DISCIPLINE: The Call To Discipleship (Part 1) by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Call To Discipleship (Part 1) by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

From The Cost of Discipleship

And as he passed by he saw Levi, the son of Alphaeus, sitting at the place of toll, and he saith unto him, “Follow me.”  And he arose and followed him. (Mark 2:14)

The call goes forth, and is at once followed by the response of obedience.  The response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus.  How could the call immediately evoke obedience?  The story is a stumbling-block for the natural reason, and it is no wonder that frantic attempts have been made to separate the two events.  By hook or by crook a bridge must be found between them.  Something must have happened in between, some psychological or historical event.  Thus we get the stupid question: Surely the publican must have known Jesus before, and that previous acquaintance explains his readiness to hear the Master’s call.  Unfortunately our text is ruthlessly silent on this point, and, in fact, it regards the immediate sequence of call and response as a matter of crucial importance.  It displays not the slightest interest in the psychological reasons for a man’s religious decisions.  And why?  For the simple reason that the cause behind the immediate following of call by response is Jesus Christ himself.  It is Jesus who calls, and because it is Jesus, Levi follows at once.  This encounter is a testimony to the absolute, direct, and unaccountable authority of Jesus.  There is no need to any preliminaries, and no other consequence but obedience to the call.  Because Jesus is the Christ, he has the authority to call and to demand obedience to his word.  Jesus summons men to follow him not as a teacher or a pattern of the good life, but as the Christ, the Son of God.  In this short text Jesus Christ and his claim are proclaimed to men.  Not a word of praise is given to the disciple for his decision for Christ.  We are not expected to contemplate the disciple, but only him who calls, and his absolute authority.  According to our text, there is no road to faith or discipleship, no other road – only obedience to the call of Jesus.

And what does the text inform us about the content of discipleship?  Follow me, run along behind me!  That is all.  To follow in his steps is something which is void of all content.  It gives us no intelligible program for a way of life, no goal or ideal to strive after.  It is not a cause which human calculation might deem worthy of our devotion, even the devotion of ourselves.  What happens?  At the call, Levi leaves all that he has – but not because he thinks that he might be doing something worthwhile, but simply for the sake of the call.  Otherwise he cannot follow in the steps of Jesus.  This act on Levi’s part has not the slightest value in itself, it is quite devoid of significance and unworthy of consideration.  The disciple simply burns his boats and goes ahead.  He is called out, and has to forsake his old life in order that he may “exist” in the strictest sense of the word.  The old life is left behind, and completely surrendered.  The disciple is dragged out of his relative security into a life of absolute insecurity (that is, in truth, into the absolute security and safety of the fellowship of Jesus), from a life which is observable and calculable (it is, in fact, quite incalculable) into a life where everything is unobservable and fortuitous (that is, into one which is necessary and calculable), out of the realm of finite (which is in truth the infinite) into the realm of infinite possibilities (which is the one liberating reality).  Again it is no universal law.  Rather it is the exact opposite of all legality.  It is nothing else than bondage to Jesus Christ alone, completely breaking through every program, every ideal, every set of laws.  No other significance is possible, since Jesus is the only significance.  Beside Jesus nothing has any significance.  He alone matters.

When we are called to follow Christ, we are summoned to an exclusive attachment to his person.  The grace of his call bursts all the bonds of legalism.  It is a gracious call, a gracious commandment.  It transcends the difference between the law and the gospel.  Christ calls, the disciple follows: that is grace and commandment in one.  “I will walk at liberty, for I seek thy commandments,” (Psalm 119:45).

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