John Stott’s book The Cross of Christ Has Serious Error

John Stott’s very popular book The Cross of Christ, Inter-Varsity Press (1986), has very serious error. He undermines the very gospel itself!

In part four: Living under the cross, under Self-understanding and self-giving, Stott has taken the glorious truth of the cross and made it into a works righteousness that can never be accomplished by any saint.

Under the heading Self-Denial [p. 278] Stott says, ‘First, the call to self-denial. The invitation of Jesus is plain: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’ (Mk. 8:34). Jesus has just for the first time clearly predicted his sufferings and death. It ‘must’ happen to his followers as well. He must go to the cross; they must take up their cross and follow him. Indeed, they must do it ‘daily’. And, as the negative counterpart, if anybody does not take his cross and follow him, he is not worthy of him and cannot be his disciple.’

Say hello to works righteousness! What a burden that was never intended by our wonderful Lord Jesus Christ. Stott wrote these words in a comfortable chair, perhaps in a lush office at Ridley College or the like, while the true gospel was proclaimed by Paul the apostle, while in less comfortable circumstances. It is ironic that those seated in lush offices, with all sorts of prestige and honor, burden the people of God, while our beloved apostle Paul, who was not so honored, gave us the right understanding of Jesus’ teaching!

Galatians 6:14 But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Stott’s error with Jesus’ teaching about denying ourselves and taking up our cross is that he applies it to our discipleship. Jesus was speaking about our conversion and that in order for us to come after Him we needed to know a profound denial of trust in ourselves and a death of our sinful selves that is to be counted as a completed event.

Stott opposed this. He says in The Cross of Christ [p. 280], ‘This death is not something which has happened to us, and which we are now told to ‘reckon’ or remember, but something which we must deliberately do ourselves, though by the power of the Spirit, putting our old nature to death.’

Go ahead and try to take anything in your life and say that this is taking up your cross. This is moralism. Putting to death sin in our lives is not a fulfillment of taking up our cross. Rather, taking up our cross, in being crucified with Christ, is the only power to then put to death the deeds of the flesh, by the Spirit.

There is a reason why men teach such things. By putting people under burdening error the hearers become dependent upon false teachers and will seek them out for the false fulfillment of such errors. As Paul warned, ‘They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them.’ [Galatians 4:17].

Paul the apostle would have none of this sort of teaching by Stott and others, as he argued in Galatians. Paul only boasts in the cross of Christ. Paul does not have a cross of his own separate from Jesus’ cross. In fact, Paul understood that only by means of the cross of Christ was there a crucifixion between himself and the world.

For more information about a denial and a taking up of your cross, not as a Pharisee would have you do so, but as our Lord Jesus and Paul would have you to do, read my book, Take Up Your Cross: Our Only Power to Live and Walk by the Spirit.

John MacArthur’s book Hard To Believe Has Serious Error

John MacArthur’s Hard To Believe, Thomas Nelson (November 23, 2010), has very serious error. Here is a section from page six of his book.

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MacArthur’s interpretation of the Lord Jesus Christ’s teaching in Luke 9:23-26 reflects a common misunderstanding that has very serious implications. There is a disturbing spirit of arrogance about this way of interpreting our Lord’s teaching that leaves no blessing upon the heart of a believer. His argument would seem to be correct as he contrasts ‘what Christianity is all about’ against a view that could never be supported: ‘Christianity Lite’.

It is always easy to burn a straw man.

Unfortunately, just because the object of his disdain is false does not mean that his own understanding is correct.

The problem with MacArthur’s use of our Lord Jesus Christ’s teaching is that it burdens the people of God with something that they can never fulfill. It is so easy for teachers like MacArthur to say these things that necessarily perpetuates the burden of the Pharisees.

MacArthur is saying that in order to be a Christian you must deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and to follow Him. To adhere to this teaching necessarily means that you must be able to say that you have done it. You have denied yourself and you have taken up your cross. If you are not able to say this or have in any sense failed to do so, as MacArthur says, ‘It’s pretty simple….’, there is only one answer, you are not a Christian.

If one should answer that failures in the past can be forgotten and that what matters is what is present, then even in this there is a problem. Can you really say that you are presently denying yourself and taking up your cross, in order to meet this requirement? Do you not see how impossible it is to fulfill this way of understanding Jesus’ teaching and that it could only be considered “Fulfilled” by a method that is totally subjective and prone to every contrivance?

Again, if you are going to adhere to this sort of understanding then you need to lie in the bed that you have made for yourself.

