The Cost of Discipleship: Thoughts on the Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived a life of sacrificial significance.  I won’t bother here to attempt a story of his life, but I will note some things that stood out to me as I have been studying his life and works lately.  These areas were a challenge to me because I fall quite short in these areas on a daily basis:

Personal Communion with God: Bonhoeffer’s relationship with God was one of intimate fellowship.  This glows in his writings.  When the German pastor speaks of fellowship with God it is not a sort of academic exercise or a list of attributes set out by a scholar.  This is fascinating to me as I consider that Bonhoeffer achieved his doctorate at age 21.  He was a scholar, but he did not allow his Christian faith to become a mere intellectual assent.  I enjoyed reading his thoughts on the Psalms and how to pray them.  He especially pointed out the help of lifting a Psalm to God every morning.  To Bonhoeffer, this directed his day and made the most mundane moment a joyful reunion with he Father.  It really is no wonder that his fellow prisoners wrote of him, after he was killed by the Nazi regime, that he was one of the few Christians who really lived what they said they believed.  How would it change my life if I pursued a similar fellowship with my Father?  What would I need to give up?  What would I gain?

Personal Sacrifice for the Kingdom: On the month that Hitler rose to power, Bonhoeffer preached on national radio regarding the problem of seeking out an idol to solve the needs of the German people.  He was active prior to the war and during the war in ensuring that individuals physical and spiritual needs were met.  In life and in death, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a model of personal sacrifice.  He gave up an appointment in the Nazi-approved church for a life on the edge as an outspoken opponent of the Nazi takeover of the German churches.  He gave up his ability to stay in the United States during the war in order to serve the need of the German people.  He knew the danger this posed, but returned to his people.  Even after his imprisonment he constantly looked to the needs of his captors and fellow prisoners above his own.  How would my life be different if I focused on serving God and others to this radical degree?  Do I stand up for what I know is right or do I cave when the pressure builds?  Do I run from danger or do I stand my ground?  Am I radically committed to the suffering that is necessary in the life of a disciple of Christ or do I fear the commitment of taking up a cross and following Him?

Personal Focus on the Gospel: One major theme glows throughout Bonhoeffer’s writings – the cross-work of Jesus Christ.  Bonhoeffer was a man who lived daily in the recognition of his need of the redemption that Christ alone provides.  He realized the need of his heart and the guilt of his sin.  When writing of praying Psalms that speak to the guilt of the writer, Bonhoeffer wrote, “here it is clear that the believing Christian certainly has to say not only something about his guilt but also something equally important about his innocence and his justification.  It is characteristic of the faith of the Christian that through God’s grace and the merit of Jesus Christ he has become entirely justified and guiltless in God’s eyes, so that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  And it is characteristic of the prayer of the Christian to hold fast to this innocence and justification which has come to him, appealing to God’s word and thanking [God] for it.”  If I lived in a daily recognition of the depth of my sin and the height of Christ’s righteousness provided to me in the Gospel, how would I then live?  Would I not live with a greater love for God, thankfulness for His gift, and passionate desire to live for Him?  O that I might have a crisp focus on the Gospel this week that it may shape my life like that of Pastor Bonhoeffer.

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