“If we would follow Jesus we must take certain definite steps…Levi must leave his receipt of custom and Peter his nets to follow Jesus. One would have thought that nothing so drastic was necessary at such an early stage. Could not Jesus have initiated the publican into some new religious experience, and leave them as they were before? He could have done so had He not been the incarnate Son of God. But since he is the Christ, he must make it clear from the start that his word is not an abstract doctrine, but the re-creation of the whole man. The only right and proper way is to literally go with Jesus. The call to follow implies that there is only one way of believing on Jesus Christ, and that is by leaving all and going with the incarnate Son of God.
“The first step places the disciple in the situation where faith is possible. If he refuses to follow and stays behind, he does not learn how to believe. He who is called must go out of his situation in which he cannot believe, into the situation in which, first and foremost, faith is possible.” [Italics added]. [The Cost of Discipleship, pages 66 – 67].
The latter part of this chapter, The Call to Discipleship, focuses on the interplay of obedience and faith, and faith and obedience. This is a strange chapter to read in 2014, strange because the call of Jesus Christ to obedient discipleship (is there any other kind?) is something seldom heard and written about. We are more apt to hear writers and preachers call us to abstract doctrines or ways of thinking than we are to hear them call us to the person of Jesus Christ. We also hear well-meaning folks call us to a relationship with the Bible instead of calling us to Jesus Christ – the One to whom the Bible gives testimony. And then there are yet other well-meaning brothers and sisters who are evangelists for certain worldviews, with those world-views taking the (no doubt unintended) place of Jesus Christ. I may know doctrine and not know Jesus, I may know the Bible (in the sense of data or basic content) and not know Jesus, and I may vigorously hold a “Christian” worldview and not know Jesus. The only discipleship which matters is being a disciple of Jesus Christ, following Him in obedience to His call and command.
Adherence to doctrine, to Biblical knowledge (in the sense I’m using the term), and a Christian worldview does not call me out of where I am into a situation where I can have faith; only obedience to Jesus Christ introduces me to the new creation and leads me into the path of re-creation in Him. As Bonhoeffer explores in this chapter, obedience produces faith and faith produces obedience – faith without obedience is not faith.
Apart from altar calls in some traditions, how often do we hear clear calls to obedience? How often do we hear calls to follow Jesus? I have seldom heard them; seldom have I heard an appeal to follow Jesus. I wonder how often I’ve sounded that call? I wonder how often I’ve advocated an abstract doctrine or a worldview or even a knowledge of the Bible instead of issuing a clear call to follow Jesus? And as for altar calls, other than the clear calls of Billy Graham, how often have they been centered on following Jesus as opposed to functioning as a catharsis?
If we have not been changed have we had faith? If we have not been obedient to Jesus have we had faith? Obedience and faith are a marriage in the soul which leads to fellowship with Jesus and transformation into His image. Jesus’ food was to do the will of the Father – what is our food?
I think we’re too often living in the abstract, abstract doctrine with feel-good religious services; we initiate others into religious experiences rather than issue a clear call to follow Jesus Christ.
We don’t need a Christian culture in our churches, we need a culture of Jesus; Jesus is to be the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last – our everything. Our love, our life, our heart, our mind, is to be centered on our Lord Jesus and our obedience and worship are to be unreservedly and passionately offered to Him.
Is Jesus an abstract idea or doctrine to us? Or is Jesus Christ our friend, our Lord and our God whom we follow and live for in obedient faith?