Jun 15, 2011

The Cost of Discipleship

“So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.”

In 1937, German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer published a book called Nachfolge. When this book was translated into English in 1948, it had a longer title, one that revealed the book’s central message: The Cost of Discipleship. Though God’s grace is offered to us freely in Christ, when we decide to follow him, there is for us the cost of putting aside our old life (the old man) and putting on our new life in Christ. According to Bonhoeffer, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time—death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call” (Simon & Schuster, 1959, pp. 89-90).

Luke 14 consistently emphasizes the cost of discipleship. If we’re going to follow Jesus, if we’re going to be citizens of the kingdom of God, then we are to humble ourselves (14:11), “hate” our family (14:26), and carry our cross (14:27). To make matters even more uncomfortable, Jesus says, “So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own” (14:33). As Bonhoeffer recognizes, the first disciples had to do this literally in the sense that they left home, work, and family in order to follow Jesus. While they hung on to a few possessions, like their clothing, the original disciples paid a high price to follow Jesus.

Throughout the centuries, Christians have wrestled with how Luke 14:33 is to be interpreted and obeyed by those who are not called to follow Jesus literally. Should we sell everything we own or give it all away? Is this what Jesus wants from us? Given the broader teachings and actions of Jesus, it does not seem that he requires literal abandonment of all possessions. Once again, we see that Jesus is speaking hyperbolically in Luke 14:33. But, in a sense, when we decide to follow Jesus, we do give up everything to him: our lives, our ambitions, our relationships, our talents, and our stuff. We recognize that God is the true owner of all that we consider to be ours, and we commit it all to him and his purposes.

Practically speaking, this means we will make tangible sacrifices in our lives, sometimes very costly ones. We will give a considerable amount of “our money” to God’s work in the world. Similarly, we will give a considerable amount of “our time” to the mission of the church, even as we seek to devote every moment to living missionally in our part of the world. As we do, we will discover the freedom and joy that comes from dying to ourselves and living to Christ.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How do you respond to the statement of Jesus in Luke 14:33? Why do you respond this way? What does it tell you about yourself and your faith? Is Jesus asking you to give up something in order to follow him more completely? Are you open to hearing this call to sacrifice? Would you be willing to give up what he asks from you?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, by your grace, our salvation is free. We don’t earn it. We don’t have to try. Yet, as we receive that salvation, we recognize that our lives will change, that there will be a cost in our discipleship. It’s not the cost of earning your love, which has already been given to us. But it is the cost of putting aside our old self so that we might be more fully devoted to you.

Help me, gracious Lord, to offer more of myself to you. Help me to give up those things to which I am clinging. Help me to renounce my sin and turn from it. Help me to let go of the possessions and securities that keep me from following you with abandon.

O Lord, may I be more and more your disciple each day, by your grace and for your glory. In your name I pray, Amen.

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