Serving Jesus through discipleship

Understanding Bonhoeffer’s Thoughts on Grace

While Sonny believes that he understands the concept of what Bonhoeffer talks about in chapter 1, I don’t believe that I completely understand it. Since it is hard for me to understand, I have been hesitant to dig into the book again and try to get a handle on what Bonhoeffer is trying  to get me to understand. Today I am digging in again!

In the second paragraph of the chapter, talking about cheap grace, Bonhoeffer states: “Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she she showers blessings …”. The points I take from this are:

  1. Grace is not the church’s treasury. Grace is a gift of and from God!
  2. The church does not bestow blessings, God bestows the blessings.

Still talking about cheap grace, Bonhoeffer goes on to say that grace is the source of the forgiveness of sins. I guess that is true! He also says that “An intellectual assent to that ideas held to beef itself sufficient to secure the remission of sins.”  I think I have experienced that idea in congregations that I have visited. The idea is that if you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, your sins are forgiven. If that is true, what do you do with James 2:19? “Even the demons believe – and shudder.” Satan and his minions believe that Jesus is the son of God. They also know that they are loved by God because, like us, they are His creation. So, in believing, is their sin forgiven? I believe that under the doctrine of cheap grace, they are forgiven ! I think that is part of Bonhoeffer’s point.

“Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything, they say, and so everything can remain as it was before.” Think about it …, God would not be God if sin were justified! If everything can remain the way it was before, then “the Christian can live like the rest of the world (that is what appears to me to be happening). It would be presumptuous to aspire to live a different life under grace from the old life under sin. If we aspire to live righteously rather than sinfully, it would call into question the efficacy of God’s grace! If that is the case, what is the meaning of Romans 6:1-7?

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can nwe who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.

Sonny asked me for my thoughts on “yet it is imperative for the Christian to achieve renunciation, to practice self-effacement, to distinguish his life from the life of the world. He must let grace be grace indeed, otherwise he will destroy the world’s faith in the free gift of grace.” in a text message. It is important to remember that Bonhoeffer is still talking about cheap grace. What he is saying is that if we attempt fo follow Christ, to live righteously as He lived, then grace would not be grace. The blessings we receive could and would be attributed to our good works, something we have earned, not God’s unmerited favor! Again, if that is the case, what do we do with Romans 6:1-7?

So, cheap grace is defined as forgiveness without repentance, baptism without discipline, communion with confession.  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross and grace without Jesus Christ. (pg 44-45)


Sonny on Grace

In my last email at the start of it all I asked 2 questions:

What is Grace?

In this email I hope to answer that question.  But in asking that question I am finding it is more complicated than / not as simple as I had hoped for.   I will explain.

In Wikipedia it seems they give a good all-around perceptive of what grace is.   It seems our ancestors have made it so complicated.   I have provided a like to Wikipedia for your reading enjoyment.

Over the years I have collected sayings of what graces is:

  • Grace is getting what we don’t deserve while Mercy is not getting what we deserve.
  • Grace means that there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.Grace also means there is nothing we can do to make God loves us more.
  • God’s unmerited favor.

In Romans 6.20 it says

Now the Law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more

In Romans 11.6 it speaks of Grace and what grace is not:

But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

In 1 Corinthians 1.4 says – Grace come through Jesus

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given to you in Christ Jesus

In 2 Corinthians 6.1 – that we can receive grace in vain.   Rather it encourages us NOT to receive grace in vain.

Working together with Him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the Grace of God in vain.

Cheap Grace

  • Means sold on the market – The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin and the consolation of religion
  • Grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system
  • The justification of sin without the justification of the sinner.
  • No contrition is required – still less any real desire to be delivered from sin.
  • Is not obedience to the commandments of Jesus Christ
  • Is Grace we bestow on ourselves.
  • Is the preaching of forgiveness without the requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, Absolution without personal confession.
  • Is grace without discipleship
  • Grace without the cross
  • Grace without Jesus Christ

Costly Grace

  • Is the treasure hidden in the field
  • Is the pearl of great price
  • Is the kingly rule of Christ
  • The call of Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
  • Is the gospel which must be sought again and again
  • The Gift that must be asked for
  • The door at which must be knock
  • Grace is costly because it calls us to follow – it is grace because it call us to follow Jesus Christ
  • It is costly because it costa a man his life – it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.
  • It is costly because it condemns sin – grace because it justifies the sinner
  • Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life as His Son and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.
  • Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon His Son too dear of a price to pay for our life, but delivered Him up for us.
  • Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him – it is grace because Jesus says “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

What is Grace?

