Deitrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship

The quality I admire most about Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his writing The Cost of Discipleship is his brutal honesty of what it means to be a disciple and to be obedient. He challenged me to think about myself as a follower of Jesus and my level of obedience. Am I obedient? If I do consider myself to be an obedient follower of Christ, am I only obedient when it fits into my schedule or when I finally listen to the tuggings at my heart? It is this question of obedience that Bonhoeffer emphasizes.

Bonhoeffer confronts a disciple’s disillusioned reality when he says, “The disciple is dragged out of his relative security into a life of absolute insecurity (that is, in truth, into the absolute security and safety of the fellowship of Jesus), from a life which is observable and calculable (it is, in fact, quite incalculable) into a life where everything is unobservable and fortuitous (that is, into one which is necessary and calculable), out of the realm of finite (which is in truth the infinite) into the realm of infinite possibilities (which is the one liberating reality).” This quote exposes a distorted vision of reality. Thus, it removes the veil that so many disciples, including myself, drape over the truth to conceal a path we are not always willing to follow. What we consider as stable, calculable, and finite is in all reality, the exact opposite. As Bonhoeffer passionately explains, being a disciple encompasses unceasing acts of obedience; furthermore, it is this selfless obedience that entails stepping faithfully out of my comfort zone. For me, my comfort zone is well, comfortable. I do not like the unknown; rather, I prefer the predictable life in which I plan out my goals and my future. (Take notice of the often-used pronoun “I.”) In reference to Mark 2:14, I need to be like Levi who abandons his old life in order to enter into a new, promising life—one full of love, hope, and eternal life. Levi does not question Jesus; rather, he devotedly follows a call from God. Despite my admiration for Levi and other obedient disciples, I struggle with some of the territory that accompanies discipleship.

I rationalize my self-centered expectations of discipleship based upon this skewed reality. Bonhoeffer puts one such expectation into context: “Not a word of praise is given to the disciple for his decision for Christ.” As a Christian, I believe that words of encouragement from other Christians are pivotal to a disciple’s spiritual journey; I even venture to assert that such support—along with other spiritual guidance— serves as water to help the seed of faith grow and flourish. Hence, an expressed thought containing love and hope can set the stage for a disciple to enable him or her to continue along the righteous path. However, as Christians, a boundary of expectations can be crossed. For example, sometimes, I expect praise for my good deeds—deeds of kindness and obedience. Nevertheless, this thought bothers me because a Christian, like myself, should not anticipate a word of praise. Why commend a Christian for doing something he or she should already be doing—in other words, for doing something he or she is supposed to do anyways? After all, isn’t that what discipleship is all about?

Moreover, Bonhoeffer presents Luke 9:57-62 in which three types of disciples are depicted. The first disciple, who was not called, offers to follow Jesus without knowledge of what it means to be a follower. The second disciple prefers to fulfill the law first, in his case bury his father, before becoming a follower. The third disciple offers to follow Jesus by specifying his own stipulations. Bonhoeffer examines these attachments to own personal preferences and legalism that act as barriers between Jesus and His followers. I, finally, drew the conclusion that

I do not only fit into one of these categories; rather, I demonstrate characteristics of all three disciples in different situations. I, like the first disciple, will sometimes make the initiative to follow Jesus; yet, I do not always comprehend the responsibilities that discipleship entails. Furthermore, like the second disciple, I oftentimes prefer to set my own agenda—being obedient when the time allows me to do so. Lastly, I display attributes that are similar to the third disciple in that I can have the mentality that if I can do something, then I will be obedient. This “if, then” condition” is all too prevalent in my own life. Therefore, removing these barriers that I have established will enable me to become a true, obedient follower of Jesus Christ—the one that Bonhoeffer so avidly communicates in his writing The Cost of Discipleship.