Are you confused? Or just disobedient?

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters-- yes, even his own life-- he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27)

This fall, I have been leading a book study through part one of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic book The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer was a German pastor during the time of Hitler, and made the difficult decision to remain in Germany and join the resistance against Hitler despite the danger this would put him in. Ultimate, Bonhoeffer was arrested and executed for his role in a plot to assassinate Hitler. The integrity of Bonhoeffer’s own life gives great weight to his challenging words on discipleship.

One of the most challenging sections in the book for me this time around was his assertion that often when a person complains that they find it difficult to have faith, the truth is that they are simply being disobedient. As he put it: “You are disobedient, you are trying to keep some part of your life under your own control. That is what is preventing you from listening to Christ and believing in His grace. You cannot hear Christ because you are willfully disobedient. Somewhere in your heart you are refusing to listen to his call. Your difficulty is your sins.”

When it comes to sharing our faith, this often resonates. There are many people who claim to have intellectual barriers to believing, but in reality just want to live however they please and not have to submit to the will of God. We could give them all the answers and evidence in the world, but it wouldn’t make a difference, because the issue is not really intellectual but a question of obedience.

Nevertheless, I found Bonhoeffer’s assertion challenging for my own faith journey. One of the hardest parts of being a pastor is that there are hundreds of directions I could go at any particular point. There are members of the church to reach out to, ministries of the church to work on, long-range planning to take care of, administrative details to keep up with, emails to reply to, books to read, sermons to prepare for, and so on. I often find myself confused and pulled in many directions, unsure of what should be my top priority. Reading Bonhoeffer’s words, however, challenged me to consider whether my main issue is not confusion but disobedience. If I were to prioritize time with the Lord, and commit myself to following His leading with each decision, would I not find the confusion clearing up and inevitably become much more productive? Perhaps my real struggle is not really intellectual, but a question of obedience. I have been grateful for Bonhoeffer’s challenge.

In my Christian journey, I have found that we all benefit from having two types of voices speaking into our lives. The one voice, like Max Lucado or Brennan Manning, is empathetic and encouraging, reminding us of God’s grace and compassion. The other voice, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, challenges us out of our complacency to live with conviction and to give ourselves fully to the Lord. My personality is more like a Lucado or Manning, and as a result, I need to be sure I am reading books like The Cost of Discipleship, to challenge me towards greater holiness.

The beautiful thing about Jesus, of course, is that He was perfect grace and truth in one person. He extended extravagant grace to the worst of sinners, while also calling for perfection and total commitment from those who called themselves believers. He loves us just as we are, but loves us too much to let us stay the way we are. May we be willing to receive both His grace that covers our sins, as well as His call to leave our sin behind and follow Him wholeheartedly.

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