After reading and re-reading chapter one especially towards the end of the chapter I realized that Bonhoeffer is writing from the perspective of being a Lutheran.   I therefore think it is necessary to read the article mention above from Wikipedia concerning Grace to understanding Bonhoeffer presentation.

What is Grace?   I agree with you Larry let’s keep simple

What is Grace?

It is God showing us with His unmerited favor.

What does unmerited favor mean?   I take this to mean John 3:16!   That God loved us before we were even able to Love God.  That God has such compassion for us that He sent Jesus to this world to live and die for us while we were still His enemies.

I think of Hosea where God showed His love through this man by having him marry a prostitute so that she would break his heart, again and again and yet he remarries her once again.   We are that prostitute!

If what Philip Yancey wrote is true:

Grace means that there is nothing we can do to make God love us more.

Grace also means that there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.

Seeing that Grace is God’s unmerited favor – how can we cheapen it or make it more costly?  How can we prove to God we are worth saving?

Grace is God’s unmerited favor – that is God’s decision, that is on God’s part, that is on God’s side of our relationship with Him – there is nothing we can do to influence it one way or the other.   God decided to love us while we hated, beat, crucified, killed and continued to doubt that He ever existed.  Cheap vs Costly.  It cost God everything, how can it be anything else but costly.  We cannot cheapen it one bit by how we live after all it is God’s unmerited favor towards us.

Ephesians 4:1 – 3 says:

​ I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Maybe what Bonhoeffer is talking about is this “walk in a manner worthy of the calling” Cheapening it or making it more Costly but surely we can’t earn or change what God is doing on His part that is Him showing us His unmerited favor.


Thoughts on Grace

I haven’t heard from Sonny in a few days. Our agreement was that we would challenge and encourage each other to read and understand Bonhoeffer’s work. So yesterday I called him to find out what was going on. He told me he was trying to find the answer to the question “What is Grace?” In addition to reading “The Cost of Discipleship” he is reading a book on grace. He told me the name of the author, but I already forgot.

My point is that the simplest definition of grace is “Unmerited favor”. Even though we don’t deserve it, God loves us. A more complete definition is:

Grace (131x)  G5485 (156x)

[Greek Strong’s]

5485. ca¿riß charis, khar´-ece; from 5463; graciousness (as gratifying), of manner or act (abstract or concrete; literal, figurative or spiritual; especially the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life; including gratitude): — acceptable, benefit, favour, gift, grace(- ious), joy, liberality, pleasure, thank(-s, -worthy).

[American Church]

Grace. — The word “grace” means a special favor, and is applied to the whole obedience, merit, Passion and Death of our Lord and the benefits that flow from them, — justification, wisdom, sanctification, Redemption. The Church, which is the Body of Christ, is called the Kingdom of Grace, for in it we become members of Christ and partakers of His grace and heavenly benediction. The Sacraments, as well as other ordinances, are called “means of grace,” because they are the appointed instrumentalities whereby God gives grace to His faithful people, to help them in living faithfully and in obtaining Salvation.

So, if grace can be defined simply, why is there such a great number of books on the topic? Is this a complicated topic or has the church made it complicated. I believe it is a fact that grace is misunderstood. Otherwise, why would Bonhoeffer have written a chapter on it? Why would other authors have written books on it?

Grace is one of the most fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith and yet one of the most misunderstood. I believe there is a Calvinist and an Arminian view of grace. There are probably numerous views in between those two! So, what are we to believe? John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius developed their view of grace from the same scriptures. Those scriptures are the same scriptures that we have today. I wanted to say “Never mind what Calvin or Arminius said, what does the bible say?” These two respected theologians came to different interpretations of the same scriptures. How can we know which is closer to being right?

