Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, The Cost of Discipleship, is widely considered a classic on the subject of faithful Christian living. The author’s reputation as one who stood according to his principles against monstrous evil, to the point of death, adds an immeasurable degree of gravitas to the work.
Those who read about Christian discipleship will immediately recognize this post’s title. This is not an accident. The subject of Thomas Brooks’ second device demands the connection.
“The second device that Satan has to draw the soul from holy duties, and to keep them off from religious services, is, By presenting to them the danger, the losses, and the sufferings which attend the performance of such and such religious services.”
For perspective, I asked several friends to provide their thoughts on how The Cost of Discipleship has influenced and shaped them personally. Here are just a few of their contributions.
“We live in the most eroticized and distracted age ever known to humanity. Right now we could easily empty our Christian bookstores of all their wares and stock about 20 good books on following Christ. This book would be one of them.” Christopher MacDonald
“This book was eye-opening for me as a young adult, weaving together the ancient problems of sin and humanity with the example of Nazi Germany, and awakening me to the same dangers in American culture and everywhere else … Even if it costs me my reputation, freedom, or life. It’s a tough challenge knowing that any feeling, preference, idea, or idol I entertain which stands contrary to scripture must be put to death. And it’s a weighty reality that rejecting the idols of our society could cost me my life. But Bonhoeffer’s words and his own martyrdom prove that it’s a joy to do so in response to Christ’s grace.” Bucky Elliott, International Commission
“Few things have impacted me more than Bonhoeffer’s concept of cheap grace as grace without discipleship and grace without the cross. There is no human side to grace; it’s all of God. But there is a human response to grace. When God’s people fail to live through the grace of God, fail to follow the disciple’s path–the way of the cross–then grace is cheapened. It’s cheapened because we don’t recognize the eternal value of God’s grace in Christ at the cross or reduce discipleship to a series of check-boxes rather than communion with and obedience to the God from whom all grace flows.” Marty Duren, The Uncommontary Podcast
I don’t believe I should add much in the way of explanation for fear of diminishing the impact of my friends’ wonderful insights. I’ll simply direct us forward into Thomas Brooks’ remedies against Satan’s attempts to discourage us from devotion to Christ.
What do we do when tempted to avoid fellowship, discipleship, and the blessed means of grace due to fear of loss, pain, and suffering?
Remedy 1: Remember who holds your true treasure
Children receive presents at Christmas and birthdays. Brightly-wrapped gifts signal special, thoughtful contents. Their adornment evokes excitement and anticipation.
When a child unwraps a gift, sometimes she will find a toy. At other times she’ll uncover clothing, a book, or a game. But occasionally, on the most special events, a child will find something beyond expectation.
She lifts the box lid. Inside is a piece of valuable jewelry, or a beloved keepsake from a departed family member. Perhaps a rare edition of a book. Sometimes, envelopes contain sums of money or checks in amounts that cause eyes to widen in amazement.
And that’s when mom or dad steps in. Allowing time to say “thank you” and appreciate the precious gift, the child’s parent will take it in hand, announcing, “I’ll keep this for you, until you’re older.”
A wise mother or father knows some gifts require more careful and experienced keeping. The gift still belongs to the child. But the parent ensures its preservation.
So it is with a Christian’s salvation. This most precious of all gifts belongs to us. But it is the Father’s keeping that ensures its endurance.
The great modern preacher John MacArthur has said, “If I could lose my salvation, I would.” That’s just it – it is not ours to lose, any more than it was ours to earn.
When Brooks writes that troubles can never hurt or harm us, he refers to that ultimate demise that comes upon the unbeliever. Take refuge, then, in the surety of your salvation, if indeed your faith is the saving kind. Don’t allow Satan to distract you from devotion to Christ. The worst he can do still can’t take your precious gift from the Father’s hand.
Remedy 2: Look to earthly examples
It’s easy to place ourselves in the hero’s role. This is no different when we read the Scriptures’ stories. In our minds, we are David defeating Goliath, Daniel standing firm before hungry lions, Moses demanding that a powerful world ruler let his people go.
The truth is Christians are not the heroes of our own stories. We would do better to identify with the villain or the hapless victim. We want to be the Good Samaritan. But in God’s eyes we are much more the unfortunate Jew, beaten and left for dead, depending on the kindness of an outcast for our rescue.