To put this great error in its proper perspective we should consider just how great and awesome is our condemnation under the Law of God. It is complete folly to think for even the slightest moment, even as Christians, that we have fulfilled that complete holiness that is required by the Law of God. Paul severely rebukes the Galatians for listening to such teaching and says, ‘For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor’ [Galatians 2:18]. In other words, if we reject Jesus as our only righteousness and seek a salvation according to the flesh, which is to rebuild what we destroyed when we believed in Jesus, then all we will accomplish is a sentence of condemnation, as the Law will find us transgressors according to the flesh.

For more information about a right understanding of Jesus teaching and why such teaching is very serious error read my book, Take Up Your Cross: Our Only Power to Live and Walk by the Spirit.

 

John Calvin’s Serious Error on Self-Denial and Taking Up Our Cross

In John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, The Westminster Press (1960), (Edited by John T. McNeill, translated by F. L. Battles), there is serious error regarding the Lord Jesus’ teaching about denying ourselves and taking up our cross [Matthew 16:24].

Faith in Christ is not the sum of the Christian life, but denial of ourselves according to Calvin. John Calvin’s title for Book III, chapter VII, says, ‘The Sum of the Christian Life: The Denial of Ourselves.’

Is denial of self really the sum of the Christian life? It is most certainly a part of the Christian life, but is it the sum of it? To be the sum of the Christian life means that it is the most concise explanation of what it is to be a Christian. It is what is paramount, what is most essential, what is the very thing that defines us as Christians. The sum of the Christian life cannot be something that can merely be done in the flesh, which many monasteries are filled with.

Ironically, to make self-denial the sum of the Christian life is to fail to deny the very thing we must deny, our self-righteous.

For in making it the sum of the Christian life means that our self-denial is what makes us a Christian. It is this serious error by Calvin that has been so influential to Christians. It is not our denial of ourselves that defines us as Christians, but simply our faith in Jesus Christ. This is because no measure of self denial can equate to what we obtain when we put our faith in Jesus and His righteousness for us [Phil 3:7-9]! Paul the apostle said this about the sum of the Christian life: ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”’ [Romans 1:16,17]

Calvin taught that the righteous man shall live by denial of self!

In Calvin’s treatment of this denial of self he teaches that by denial of ourselves we will be shaped, so as to be acceptable to Him. By denial we lay the foundation to be in a right relationship with God. He says, ‘We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours.’ [3.7.1]

Calvin is not just saying that Christians should deny themselves for the cause of Christ, he is saying that our denial of self is the sum of what it means to be a Christian, that our denial determines if we are a Christian. We should think that we are not our own, but acts of self denial cannot make us right before God! Hence, the sum of the Christian life cannot be according to mere acts of denial throughout our life.

The problem with this is simply that it is putting the cart before the horse. It is by faith that we become a Christian and it is by faith that we live out the Christian life, which includes acts of self-denial. There is no emphasis on faith under this section that Calvin says is the sum of the Christian life. He is placing denial of self as the foundation instead of faith.

In 3.7.2 he says, ‘This, then, is that denial of self which Christ enjoins with such great earnestness upon his disciples as the outset of their service [cf. Matt. 16:24]. When it has once take possession of their hearts, it leaves no place at all first either to pride, or arrogance, or ostentation; then either to avarice, or desire, or lasciviousness, or effeminacy, or to other evils that our self-love spawns [cf II Tim. 3:25]’.

He, of course, goes on and on. The point of objection that I am making here is that Calvin attributes self-denial as the means by which Jesus’ disciple then can be rid of what is sinful in their lives. If we listen to this carefully what then is the difference to listening to a Pharisee instructing us to obtain the godly life but by acts of self-denial?

He then goes on in 3.8.1-11 explaining how we can understand bearing the cross. The eighth chapter is titled: ‘Bearing The Cross: A Part of Self-Denial.’ He says ‘that each must bear his own cross [Matt. 16:24]’ and he renders it a thing that can be equated to things in our lives. He says that as Christ endured suffering so we must. He says, ‘It is the Heavenly Father’s will thus to exercise them so as to put his own children to a definite test. Beginning with Christ, his first-born, he follows this plan with all his children.’

The problem with this is not that God disciplines His children or that Christians are called to a life of self-denial, but that Calvin uses Jesus’ teaching to burden the people of God by equating cross-bearing with mere acts of self-denial and suffering found in their imperfect lives.

Calvin constructs a burdensome view of Jesus’ teaching by placing the people of God ‘under a continual cross’ that is never completely fulfilled [3.8.2]. No amount of self-denial and suffering can exhaust all that is corrupt in our flesh. Even if we are hung upon a literal cross, it is still only our sinful flesh upon a cross that merits us nothing.

