MacDonald, Bonhoeffer, Luther: Of Cheap Grace and Obedience to Christ

The sermon I heard this morning on discipleship led me to start rereading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book on the subject, and to think of the kinship between that brave man, Luther, and George MacDonald.   And wonder, just a bit, if the three men are talking together of obedience, even as I write these words. 

From The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Touchstone, 1995, translated by R.H. Fuller from the German Nachfolge, first published in 1937):

"...the outcome of the Reformation was the victory, not of Luther's perception of grace in all its purity and costliness, but of the vigilant religious instinct of man for the place where grace is to be obtained at the cheapest price...When he spoke of grace, Luther always implied as a corollary that it cost him his own life, the life which was now for the first time subjected to the absolute obedience of Christ. Only so could he speak of grace. Luther had said that grace alone can save; his followers took up his doctrine and repeated it word for word. But they left out its invariable corollary, the obligation of discipleship."

"Luther had said that all we can do is of no avail, however good a life we live. He said that nothing can avail us in the sight of God but 'the grace and favor which confers the forgiveness of sin.' But he spoke as one who knew that at the very moment of his crisis he was called to leave all that he had a second time and follow Jesus. The recognition of grace was his final, radical breach with his besetting sin, but it was never the justification of that sin. By laying hold of God's forgiveness, he made the final, radical renunciation of a self-willed life..."

"It is terrifying to realize what use can be made of a genuine evangelical doctrine. In both cases we have the identical formula--'justification by faith alone.' Yet the misuse of the formula leads to the complete destruction of its very essence."

"We poured forth unending streams of grace. But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard..."

"Happy are they who have reached the end of the road we seek to tread, who are astonished to discover the by no means self-evident truth that grace is costly just because it is the grace of God in Jesus Christ...Happy are they who, knowing that grace, can live in the world without being of it, who, by following Jesus Christ, are so assured of their heavenly citizenship that they are truly free to live their lives in this world. Happy are they who know that discipleship simply means the life that springs from grace, and that grace simply means discipleship. Happy are they who have become Christians in this sense of the word. For them the word of grace has proved a fount of mercy." 

Obedience to the Lord and the giving up of the self-willed life is, of course, the great theme that prevails throughout MacDonald's works. 

The Cost of Discipleship
By Dietrich Bonhoeffer