In The Great Omission: Rediscovering Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship, author Dallas Willard examines the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer—in particular, the German theologian’s venerated book The Cost of Discipleship. Willard concludes that the cost of “nondiscipleship” is even higher: “In short, it costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring.”

In his many temple talks, Jesus undoubtedly rubbed his listeners the wrong way. He didn’t sugarcoat the terrors, torments or trials of discipleship. But he also encouraged them not to crumble when persecuted for his sake because God sees their hearts.

Believers, Jesus said, would be prosecuted by the authorities and betrayed by relatives and friends (Luke 21:12-19), but they weren’t to prepare a defense. Instead they were to show up in court filled with the Spirit, as Stephen did in Acts 7.

Nondiscipleship is a practice that costs us abundant life, as Jesus pointed out when he revealed that “those who want to save their life will lose it.”

As Luke points out, a disciple ordered to recant must be faithful and testify, not remain silent. (As Martin Luther King Jr. once wrote, “Silence is betrayal.”) Jesus promises his disciples both words and wisdom; adversaries would be unable to resist their eloquence or refute their testimony for Christ.

These court appearances, Jesus said, would be an opportunity for disciples to witness before people in high places—as Paul does in Acts 24 and 25. When the genuine believer must give an answer or a defense, God will fill their hearts with a reply that persecutors will be unable to resist.

Countering nondiscipleship includes:

• Approaching persecution with full endurance, never denying the practices of an itinerant preacher from Nazareth of Galilee.
• Offering testimony that Christ and eternity are real, even as beatings and the swords of persecutors are suffered.

As Christ’s disciples, we have received unmerited justification “by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). We lose nothing of value in becoming disciples; instead, we gain our very lives.

The best missional strategy is to make disciples and deploy them. But those who practice nondiscipleship, who live for their own sake, should fear the day of the Lord. For them, physically surviving political and natural upheavals has no consequence because they continue to invest only in things and keep trying to buy God’s pardon with gifts.

Nondiscipleship is a practice that costs us abundant life, as Jesus pointed out when he revealed that “those who want to save their life will lose it” (Luke 9:24). The cost of nondiscipleship, ultimately, is death—not just of the church as the institution we know it as, but of the soul.

William Flippin Jr.
Flippin is pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Atlanta. He serves on the ELCA Church Council and as third vice president for the Georgia NAACP.

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