The School of Discipleship (15): Learning from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, “The Cost of Discipleship”

What can we learn from Bonhoeffer’s book, The Cost of Discipleship?

This book was first published when Bonhoeffer was only 31 years old. Page references are to the edition I was using at the time I wrote these notes. I’ve included the page references. It will give you a rough idea of the part of the book each quotation is taken from.

Bonhoeffer begins The Cost of Discipleship by drawing attention to the vital connection between the “revival of church life” and “a richer understanding of the Scriptures” (page 37): “In the last resort, what we want to know is not, what would this or that man or this or that church expect from us, but what Jesus Christ himself wants of us. When we go to church and listen to the sermon, what we want to hear is his Word… not merely for selfish reasons, but for the sake of the many for whom the church and her message are foreign.” Bonhoeffer says to us, “Let us get back to the Scriptures, to the Word and call of Jesus Christ himself” (pages 37 and 39).

In 1932, Bonhoeffer gave a lecture, with the thought-provoking title, “The Church is Dead.” In this lecture, he challenged the church to hear and to do God’s Word: “Has it not become terrifyingly clear again and again… that we are no longer obedient to the Bible? We are more fond of our own thoughts than of the thoughts of the Bible. We no longer read the Bible seriously, we no longer read it against ourselves, but for ourselves” (No Rusty Swords, page 185).

The Bible speaks to us of both grace and discipleship. May we not have a proud attitude that takes grace for granted, and shows no desire for discipleship.

Jesus’ words, “Follow me”, are costly because they call us to follow him. They are gracious words, because they are words that are spoken to us by our Saviour.

By his grace, may God teach us that discipleship is joy. It is such a great privilege that Jesus, our Saviour, calls us to follow him.

Bonhoeffer emphasizes the connection between grace and discipleship: “The command of Jesus is hard, unutteravly hard, for those who try to resist it. But for those who willingly submit, the yoke is easy, and the burden is light. “His commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3)… Jesus asks nothing of us without giving us the strength to perform it” (The Cost of Discipleship, page 48).

He, then, asks an important question about discipleship: “If we answer the call to discipleship, where will it lead us?”

The man, for whom discipleship meant death by execution at the hands of the Nazis (see the first two posts in this series of posts), goes on to say, “To answer this quesion we shall have to go to him (Jesus Christ) for only he knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow, knows the journey’s end. But we do know that it will be a road of boundless mercy. Disipleship means joy” (The Cost of Discipleship, page 41).

As we consider the cost of discipleship, let us not forget the words of Jesus, who calls us to be his disciples: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Here’s a link to more posts on Bonhoeffer –


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