Hebrews 11 has been called “faith’s hall of fame.” But this description wrestles against its purpose. The fame should not go to the faithful, but to the One who granted and sustained their faith. How else can we explain how so many of its subjects endured such extreme suffering?
For every Daniel who stopped the mouth of a lion, there was a Roman saint thrown to a lion for sport. For every prophet whose words cut down dividing walls between Christ and the unrepentant, there was a prophet who was cut in two.
No Christian who fears loss, danger, and suffering for faith ever lacks a stronger and more faithful example. By the grace of God we have innumerable accounts of their trials and triumphs. There has never been a time in history when so many in the Church had so much free access to these stories. A well-read believer is likely to become a staunchly faithful one.
Remedy 3: Compare your outcomes
Are the consequences of the world’s hatred of Christ and his gospel truly enough to curb our devotion? Would we really rather be seen as acceptable outside the church than find peace and fellowship within it? Do we so easily lay aside prayer, the reading of Scripture, the gathering of the saints, and neighborly love for temporary, fleeting things?
Be certain you understand: Brooks is not saying failure to perform duties for God will cost us our salvation. We just noted that losing this gift is impossible. When Jesus said, “No one can snatch you from my Father’s hand,” He included you in the “no one.”
No, what Brooks means to communicate is that a repeated pattern of avoiding the works and worship of God may indicate you don’t belong to him at all. A redeemed heart produces fruit. The natural inclination of a Christian is toward the things of Christ. Our new nature begets new purposes, new passions, and new patterns.
When Jesus explained to his disciples how it will be in the end, when he separates his sheep from the goats, note something extraordinary. The sheep ask their Shepherd, “When did we do these things for you?” They aren’t even aware they have been in service to Christ. This is because such acts are commonplace to the Christian.
So by faith, be about the works of God. Remember that our service is acceptable to him because he has accepted Christ’s service ahead of us.
Remedy 4: Accept the cost of discipleship
Comedian and singer Seth MacFarlane has spoken openly about barely missing a flight on the morning of September 11, 2001. Had he been a few minutes earlier arriving at his gate, he would not be alive today. The minor pain of inconvenience, having to wait for another flight to his destination, saved him from a horrible demise.
In some cultures, a shepherd or goatherd will break the leg of a repeatedly wandering lamb or kid. This seeming act of cruelty prevents the animal from waywardly straying into the mouth of a predator, or a pit, or some other trap. That bringer of pain carries the hobbled animal until it is well. Thus the animal heals, its bone stronger than before, having learned never to stray again.
A common argument against the existence of God is the insistence that all the world’s sufferings surely would not exist if He did. But the God of the Bible never promised this world would be without pain. He never promised to rescue all of us every time from harm.
Suffering is part of the world we have spoiled with our sin. And now, while we wait for God’s kingdom to come completely, he uses our present afflictions to bring about our growth, our dependence on him, and our safety from even greater ill.
Remedy 5: Reap the net benefit
Store owners often employ the age-old tactic of the “loss leader.” They mark a product below cost, using it as a lure to attract shoppers into their stores. They know once they have the bargain seeker inside, they can market other products priced above cost. They accept the one loss because it will reap a net gain.
Christians around the world mourned the death of author and speaker Nabeel Qureshi. After an earthly battle with cancer, his physical demise released him to an eternal healing in the arms of Christ.
Qureshi’s story is compelling for several reasons. Raised a Muslim, he converted to Christianity due largely to the influence of a college friend. Through years of friendship, dialogue, and challenges to search for the truth about Christ, this friend led Qureshi to see that he must devote his life to the one true God and abandon Islam.
But this decision came at a terrible cost. Qureshi wrote and spoke often about the immense pain he caused his parents. He saw his mother cry tears of sorrow for years after he accepted Christ. His father continually pled with him to return to the religion of his youth and his people.
But Qureshi was resolute. He counted the cost of discipleship. The gain of Christ was worth the loss of good standing with his family. He continued to struggle with this decision for a long time. But by persevering to the end, he proved the sincerity of his faith and the promises of his Lord.
What we gain through Christ will always be greater than any loss we incur because of him. Let us be willing to bear any and every such earthly cost that we might hold onto the pearl of great price.