The cost of discipleship

Rick Bailey mentioned in a sermon this Holy Week that, growing up Southern Baptist, he was not accustomed to the recognition of Lent or Advent as tools for spiritual growth. As an adult he became part of congregations where these seasons were used as preparation for Easter and Christmas. I have noticed a trend lately that some traditionally non-liturgical Christians or even non-church-attenders talk about giving up something negative or engaging in positive practices for Lent.  In society and the church we constantly see changes in thought. Most people today, Christian or non-Christian recognize the need for helping the poor, the elderly and at-risk children.  Racial reconciliation is another goal that is widely and rightly applauded. This does not mean that everyone is as actively engaged in these pursuits as they should be, but most acknowledge them as worthy. People feel good about ministers teaching such values and like to be involved in organizations making a positive difference in the world.  Those inside and outside the church basically agree, not necessarily about the solutions, but that we must work on these problems.

A topic that I find not so popular is that of personal holiness. Too often people react negatively if a Christian clearly states that she/he has been personally convicted to refrain from acting on certain desires of sight, sound, taste or touch.  Years ago I remember Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline being a bestseller. Are spiritual disciplines like fasting, simplicity or confession as discussed now?  We hear attitudes like “God wants me to be happy. My natural inclinations must be good.” This Good Friday I wonder how driven by happiness Jesus was. In Luke 9:23 he said “whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

In The Cost of Discipleship Dietrich Bonhoeffer hit the nail on the head. “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘ye were bought at a price,’ and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

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