Faith and Obedience

Recently I have been reading Bonhoeffer’s Cost of Discipleship where Bonhoeffer talks about the nature and meaning of true Christian discipleship—the purpose of Christianity. Reading it, I was most struck by how Bonhoeffer frames the relationship between works and faith.

only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.

Thinking more about this, I think this small phrase really sums up how we live life as disciples of Christ as Christians who are disciples of Christ and who are recipients of costly grace.

The most famous statement from the Cost of Discipleship is the phrase cheap grace and costly grace.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance . . . 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 . . . Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. . . it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.

See grace is the most costly thing that exists. It is costly because it it the most demanding thing that exists at the same time as it is the most free. Having been given the grace to enter into fellowship with Christ we are called to follow him to the ends of the earth. Discipleship is not easy, it involves giving up all that we desire so that Christ may dwell in us. It is, as John the baptist said, “I must decrease and he must increase.” So then we are called into discipleship and some of the things in discipleship are easy to grasp. James said that “pure religion and undefiled before God and the father is this: to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” We know then we should care for the poor, this is something easy to believe and at this point the first segment of the first quote becomes true. If we truly beleived the words we read, as most of us do, we will do those things. Why? Because faith without works is dead. Our belief then, if we do not do those things, doesn’t be beyond head knowledge into a true and sure belief.

More often, however, I think that the second statement is more true because so often we need to transcend the gap between the head and the heart. What are we who are doubting Christ to do? This is where the phrase “we walk by faith and not by sight” becomes true. We must first do, so that our faith may follow when we see that Christ is faithful to what he has shown us to be true. At once obedience comes from faith and produces faith and faith becomes the means by which we are sanctified. What little faith we have, when we practice it, will increase as God shows us his abounding faithfulness.

Discipleship is the most costly thing that we can do and discipleship is the core of Christianity. The Christian way is the hard way, it is the way of being uncomfortable because we are called to a faith that desires obedience in the unknown. But the Christian way is the only way of a true and costly grace and not a false and cheap grace. This last quote from the book I think reminds us of just how costly following Christ truly is: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” So then let us die so that Christ may be our true and only life.

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