvalde, TX, I would occasionally browse through the library of the junior college on the edge of town. One day, I found German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book The Cost of Discipleship. In the opening pages, Bonhoeffer writes against believing in cheap grace. Grace is costly, he argues, and therefore, so is discipleship. What an effect that book had on me!

There is no cheap price tag on true discipleship. No discounts are offered. No shortcuts have been discovered. Discipleship is much more than a course to be mastered and a grade to be earned. It's much more than a list of facts to be memorized; it's more than keeping a daily journal (as helpful as that can be for some people).

Certainly, we must study what it means to be a disciple. The content of the Sermon on the Mount must be mastered if we are to live it. Journals, notebooks, and other tools can help us in developing our personal spiritual discipline.

But being a true disciple is a lifestyle. Having learned something of what it means to be a disciple doesn't mean we have arrived. It means we can now begin to be one. Living the Sermon on the Mount is something that must be redone fresh every day. There's nothing cheap about that kind of discipleship. It will cost you the rest of your life.

Discussion questions

  1. What did Dietrich Bonhoeffer mean when he said grace could be costly? Why did Bonhoeffer argue against "cheap grace"j?
  2. What different outcomes might people expect if they commit to living by the principles of the Sermon on the Mount rather than trying to live without God's Spirit?
  3. How does the concept of discipleship relate to what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount?
  4. Why should being a true disciple be viewed as more than just a course to be mastered or a list of facts to be memorized?
  5. How can we develop the personal spiritual discipline necessary to live out the Sermon on the Mount principles?

I wrote these devotional thoughts while Barbara and I were serving as missionaries in Italy. They originally appeared in Standard, a take-home Faith Connections curriculum piece for adult Sunday school classes published by The Foundry.

    -- Howard Culbertson,

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