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ss nucleus - autumn 2012,  the cost of discipleship

the cost of discipleship

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
SCM Press; new edition (Nov 2001)
£14.99 RRP

Medical students are overwhelmed by opinions – from professors, consultants, peers, family and the media. These voices may be valuable and well meaning, but they threaten to drown out Christ's call to discipleship. Dietrich Bonhoeffer recognised that Christians through all generations have been tempted to compromise. Disturbed by how the German Church turned a blind eye to Hitler's atrocities, he spoke out courageously and was martyred for his faith.

In the introduction to his book, Bonhoeffer explains the difference between cheap and costly grace. Cheap grace is forgiveness without repentance, hardening hearts against obedience and depriving churches of true salvation. Costly grace demands we leave everything to follow Jesus.

It is Jesus who calls us to discipleship, practical obedience and faith. So we must not excuse ourselves with cheap grace, from simple singleminded obedience to God's Word. Discipleship involves sharing Christ's suffering and rejection on the cross, whether dying to self in fighting temptation or even martyrdom. Christ demands our complete and exclusive allegiance; a willingness to separate ourselves from everyone for him and to relate to everything through him as our mediator. In his mercy, Jesus gives us strength to follow him.

In the second section of the book, Bonhoeffer expounds the Sermon on the Mount, helping us to understand what Jesus teaches about practical Christian living. The Christian community should stand out from the world because of its extraordinary values. At the same time this righteousness is hidden, as disciples aim to please God rather than man. It is Jesus who will judge all in the end, believers and unbelievers; our duty is to love our neighbour as ourselves.

The third section, based on Matthew 9:35-10:42, describes Jesus' instructions to his disciples on preaching the gospel. Bonhoeffer explains how these apply to us as Christ's messengers today. Those commissioned by Jesus must preach faithfully, relying on God in the face of hostility, for the cross is divisive. Men must choose in this life to trust or reject Jesus. Salvation of men is the reward for God's messengers, while those who receive these messengers will be blessed.

In the final section, Bonhoeffer explains how Paul's teachings (of living by faith in Christ) are consistent with the call to follow Jesus (in the synoptic Gospels). The equivalent of this call is baptism: justification from sin through sharing Christ's death in a public act of obedience. Jesus' presence is manifest today through the Body of Christ, the Church, which suffers for him. The Church witnesses to the world by living in stark contrast to it. It comprises sinners who are justified and sanctified by Jesus, reflecting Christ's image through grace and discipleship.

Hugh Ip is an academic core medical trainee in London

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