Maybe keeping it simple is best! At least for now!

I Got Lost

Last week, I went to a reunion of a ship that I used to be a crew member of. Before I left though, I starting reading Chapter 1 of The Cost of Discipleship. I got about half way through and became hopelessly lost. I thought I understood what Bonhoeffer was talking in the Costly Grace chapter. Maybe I was wrong! Anyway, I didn’t finish the chapter before time to leave for the reunion.

Today I am starting again! Let’s see if I can get farther. Once I finish the first read of the chapter, I will re-read it again and comment in this blog what I think I just read. Maybe I can get through it with understanding!

What is Discipleship?

It occurred to me that before beginning the study on The Cost of Discipleship, it would be beneficial to answer the question “What is discipleship?” This may be harder than it would at first seem! The best definition I could find is, “Christian discipleship is the process by which disciples grow in the Lord Jesus Christ and are equipped by the Holy Spirit, who resides in our hearts, to overcome the pressures and trials of this present life and become more and more Christlike.”

That definition seems sort of circular “discipleship is the process by which disciples grow”. So, what is a disciple? The following is from the Holman Bible Dictionary:

Follower of Jesus Christ, especially the commissioned Twelve who followed Jesus during His earthly ministry. The term “disciple” comes to us in English from a Latin root. Its basic meaning is “learner” or “pupil.” The term is virtually absent from the OT, though there are two related references (1 Chron. 25:8; Isa. 8:16).

In the Greek world the word “disciple” normally referred to an adherent of a particular teacher or religious/philosophical school. It was the task of the disciple to learn, study, and pass along the sayings and teachings of the master. In rabbinic Judaism the term “disciple” referred to one who was committed to the interpretations of Scripture and religious tradition given him by the master or rabbi. Through a process of learning which would include a set meeting time and such pedagogical methods as question and answer, instruction, repetition, and memorization, the disciple would become increasingly devoted to the master and the master’s teachings. In time, the disciple would likewise pass on the traditions to others.

Jesus’ Disciples In the NT 233 of the 261 instances of the word “disciple” occur in the Gospels, the other 28 being in Acts. Usually the word refers to disciples of Jesus, but there are also references to disciples of the Pharisees (Matt. 22:16; Mark 2:18), disciples of John the Baptist (Mark 2:18; Luke 11:1; John 1:35), and even disciples of Moses (John 9:28).

The Gospels often refer to Jesus as “Rabbi” (Matt. 26:25,49; Mark 9:5; 10:51; 11:21; John 1:38,49; 3:2,26; 6:25; 20:16 NIV). One can assume that Jesus used traditional rabbinic teaching techniques (question and answer, discussion, memorization) to instruct His disciples. In many respects Jesus differed from the rabbis. He called His disciples to “follow Me” (Luke 5:27). Disciples of the rabbis could select their teachers. Jesus oftentimes demanded extreme levels of personal renunciation (loss of family, property, etc.; Matt. 4:18-22; 10:24-42; Luke 5:27-28; 14:25-27; 18:28-30). He asked for lifelong allegiance (Luke 9:57-62) as the essential means of doing the will of God (Matt. 12:49-50; John 7:16-18). He taught more as a bearer of divine revelation than a link in the chain of Jewish tradition (Matt. 5:21-48; 7:28-29; Mark 4:10-11). In so doing Jesus announced the end of the age and the long-awaited reign of God (Matt. 4:17; Luke 4:14-21,42-44).

The Twelve As the messianic proclaimer of the reign of God, Jesus gathered about Himself a special circle of 12 disciples, clearly a symbolic representation of the 12 tribes (Matt. 19:28). He was reestablishing Jewish social identity based upon discipleship to Jesus. The Twelve represented a unique band, making the word “disciple” (as a reference to the Twelve) an exact equivalent to “apostle” in those contexts where the latter word was also restricted to the Twelve. The four lists of the Twelve in the NT (Matt. 10:1-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:12-16; Acts 1:13,26) also imply from their contexts the synonymous use of the terms “disciples”/“apostles” when used to refer to the Twelve.

