Reflections on The Cost of Discipleship – Chapter 3

I was gossiping with a friend, but if I called it “processing” and “debriefing”, then it couldn’t be considered gossip, right?

It takes a certain kind of moral gymnastics to pretzel blatant sin into a perfectly reasonable and completely justifiable act of self-care. I could say I’m an Olympic-level gymnast in this regard, but I think most of us are pretty good at creating comfortable loopholes for ourselves in God’s “thou shalt not” commands. We human beings have been rationalizing sin of all kinds for a long time.

I’m blogging through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic The Cost of Discipleship. (To read earlier posts in the series, click here.) Chapter 3 calls my bluff on my propensity to rationalize my sin:

Jesus might say: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” and we should interpret it thus: “Of course we should have to seek all sorts of other things first; how could we otherwise exist? What he really means is the final preparedness to stake all on the kingdom of God.” All along the line we are trying to evade the obligation of single-minded, literal obedience.

How is such absurdity possible What has happened that the word of Jesus can be thus degraded by this trifling, and thus left open to the mockery of the world? When orders are issued in other spheres of life there is no doubt whatever of their meaning.

Bonhoeffer calls this kind of thinking exactly what it is: “…an excuse for shirking the necessity of concrete obedience.” When I resort to believing that God couldn’t possibly mean what he says, and that I have the liberty to interpret his words in a way that allows me to avoid actually obeying them because, heavens, he couldn’t possibly want me to be at all uncomfortable, I mute the Holy Spirit and turn up the volume on the foolish trinity of me, myself, and I. When I view Scripture’s truth as an abstraction or a metaphor, and attempt to domesticate God, I disconnect myself from an active life of faith. 

Obedience is the remedy for that disconnect, and, it is something that involves both our surrendered will and God’s sovereign work. I’ve heard it said that it takes God to love God. The idea is that it is not something we can muster on our own, but as Bonhoeffer reminds us in this chapter, this kind of communion with God is possible because with God, all things are possible.

Reflect: In what area of your life are you most tempted to look for a loophole in God’s clear command? Why might this be so? 

Prayer: Jesus, you do not separate belief from action in the same way we are often tempted to do. To believe you is to obey you; to believe you is to act. There are no loopholes in your word. So I pray the words of the man who contended for his demonized child, “I believe, help my unbelief.” Help my inaction, and convict me of my tendency to rationalize and diminish what I know you are calling me to do, for my ultimate good and your glory. Amen.     

Cover photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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2 thoughts on “Reflections on The Cost of Discipleship – Chapter 3”

  1. Oh boy, did this cut deep, Michelle. I am reading along with you through the book. When I take time and listen to myself, I am amazed and saddened. Is there anything more deceiving than the flesh? Why is it that at the slightest hint of discomfort, produced by the obedience of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, I hear myself crying for another interpretation of the Bible. This has been challenging. Thank you!

  2. You always have a turn of phrase that his new between the eyes. “I mute the Holy Spirit and turn up the volume on the foolish trinity of me, myself, and I. When I view Scripture’s truth as an abstraction or a metaphor, and attempt to domesticate God, I disconnect myself from an active life of faith. ” Wow!

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