by Robert Jacobs
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. — “The Cost of Discipleship,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
In his book The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer dismantles the theological fallacy he terms “cheap grace,” the belief that we can live our lives any way we choose because our sin has been covered by the sacrificial blood of Christ. Cheap grace requires no repentance and brings no transformation. It is a “grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
Bonhoeffer teaches that true grace is costly. Foremost, the grace in which we stand cost God the blood of his very Son, a price we will never fully understand. Additionally, Bonhoeffer turns to the new testament to argue that this grace also, in the words of Christ, necessitates that we “take up [our] cross and follow [Him]” (Matt 16:24). Thus, “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for [Christ] will find it” (Matt 16:25).
While I am sure you have read countless devotionals (including the ones on this blog) and heard innumerable sermons on “taking up your cross” and following Christ, one question always remains: What does this practically look like? This is a wonderful question that, unfortunately, has no easy answer. However, for the sake of clarity, let’s look at one specific example from the first-century church to try and get a grasp on the costly nature of following Christ.
In Acts 19, Luke recounts one of Paul’s experiences in Ephesus. After performing many signs (Acts 19:11)—with demons even admitting that they knew of Paul’s faith (Acts 19:15)—many of the people in the city were “seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor” (Acts 19:17). In fact, these people held God in such reverence that “many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done” (Acts 19:16).
So, what does this act of confession have to do with the cost of following Christ? First, confession costs your pride. These individuals did not pray a silent prayer of confession behind closed doors. No, they “openly” confessed what they had done to their fellow believers. Every scrap of self-glory and honor had to be placed at the foot of Christ in this act of open and honest confession.
Abandoning your pride not costly enough for you? Well, in the very next verse Luke provides a more concrete example of cost. He writes, “a number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas” (Acts 19-20).
Based on the purchasing power of a drachma in the first century, fifty thousand drachmas today would be approximately worth $2.3 million USD.
Let that settle in for a second: $2.3 MILLION.
Oh, and don’t forget, that the $2.3 million was only the value of the texts. That does not calculate all of the revenue these individuals could have made off of practicing the dark arts.
In order to follow Christ, these individuals both abandoned their livelihood and destroyed the large investment they had made in their job materials. In destroying their books, they demonstrated the value of Christ in comparison to their demonic texts. A relationship with Christ, in their eyes, was far more valuable than the market price of their books or the monetary gain of living and working in a profession contrary to the will of God.
Do you value your relationship with Christ like these men did? Do you see Him as worth more than all of your possessions? Do you see Him as worth more than your Job? Do you see Him as worth more than your sin? If we seek to truly follow Christ, we must value Him above everything else.
The former sorcerers in Acts 19 did not abandon their demonic profession because they needed to “change” or “police” their behavior. They stopped practicing sorcery because they valued Christ more than their witchcraft. In this way, we also do not seek to simply modify or stop our sinful behaviors; instead, we realize that we cannot turn back to our sin because it would require us to turn our gaze from Him.