A Larger Group of Followers The Gospels clearly show that the word “disciple” can refer to others besides the Twelve. The verb “follow” became something of a technical term Jesus used to call His disciples, who were then called “followers,” (Mark 4:10). These “followers” included a larger company of people from whom He selected the Twelve (Mark 3:7-19; Luke 6:13-17). This larger group of disciples/followers included men and women (Luke 8:1-3; 23:49) from all walks of life. (Even the Twelve included a variety: fishermen, a tax collector, a Zealot.) Jesus was no doubt especially popular among the socially outcast and religiously despised, but people of wealth and of theological training also followed (Luke 8:1-3; 19:1-10; John 3:1-3; 12:42; 19:38-39).

The Twelve were sent out as representatives of Jesus, commissioned to preach the coming of the kingdom, to cast out demons, and to heal diseases (Matt. 10:1,5-15; Mark 6:7-13; Luke 9:1-6). Such tasks were not limited to the Twelve (Luke 10:1-24). Apparently Jesus’ disciples first included “a great multitude of disciples” (Luke 6:17). He formed certain smaller and more specifically defined groups within that “great multitude.” These smaller groups would include a group of “70” (Luke 10:1,17), the “Twelve” (Matt. 11:1; Mark 6:7; Luke 9:1), and perhaps an even smaller, inner group within the Twelve, consisting especially of Peter, James, and John—whose names (with Andrew) always figure first in the lists of the Twelve (Matt. 10:2; Mark 3:16-17; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13), whose stories of calling are especially highlighted (Matt. 4:18-22; John 1:35-42 and the tradition that John is the “Other”/“Beloved Disciple” of the Gospel of John—13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:20), and who alone accompanied Jesus on certain significant occasions of healing and revelation (Matt. 17:1; Mark 13:3; Luke 8:51).

All Followers of Jesus The book of the Acts of the Apostles frequently uses the term “disciple” to refer generally to all those who believe in the risen Lord (6:1-2, 7; 9:1, 10, 19, 26, 38; 11:26, 29). In addition, the verb form “to disciple” as it appears in the final commissioning scene of Matthew’s Gospel (28:19-20) also suggests a use in the early church of the term “disciple” as a more generalized name for all those who come to Jesus in faith, having heard and believed the gospel.

Conclusion We have seen that, as references to the Twelve, the words “apostle” and “disciple” could be synonymous. However, just as the term “disciple” could mean other followers of Jesus than the Twelve in the time of His ministry, so also after His resurrection the term “disciple” had a wider meaning as well, being clearly applied to all His followers. Whereas the term “apostle” retained a more specific meaning, being tied to certain historical eyewitnesses of the resurrected Lord, the word “disciple” tended to lose its narrower associations with the Twelve, and/or those who followed the historical Jesus, or who saw the risen Lord, and became a virtual equivalent to “Christian” (Acts 11:26). In every case, however, the common bond of meaning for the various applications of the word “disciple” was allegiance to Jesus. See Apostle.

Robert B. Sloan, Jr.

It seems that the definition of disciple can include anyone from a new convert, knowing little and behaving like a heathen, to a person mature in the teachings and ways of Christ. My question is “Are you still a disciple if you permanently stagnate in the process?”  If you quit learning to obey the commands of Christ you exit the discipleship process and are no longer a disciple.

The discipleship process includes:

  • Transformation and repentance, making God your priority
  • Learning the written word of God and living by it with commitment
  • Loving, edifying, and serving others as God leads
  • Focusing on living righteously, being fruitful
  • Accountability with godly authority

Questions Concerning Discipleship

This morning I read the Introduction to “The Cost of Discipleship”. The first thing I noticed is that many questions are asked. I assume that the rest of the book answers those questions. I will list the questions later, but the most pressing question for me is: “If discipleship costs, and according to Jesus, it does, (Luke 14:27-29) how is the yoke easy and the burden light?” 

The second sentence talks about slogans and catchwords of ecclesiastical controversy. While reading this I thought about slogans popular today: Jesus Saves; Jesus is Lord; Jesus is the answer; etc. I believe these slogans were meant to be used as rallying cries to the unbeliever as a reason to come to Christ. However, they have been so over used and typically lack context so that they are meaningless.

