Discipleship in action

Last week, I mentioned feeling uncomfortable as I read what Dietrich Bonhoeffer had to say about obedience to Christ in The Cost of Discipleship. Multiply that by ten, and you'll get the gist of how it feels reading through his discussion of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7! There is no philosophising or over-spiritualising of Jesus' words; Bonhoeffer simply lays bare the call of Christ - what it means for us in every facet of our lives, and the different ways in which we can fall out of 'the narrow way' and into seeking a 'reward' other than in fellowship with Him.

In discussing the picture of discipleship that Jesus paints, Bonhoeffer gives us a helpful dichotomy: there is the 'extraordinary' nature of the 'visible community' and then there is the 'hidden character of the Christian life'. What challenged some of my preconceptions was Bonhoeffer's insight into Jesus' statement "You are the salt of the earth...you are the light of the world". Jesus doesn't say, "you must be the salt/light" - as though somehow we were able to make ourselves that. It is only through fellowship with Christ that we can possibly be that, and since he has called us the decision has already been made! Neither does he say, "you have the salt/light" - I can't dissociate myself from the gospel and pretend my mediocrity doesn't impinge on it. No - I am the salt/light in my total existence. There is no place in my life to run away and hide from what Christ has called me to be.

Our complete surrender to Christ is lived out in a visible way - in our dedication to being at peace with our brothers and sisters, our commitment to absolute purity of heart and mind, to truthfulness in every word no matter what, to reaching out to our enemies in love. We are called to live this 'extraordinary' life...in contemplating this I could think of countless ways in which I had compromised. What does this standard of truthfulness mean for what we tell our kids about Santa Claus? Or for how we represent ourselves and our struggles to others?

It gets a little tricky as Bonhoeffer moves into talking about the hidden character of the Christian life. Jesus' words are not to "do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them". How are we to be the visible community of Christ to the world if we are also trying to hide our righteous acts? In explaining this paradox, Bonhoeffer says that at the deepest level, we need to hide the visibility of our righteousness from ourselves. I'm not sure that I've even fully grasped the implications of this...but I think he is saying that we have this 'voluntary blindness' to ourselves because we are only concerned with looking to Jesus and following him. When we start looking at ourselves, appreciating our own righteousness, we have fallen out of the way of Christ. We receive a reward of self-approbation but miss the reward of fellowship with Christ.

This was a packed section of the book. I don't really feel like I've been able to digest it fully yet...but one thing is emerging clearly: the words I say need to be fulfilled in obedience. As I frequently say to my girls...a little less talk, a little more action.