The Price of Discipleship

In 1937 Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in “The Cost of Discipleship”, now a Christian classic, that “costly grace…is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”* Bonhoeffer was not the first to articulate the cost of following Jesus, but he certainly stands as a modern example of one who paid the full price, killed for his beliefs and outspokenness by the Nazis in Germany. As Christians we have the choice of laying down our lives and following Jesus, or what?

Few ever ask what the price of not following Jesus is. What happens to the person who turns down the Lord’s call or never even hears it? In every decision we make there is a price to pay for staying where we are and a price for moving forward. Every time we opt for the status quo we die a little and tie ourselves to the past. We invest in the past in our psyche and forgo the present. We are too stuck in our ways…we are too busy to change…we are too tied to the world…we can’t think about that now. All of these responses to change are we saying “no.” Every time we say no to life, to Jesus, to change, we die a little; after a while we no longer hear the call and we remain where we have been, our response becomes concretized and unchangeable and while still we live, we have died to life.

While we’re clinging to the past, the world and life are moving on. Tonight I watched the Robert Redford/Morgan Freeman movie, “An Unfinished Life,” in which Redford’s character cannot get past his grief for his son who died in an accident eleven years previous. He really stopped living when his son died. This movie clearly illustrates what happens when we cling to the past and refuse to let it go. The price we pay is to live in, even wallow, in our anger at what happened to us, and we refuse to be alive to life at all. We merely exist. All around us the world has moved on and we are furious that it has, that the world can move on while we’re in such pain.

Now life, life lived to its fullest expression, asks a lot of us: to keep pace with the rate of change in this modern world of overwhelmingly instantaneous communication and change. As if that weren’t enough, here comes Jesus asking us even more. Jesus calls us to obedience, to faithfulness, to love in its highest expression, to emulate him as the true model of what a human can be and accomplish with his help. If we truly count the cost of following him, we might see that there is a bigger cost to not being his disciple–that is to exist, to be buffeted about by life without any grounding or peace, to live a life with maybe some meaning and purpose, but certainly not with the MEANING and PURPOSE that he calls us to.

Jesus asks the ultimate price and gives his all to us. He paid the price for us, paved the way, showed us the way, and now we have it so easy—just follow in his footsteps, obey him, love him. He paid the ultimate price, his own life as a human, so that we could share with him the kingdom of God. And we count the cost of our discipleship. For shame!

*Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Cost of Discipleship, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1959, p. 45.

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