In chapter two of Bonhoeffer’s work The Cost of Discipleship, the nature of the command from Jesus to follow him is examined from Mark 2:14 (“Follow me”). While noting the important exception that faith must not be separated from obedience in regards to the belief of justification by faith, faith and obedience in discipleship cannot and must not ever be separated. Otherwise, discipleship is lost.
As part of understanding this obedience, Bonhoeffer is at pains to preserve the calling of Jesus to a new life and existence. Jesus summons us away from a life of security, self-control, and limited way of living into a realm where Jesus and his call gives and creates a totally new way of living, full of the possibilities that only Jesus can create. The old is broken away from and the new is protected from being wrongly perceived as an addition or clarification of the old.
As Jesus called the rich young ruler to Himself in discipleship (Matthew 19:16-22, Jesus taught that his call of discipleship is not a “completion” of one’s old life. Following Jesus is not just taking another step of the journey that we are currently taking through life. The kind of life Jesus was offering was not available to this man apart from selling his possessions, which symbolized his old existence.
The new life of Jesus that He offers us is so radically different in nature that this new existence ought not to be confused or fused with our past existence. From a more deeply theological understanding, Jesus was saying the same thing to Nicodemus when he told him that he could only have a share in the Kingdom of God by being born again from God into a new life (John 3). The old life is not worthy of Jesus being joined to it as some kind of addition that adds or fulfills what we are. The old life cannot be restored or recreated. It has to be done away with. The life Jesus offers is not even to be seen as making a new start. This is not stopping and then starting again with a new perspective on life. What we are apart from Jesus must come to nothing. All of “self” must die so that we can become what Jesus calls us to be through the Gospel in being his followers; little images of Himself.
Bonhoeffer points out that there is no content to the call of Jesus in Mark 2:14. There is no reason given and nothing is promised. The only thing that makes up the call is Jesus. Jesus is our reason; Jesus is our goal; Jesus is the content. Either a potential disciple is pulled to Jesus by his glory and grace to be like him or one goes on his own way as before and stays as he is, in his old existence of death.
What journey are you on in life? Are you trying to make your old life better by adding Jesus into it so He might make your life better than it was before? Beware! Please know that Jesus never agreed to do that for you and if you try that, you will be frustrated when Jesus doesn’t come through for you as you think he promised. Give up, surrender, cut off your old life. Let it die! Humble yourself before Jesus and ask for the only kind of life that is indeed life-Jesus. Jesus has nothing to offer you except himself because there is nothing better!