Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Infnite Grace 4

GE Welder  - A Metaphor for Grace  
Dietrich Bonhoeffer eloquently and vividly highlights the relationship between grace and discipleship in his classic work, The Cost of Discipleship. Using many examples, Apostle Peter and Martin Luther included, he shows how grace is costly not just because of Jesus' death on the cross. Grace is costly for us, his followers too, and the cost is a life of discipleship: Daily obedience to the giving up of self-will and obedience to the will of Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer wrote:

When the Reformation came, the providence of God raised Martin Luther to restore the gospel of pure, costly grace. Luther passed through the Cloister; he was a monk, and all this was part of the divine plan. Luther had left all to follow Christ on the path of absolute obedience. He had renounced the world in order to live the Christian life. He had learnt obedience to Christ and to his Church, because only he is who obedient can believe. The call to the cloister demanded of Luther the complete surrender of his life. But God shattered all his hopes. He showed him through the Scriptures that the following of Christ is not the achievement or merit of a select few, but the divine command to all Christians without distinction. ... The bottom having thus been knocked out of the religious life, Luther laid hold upon grace. Just as the whole world of monasticism was crashing about him in ruins, he saw God in Christ stretching forth his hand to save. He grasped that hand in faith, believing that "after all, nothing we can do is of any avail, however, good a life we live." The grace which gave itself to him was a costly grace, and it shattered his whole existence. Once more he must leave his nets and follow. The first time was when he entered the monastery, when he had left everything behind except his pious life. This time even that was taken from him. He obeyed the call, not through any merit of his own, but simply through the grace of God.

Bonhoeffer's description of the costly grace that Luther experienced and the relationship of grace to discipleship resonated with my own journey of faith, especially where he starts to describe the secularization of Christianity and Faust's pursuit of knowledge. For years, I had turned aside from God to pursue my academic career and scholarly knowledge. It was a good life but I was more of a humanist than Christian. Still, a longing in my life for God's fullness haunted me; I never felt satisfied with my accomplishments. The mountain I was climbing just kept getting taller, the peak shrouded in the clouds. All this changed suddenly. Tragedy struck a member of my family and in my suffering my life became crystal clear. I was seeking to control my life and the control was illusionary, elusive, temporary. Higher education, career, acquiring wealth and possessions, even doing good, had become my idols; the material world with all its pleasant experiences was the altar at which I'd unsuspectingly worshiped. I had failed to give God the primary place in my life. Remorseful over how far I had strayed away from the Jesus Christ I'd promised to follow as a teenager, and anguished by the self-will that reigned in me, I turned anew to God. I experienced his grace, a grace that called me out of my career, a way of life for which I had worked hard, and which by the world's standards was the good life, definitely not evil or "sinful." I continue to pay the same costly price day after day, even today almost a decade later. My self-will wants one kind of life but God has called me to live another simpler, quieter life, in absolute obedience to Christ. In trying to live this new life of total surrender to him, believe it or not and despite the high price, I am finding joy and experiencing true life. To summarize Bonhoeffer, while remembering the doctrine, grace alone can save we must never forget its corollary, the obligation of discipleship.

The discipline of obedience is the hallmark of "costly grace" and it is the cost of discipleship. I don't want to be someone of whom it can be said "Costly grace was turned into cheap grace without discipleship."  I want to follow Jesus Christ, obediently and be someone who "knows that the call to discipleship is a gift of grace...Costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life." Discipleship is very costly. What does it cost you to be a disciple of Christ?

Sources:   Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York. Simon and Schuster, 1995. My quotes are from Section 1 Grace and Discipleship, Chapter 1 Costly Grace, pp. 43-56. The GE Welder source details can be found here on Charis,