The Call of Discipleship

These reflections on Dietrich Bonheoffer’s Cost of Discipleship, as did Costly Grace grew out of a group study of that challenging book. We are nearing the end and the thing I’ve learned the most is that it should matter and make a difference that I am a Christian.  A warning if you have not read this challenging and subversive book and don’t want to wrestle with the teachings of Jesus and what it means to your life, then I would steer as far from it and the rest of the writings of Dietrich Bonheoffer as possible.

In chapter one, Bonheoffer writes on Peter being called as a disciple. In chapter 2, he uses Matthew’s story of Jesus walking on water to flesh out Peter’s call. This story shows that discipleship is the radical willingness to follow Jesus, as the John Ortberg’s book title says, “If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat.”  Ortberg says Water-walkers, as he calls them recognizes God’s presence, discerns between faith and foolishness, and gets out of the boat.  Those are the key things, to step out in faith when God calls you.

The first step is in trusting and obeying God’s will for your life and where he is leading you to and not worrying where that may be. God may lead us to dangerous places and force us to unseat our easy assumptions. Obedience doesn’t guarantee a comfortable life. Much like Peter, it’s in the storms that Jesus comes to us saying that we can trust him; we can place our destinies in his hand and take courage. This has been my experience and the entire history of Christianity is rife with men and women who God pushed to the edges of life and beyond. Bonheoffer is only one such person.

Bonheoffer says, “The disciple is dragged out of his relative security into a life of absolute insecurity” from the easy, orderly life “into a life where everything is unobservable and fortuitous” and “into the realm of infinite possibilities… liberating reality.” Discipleship is “bondage to Jesus alone, completely breaking through every programme, every ideal, every… law. Beside Jesus, nothing has significance. He alone matters.”

Brennan Manning doesn’t mince words in his book on Discipleship, The Signature of Jesus: “We have to abandon the cankerous, worm-eaten structure of legalism, moralism, and perfectionism that corrupts the Good News into an ethical code rather than a love affair.”

A first step is letting go of the world and embracing Jesus, letting go of the things that keep us in the boat and walking out in faith to Jesus. Following Jesus is a deep affection to his person, the grace that allows us to claim Jesus as our own shatters all bonds and prisons that keep us stuck in the smallness of the ego. Jesus disposes of the things that keep us in the boat shivering and scared of the unknown. It is only in responding to the call to believe that the disciple learns how to believe. It’s in the going that faith is possible. The only way to believe in God is in following Jesus. This is not abstract. It’s concrete and in the now. You must respond to Jesus in the present and continue to do so in order to truly have faith and stay in relationship with him. We must constantly step towards Jesus.

Based on what I know about discipleship, if a new Christian asked me what discipleship was and how they could “do it,” I would tell them to believe Jesus is who he said he was, that God loves them, and the good news is really, really good news. Read the gospels daily. Join a group that is serious about studying the bible and doing what it says, but primarily is to believe Jesus and surrender to him in mind, body, and soul. Jesus should be the master of our every thought, choice, action and plan.

Should we sit around and wait for God’s call before responding to God in obedience?  

Yes and no. I believe by being in my bible study group that I have been called out of my old self and towards a new self. I am in this group not because I chose to join, but because God called me to it. This group is one of the many ways that God’s word is leading me to transformational and costly grace. I know for me at the very least this group has lead me to confront myself head on and make certain decisions that are leading me to be closer aligned with and shaped by Jesus.

Some may voice a concern that we are too messed up for God to use, but a cursory reading of the bible will confirm the truism that no one is too messed up for God to use them and usually uses the really messed ones to bring about his will. One could argue that the only person God uses in the bible that isn’t messed up is Jesus.

I have learned through studying this book that I must Surrender to God’s will for my life, to trust that God is taking me somewhere and that it will be for my good even if it’s not what I imagine or hope it to be. That even if I go through the valley of death, the darkest night and the most dangerous places that God will be with me and will see me through it. Tony Campolo claims, “God does not give you a map for life, God promises to be a presence in your life and if you are sensitive to it, He will guide you every step of the way.” Over the last year, I’ve had to give up many things that I thought I could never do with out and for the most part it’s been a good thing, a blessing. It has forced me to confront myself and move towards the person God wants me to be. I have a sense that God is leading me to places that are new, challenging and transformative. That the more I step out in faith the more God will be there to guide the way.

I pray for a more surrendered attitude towards life and everything.

The one reliable measure of discipleship is how I responded to my needy brothers and sisters.

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