The questions that I will try to answer in reading this book are:

  • What did Jesus mean to say to us?
  • What is His will for us today?
  • How can he help us to be good Christians in the modern world?

Earlier today I received an email from Sonny. After reading chapter one, he asked:

  • What is Grace?
  • What is Discipleship?
  • What does discipleship look like?

I think the word discipleship is another term from the Christian lexicon that is poorly understood by most pastors, at least if it is understood, it isn’t explained very well!

The introduction also postulates that often the denominations that are supposed to present Christ to the world have rules and dogmas that act as obstacles to Jesus and his word. It is also true that each of us filter the Scriptures and sermons through years of ideas and expressions that are hard to understand.

Hopefully, this book is able to cut through all the accumulated clutter and lead us to an accurate interpretation of Christ’s word.

The Cost of Discipleship

I have recently been challenged to engage in a study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book “The Cost of Discipleship”. It has been a while since I read the book, however I remember that the first section is difficult to understand.

With that in mind, my intention is to put my notes on this blog. Maybe someone will stumble across my musings and contribute. If that happens, it will encourage me to dig deeper into the book and scripture to better understand what discipleship is.

My friend Sonny is the person challenging me. I think we are doing this study together. This will be an online study as Sonny is a traveling missionary and I am recently retired and enjoying staying in one place.

Thinking about continuing

I’ve let this blog sit for a while now. Should I pick it up again?

Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day



Washington, D.C.
March 30, 1863

Senator James Harlan of Iowa, whose daughter later married President Lincoln’s son Robert, introduced this Resolution in the Senate on March 2, 1863. The Resolution asked President Lincoln to proclaim a national day of prayer and fasting. The Resolution was adopted on March 3, and signed by Lincoln on March 30, one month before the fast day was observed.

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

Whereas, the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day for National prayer and humiliation.

And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.

And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.

All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty seventh.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward, Secretary of State.

What is Truth

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Either you believe that the Bible is the word of God or not. If you believe it, then by definition the Bible is truth and the above quote by Jesus is too. If you don’t believe it, the Bible is still true; you just don’t have a spiritual anchor.

“I believe that the Bible is true; so I am OK, right?” Not necessarily! Do you know the truth?

You see, the truth of Jesus Christ is under attack. It always has been. You wouldn’t think that the attack would be coming from inside the church but it is. It always has!

In the first century, the attack was from a group of people known as the Gnostics. They believed that they had a special revelation and knowledge about our Savior that no one else had. Several of Paul’s epistles were written because of the Gnostic influence in the early church. The doctrine that was being disseminated sounded good but was totally anti Christ. So it seemed that after Paul had preached Christ and made many converts, the Gnostics attempted to add their own spin to the Gospel. They were somewhat successful at leading some away from the truth.

Are you being led away from the truth? One indication is what you believe about the Bible. Do you believe that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, inspired word of God? Another indication is whether or not you know, read and study your Bible. Even if you answered “yes” to both of the indicators, you still could be being led away from the truth; although it is not as likely. What does the man in the pulpit of your church think about the Bible? Does he preach the Gospel or does he preach messages with references to Gospel passages? Do the messages that reference Scripture use the meaning of Scripture that you would get by reading that passage in context or is the meaning changed to emphasize the point the preacher is trying to make?

St Nicholas' Kirk

St Nicholas’ Kirk (Photo credit: Nick in exsilio)

I attend a church where the pastor delivers messages with scriptural references. I am also reading at least one book that the pastor has highly recommended. What I am discovering is that my pastor is teaching from books other than the Bible. That isn’t necessarily wrong. It does however, send up a red flag. I need to be a “good Berean” and search the scriptures to verify what he is teaching. If “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correcting and for training in righteousness so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work”, why then would a pastor need to teach from any other book. Just because it comes from the pulpit at your church, don’t believe blindly what the pastor says, check it out for yourself. Better yet, become so familiar with the truth that a half truth or a lie is repugnant on its face.

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