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Cost of Discipleship, The

by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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I carried The Cost of Discipleship with me for two years, from around the time I was 16 to the time I graduated from high school—not because I loved it, but because I still wasn’t finished reading it. I wasn’t a very good reader, I had bit off more than I could chew, but I was too stubborn to stop. Now I’m glad I didn’t.

We all have different turning points in our lives, and I don’t expect this book to be a turning point for everyone. But as an idealistic teenager, believing in heroes but finding very few and believing in Christ but not committed to following Him, this was what I needed. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a real-life hero, and it wasn’t because he was built like Samson—it was because of his commitment to follow Christ. Reading Bonhoeffer, I began to dimly understand that the Christian ethic is the heroic ethic.

When we call someone a hero—a real hero, not a football hero—what do we mean by it? Why did Americans universally proclaim the New York City firefighters who served during 9-11 to be heroes? Because those firefighters put their lives on the line. What does Christ expect of His followers? “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).

I only carried one phrase away from The Cost of Discipleship the first time I (finally!) finished reading it: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” But, really, what else do you need to know? The Christian ethic requires sacrificing yourself every day, to serve God and to serve others. Every Christian has the call, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to live quietly heroic lives.

As it happens, Bonhoeffer didn’t just write a brilliant call to follow Christ—he also lived the sort of life that was a brilliant call to follow Christ. Students will thrill to hear his story—defying Hitler, establishing underground seminaries, serving as a double agent, smuggling Jews into Switzerland—and then they will thrill at his words. “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

by Jeff Baldwin