According to Calvin, the cross that Jesus said we had to take up in order to come after Him becomes whatever is a trial in our life, if properly submitted to, and is then said by Calvin as that which removes what is sinful and diminishes any confidence in our flesh.

How is this not Roman Catholicism?

Why listen to John Calvin when we can learn the right way of understanding Jesus’ great teaching by studying Paul the Apostle?

Here is John Calvin’s opening up of Jesus’ great statement: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” and he has not opened up what Paul taught on the subject!

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

Paul understood Jesus’ teaching as referring to being crucified with Christ and that this singular event had ongoing and marvelous implications for his life in Christ. Calvin did not understand this.

To understand how Paul the Apostle understood Jesus’ teaching about denying ourselves and taking up our cross, read my book, Take Up Your Cross: Our Only Power to Live and Walk by the Spirit.

 

How To Find a New Pastor

There is a pervasive problem in our modern day among evangelical churches. The problem is in finding a pastor.

It should not be this difficult or take so long, nor should there be so many churches without pastors. The reason that this is such a huge problem for churches is simply because they are going about it all wrong. It has become a secular pursuit, in which the man of God must subject himself to worldly methods of seeking employment. Do you want a man of God or someone who can apply for an executive position?

If you want a true man of God do not say that you are looking for a man who can do something secular, such as, ‘you will fit in if you are into hunting’.

John 12:20,21 Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

If you are a true church then you are wanting a minister of the gospel that will minister in such a way that you will see Jesus. A true minister will proclaim: ‘For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake’ [2 Corinthians 4:5].

What to Specify in Your Prayers for a Pastor

It is without a doubt that prayer is the most important thing in finding a pastor. That should go without saying, but there is something else that should be a given. It is what to specifically pray about in looking for a pastor.

What I am referring to relates to an underlying issue that is part of a larger problem among churches. So many churches are in such a fix simply because they have become termination points or solitary mountains instead of being what Jesus intended. I am referring to being places where pastors are born.

  • If the previous pastor did not mentor men for the ministry then it is no wonder why your church is in this situation
  • If the church has made too much of one man and it is too big for any man in the assembly to occupy the role, then this can only mean one thing

It means that your church is not a biblical Christian ministry. What is needed by such a church is a tearing down of what is political and replacing it with what is biblical. The reason this problem is so pervasive is that so many pastors are threatened by other men taking the ministry away from them and they worry about how the pulpit time will be shared.  When men prophesied at the tent of meeting and Joshua said that they should be restrained, Moses was not filled with such carnal worry.

Numbers 11:29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORDS people were prophets, that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!”

Consider these texts as well: Mark 9:38-40; Phil. 2:19-22].

When we construct an unbiblical ministry it necessarily becomes impossible for God to answer our prayers that such a church should have the pastor of His choosing. If you do obtain a new pastor of the same sort of ministry, when he leaves, and he will eventually, you will be where you are now, but all over again!

Christian ministry should really be very simple and never facing this problem, let alone a pervasive problem. If you find your church stuck in this rut then do this and God will answer your prayer for a new pastor. Take on board the biblical way of churches being places where pastors are born and take it before the Lord of the harvest [Matthew 9:36-38]. Make it a matter of purpose, that as a church you are saying to the Lord that you only want a pastor who will fulfil this mandate from God, and God will send such a pastor to you.

Pray for what God wants and then you will obtain what only God can provide.

Think about it. Satan wants churches to become dysfunctional in raising up ministers of the Word. He has been so successful that just about any mega church that loses its pastor is not able to fulfill the role from within its own large membership! This should cause us to stop and think. The reason no man from the membership can occupy the position is simply because the former pastor has made himself so important and he has not done what is biblical. Ironically, by failing to raise men up for the same position, the former pastor has rendered his own lasting usefulness to be of significant doubt.

The same dysfunctionality is found in small rural churches. Why was it not considered important that other men in the small assembly should be trained for the ministry? This is why so many rural churches die, simply because they have lost sight of how important every work is and how essential it is to the vision and health of every church. Everyone in the church participates in a man of God being made ready to do the ministry and this communicates significance and gospel participation for everyone in the church.

Anticipate in Faith that He Has Already Answered the Need

Is there not a young David among you, though “inexperienced”? Is there not a man among you whom the Lord can use, even as he looks to the Lord to enable him to provide for his young household and their spiritual wellbeing? Is there not a seasoned saint in the assembly, that though the world says he is retired, he is able to edify the people of God? Cannot all of these labor together and strengthen one another to the fulfilment of the Christian ministry?

What ever happened to having faith in God? Is God distant? Does not God provide by means that often surprises us? Has He not already provided for the church’s need? Maybe what is really needed is that greater faith to see it?

