© 2003 Lewis Williams
February 4, 1906 – April 9, 1945
Excerpts from The Cost of Discipleship
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Bonhoffer was surrounded by lukewarm pastors and cultural "Christians" who supported Hitler. To most people in the established German Lutheran church, security and wealth had become more important that Biblical truth and faithfulness to God. Though Bonhoffer led a small fellowship of committed Christians, his circle of acquaintances at work and in the community did not share his convictions. Then, when he was imprisoned, he was separated from those he who, like him, trusted God. Compromise was not an option, so He put all his trust in God. (Of course, so did Moses, Joseph, David, Paul and many others whose faith deepened when totally separated unto God alone)
DISCIPLESHIP AND THE CROSS
Jesus Christ must suffer and be rejected. (Mark 8:31-38) This "must" is inherent in the promise of God—the Scripture must be fulfilled. Here there is a distinction between suffering and rejection. Had He only suffered, Jesus might still have been applauded as the Messiah. 95
Jesus is a rejected Messiah. His rejection robs the passion of its halo of glory. It must be a passion without honor. Suffering and rejection sum up the whole cross of Jesus. To die on the cross means to die despised and rejected of men. Suffering and rejection are laid upon Jesus as a divine necessity, and every attempt to prevent it is the work of the devil, especially when it comes from his own disciples; for it is in fact an attempt to prevent Christ from being Christ. (Peter in Matthew 16)
That shows how the very notion of a suffering Messiah was scandal to the Church. … Peter’s protest displays his own unwillingness to suffer and that means that Satan has gained entry into the Church, and is trying to tear it away from the cross of its Lord.
Jesus must therefore make it clear beyond all doubt that the "must" of suffering applies to his disciples no less than to himself. … Discipleship means adherence to the person of Jesus, and therefore submission to the law of Christ which is the law of the cross. 96 [See John 15:20-21]
When Jesus begins to unfold this inescapable truth to His disciples, He once more sets them free to choose or reject Him. "If any man would come after me," He says. For it is not a matter of course, not even among the disciples. Nobody can be forced, nobody can even be expected to come. He says rather, "If any man" is prepared to spurn all other offers which come his way in order to follow Him. Once again, everything is left for the individual to decide…. 96-97
To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only Him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us. … All that self-denial can say is: "He leads the way, keep close to Him."
"…and take up his cross." … Only when we have become completely oblivious of self are we ready to bear the cross for His sake. If in the end we know only Him, if we have ceased to notice the pain of our own cross, we are indeed looking only unto Him. If Jesus had not so graciously prepared us for this word, we should have found it unbearable. 97
To endure the cross is not a tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ. When it comes, it is not an accident, but a necessity. … the suffering which is an essential part of the specifically Christian life.
It is not suffering per se but suffering-and-rejection, and not rejection for any cause of conviction of our own, but rejection for the sake of Christ. If our Christianity has ceased to be serious about discipleship, if we have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands and which fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence, then we cannot help regarding the cross as an ordinary everyday calamity… We have then forgotten that the cross means rejection and shame as well as suffering.
The Psalmist was lamenting that he was despised and rejected of men, and that is an essential quality of the suffering of the cross. But this notion has ceased to be intelligible to a Christianity which can no longer see any difference between an ordinary human life and life committed to Christ. The cross means sharing the suffering of Christ to the last and to the fullest.
Only a man thus totally committed in discipleship can experience the meaning of the cross. The cross is there, right from he beginning, he has only got to pick it up there is no need for him to go out and look for a cross for himself… Every Christian has his own cross waiting for him, a cross destined and appointed by God. Each must endure his allotted share of suffering and rejection. 98
But each has a different share: some God deems worthy of the highest form of suffering, and given them the grace of martyrdom, while others He does not allow to be tempted above that they are able to bear….
The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. … we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with His death—we give over our lives to death. … When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die. …death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man [or nature] at his call. Jesus’ summons to the rich young man was calling him to die, because only the man who is dead to his own will can follow Christ. In fact, every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts. But we do not want to die…
The call to discipleship… means both death and life… [It] sets the Christian in the middle of the daily arena against sin and the devil. Every day he encounters new temptations, and every day he must suffer anew for Jesus Christ’s sake. The wounds and scars he receives in the fray are living tokens of this participation in the cross of his Lord. 99
But there is another kind of suffering and shame which the Christian is not spared. While … only the sufferings of Christ are a means of atonement, yet…the Christian also has to undergo temptation [and] bear the sins of others; he too must bear their shame and be driven like a scapegoat from the gates of the city. (Heb. 13:12-15) …The passion of Christ strengthens him to overcome the sins of others by forgiving them. "Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal. 6:2) …
Suffering then is the badge of true discipleship. The disciple is not above his master… That is why Luther reckoned suffering among the marks of the true Church… If we refuse to take up our cross and submit to suffering and rejection at the hands of men, we forfeit our fellowship with Christ and have ceased to follow Him. But if we lose our lives in His service and carry out cross, we shall find our lives again in the fellowship of the cross with Christ. The opposite of discipleship is to be ashamed of Christ and His cross and all the offense which the cross brings in its train.
Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ… It is a joy and token of His grace. … Christ transfigures for His own [the early Christian martyrs] the hour of their moral agony by granting them the unspeakable assurance of His presence. In the hour of the cruelest torture they bear for His sake, they are made partakers in the perfect joy and bliss of fellowship with Him. To bear the cross proves to be the only way of triumphing over suffering. …
Jesus prays to His Father that the cup may pass from Him, and His Father hears His prayer; for the cup of suffering will indeed pass from Him—but only by His drinking it. 101
God speaking to Luther: "Discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend—it must transcend all comprehension. … Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. My comprehension transcends yours. Thus Abraham went forth from His father… not knowing whither he went. … Behold, that is the way of the cross. You cannot find it yourself, so you must let me lead you as though you were a blind man. Wherefore it is not you, no man… but I myself, who instruct you by my Word and Spirit in the way you should go. Not the work which you choose, not the suffering you devise, but the road which is clean contrary to all you choose or contrive or desire—that is the road you must take. To that I call you and in that you must be my disciple." 103-4
DISCIPLESHIP AND THE INDIVIDUAL
"If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26)
Through the call of God, men become individuals… Every man is called separately, and must follow alone. But men are frightened of solitude, and try to protect themselves from it by merging themselves in the society of their fellow-men and in their material environment. They become suddenly aware of their responsibilities and duties, and are loath to part with them. But all this is only a cloak to protect them from having to make a decision. They are unwilling to stand alone before Jesus and to be compelled to decide with their eyes fixed on Him alone…. It is Christ’s will that he should be thus isolated, and that he should fix his eyes solely upon him. 105