Bonhoeffer begins this chapter with Jesus calling Levi to “Follow me” in Mark 2:14.
Immediately, Levi followed. No additional information is provided. Christ called and Levi followed. We are not meant to focus on the one who followed, but on the one who called. This immediate obedience to follow has been a stumbling block for some. They want additional information, they need to understand WHY Levi followed- perhaps he had previously met Jesus? They cannot humanly understand this act of obedience. But it is simple, because it was Christ who called there was authority behind the call.
“Jesus summons men to follow him not as a teacher or a pattern of the good life, but as the Christ, the Son of God.”
When Christ calls, He transcends all the stumbling blocks and all the legalism we try so hard to understand with our minds. He takes us from the known safety of our worlds into the unknown possibilities of following Him and while doing this, He shatters all our previous perceptions and takes us into a relationship that seems crazy to the world, but to the disciple makes sense.
Bonhoeffer takes great pains in emphasizing the call. Without the call from Christ it is possible to have a working knowledge of Christianity and yet completely miss the relationship.
“Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ…Discipleship without Jesus Christ is a way of our own choosing…It may even lead to martyrdom, but it is devoid of all promise.”
Next Bonhoeffer takes us to Luke 9:57-62 where we see three examples of false callings.
1. This person volunteers to follow without Christ initiating the call. Jesus warns this individual that he does not know what he is asking…a life of suffering for Christ. “No man can call himself to such a destiny, says Jesus, and his word stays unanswered. The gulf between a voluntary offer to follow and genuine discipleship are clear. But where Jesus calls, he bridges the widest gulf.”
2. This would-be disciple is bound by the law. He wants to fulfill the law by first burying his father and THEN following Christ. Here the law is acting as a barrier to following Christ. When called, “nothing on earth, however sacred, must be allowed to come between Jesus and the man he has called- not even the law itself…the law must be broken for the sake of Jesus; it forfeits all its rights if it acts as a barrier to discipleship.”
3. Like the first, this man initiates the call; however this man also puts in his own stipulations for following thereby putting himself between a rock and a hard place. He wants to follow Christ but at the same time he wants Christ to “suffer me first”. He is trying to make discipleship “fit” his agenda by dictating his terms. “But then discipleship is no longer discipleship, but a programme of our own to be arranged to suit ourselves, and to be judge in accordance with the standards of a rational ethic…discipleship can tolerate no conditions which might come between Jesus and our obedience to him.”
Bonhoeffer now takes us back to Levi and his call (our call)- I pray you get this book and read these next few pages- they are profound and I will not give them justice.
“The call to follow at once produces a new situation. To stay in the old situation makes discipleship impossible.”
We are called, we must decide if we will believe in the one who is calling. If we do not take that first step of faith, we do not learn how to believe and we do not learn how to follow.
“So long as Levi sits at the receipt of custom, and Peter at his nets, they could both pursue their trade honestly and dutifully, and they might both enjoy religious experiences, old and new. But if they want to believe in God, the only way is to follow his incarnate Son…Had Levi stayed at his post, Jesus might have been his present help in trouble, but not the Lord of his whole life.” (Let me interject that in later Chapters Bonhoeffer talks about how not everyone is called to change careers, so please don’t focus this and miss the point that when called we must be open to what that means for us as individual followers.)
“It is only the call of Jesus which makes it a situation where faith is possible…a situation where faith is possible can never be demonstrated from the human side. Discipleship is not an offer man makes to Christ. It is only the call which creates the situation.”
For those who are unsure if they are called please read 1 Tim 2:4-6 and John 3:16- God wants ALL men to know Him, He loves ALL His creation. You are not excluded.
Next week we will talk about this famous quote from Bonhoeffer:
“Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.”
1. – FOR FOLLOWERS OF CHRST- Do you remember when you decided to follow Christ? Do you remember the Savior calling you? Would you like to share your experience- not everyone who follows this blog is a Christian.
2. –FOR THOSE WHO ARE UNSURE OF SALVATION- Have you ever struggled with knowing if you are called? With taking that first step of obedient faith? What is holding you back? What are your concerns?
3. FOR EVERYONE- What do you think of Bonhoeffer’s explanation of the call to follow? Does it help you understand the call to follow and why some are unable to follow or are you left with more questions? What can I (and other commenter’s) help clarify?