Mark 11:24 Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.

What makes a man able for the ministry is not a piece of paper, though biblical training may be of some help, but it is the support of the people of God that makes all the difference. The man of God is the arrow, the congregation the bow. They both need each other! Even Jesus could not do many works in His home town because of the people’s unbelief [Matthew 13:53-58].

A Few Other Texts of Scripture

Mark 6:4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.”

1 Samuel 16:6,7 When they entered, he looked at Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORDS anointed is before Him.” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

Titus 1:5-9 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you, namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion.  For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.

 

The Real Answer to Resisting Temptation

Nothing seems to work. You are at the end of yourself. You have had some success but you know that eventually you will fall again to temptation and you just don’t know what to do about it.

Is the Christian life a joke? A hopeless endeavor that only some can do, but not yourself?

If you are thinking like this and you are loathing yourself because of your failures, I know exactly how you feel. I am well acquainted with failure after failure and knowing complete discouragement and a sense of hopelessness.

I tell you the truth, there is a real answer to resisting temptation. Yes, I am presently experiencing such wonderful and real power to walk by the Spirit. Truly, my life now is like the miracle of walking on water. I want you to know this miracle in your life as well!

My answer is only useful to born again, bible believing, evangelical Christians. You know Jesus, you love Jesus, and if He were to suddenly appear before you, you would weep unceasingly before His loving countenance because you do not want to sin against Him.

What I am going to tell you you may think you have heard before. Please hear the answer and then patiently pursue a deeper understanding of it. It may take some time for you to truly get it. The Lord showed it to me in 2014 and it took a few years before I could say that I had truly learned how to put it into use. It is a spiritual answer that requires the exercise of faith and that is where weakness and understanding will impact your success.

I have written a book on this subject, but though I am going to give you the answer now, you may benefit from reading the book.

The Answer: the real power to resist temptation is for you to hear with faith what has happened to you upon your conversion.

Galatians 5:24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

When faced with temptation exercise faith in the truth that you have been crucified with Christ. Though you may feel all sorts of passions and desires, within your flesh tempting you to sin, you are to hear with faith that those same lusts have been crucified with Christ when you became a Christian.

My book explains what it means to walk by the Spirit and will provide you the understanding that you need so that you will know how to walk by the Spirit. You will then be able to say that you are walking by the Spirit. You will know victory and that blessed relief from your fleshly passions and desires.

My book is called Take Up Your Cross: Our Only Power to Live and Walk By The Spirit.

 

There is Only One Thing that Makes Us Disciples of Jesus Christ

There is a profound ignorance that is pervasive among evangelical Christians regarding what makes us disciples.

First of all, what does the word disciple mean? It simply means anyone who is following Jesus and has learned of Him. The Greek word is transliterated as mathétés and is pronounced math-ay-tes. It is where we get the word math from, showing its roots in learning.

The profound ignorance that I am speaking of is not regarding the definition of the word. The problem is in understanding what makes us a disciple.

Commentaries, books on the teachings of the Lord Jesus, and sermon after sermon address the subject of discipleship and even the publishers of our bibles, with their inserted headings over passages, do so with a commonly held position on what makes us a disciple that is wrong.

They assert that in order to be a disciple of Jesus we need to be committed, to make a choice, to count the cost, to walk the walk, to lay down our lives…to do something.

Is this what makes us a disciple?

Have we all forgotten about Peter?

John 13:36-38 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.” Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.”

Here was total commitment and can we say that we will do any better? Popular teachers will tell you so from their comfortable positions. It is so easy for any man to say that he will not deny Jesus, but it is not so easy to actually do it. While it is most certainly true that we must not deny Him, as with Peter, this is not what makes us a disciple. The problem with the common understanding is that all that we can do with this position is to make useless commitments, which will fail us.

We need an answer for what makes us a disciple that is true, not something that is rooted in a confidence in the flesh. Our discipleship must be founded upon something that is a solid foundation, not something that can change.

Let us consider a few teachings of our Lord Jesus that I believe are misunderstood regarding the subject of discipleship and then I will provide what I believe is the only answer.

Luke 14:25-35 Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.

For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’

Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.

So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

My NASB has the heading ‘Discipleship Tested’ over this passage. Jesus’ teaching is not about discipleship being tested, He is speaking of a necessary foundation for true discipleship.

When He speaks of hating our family, even our very self, He is speaking of a necessary conversion, not a work that we must fulfil. When Jesus says, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” He is not saying that by acts of martyrdom we become His disciple. He is saying that we become a disciple when we spiritually apply His teaching to our lives [Galatians 2:20; 5:24; 6:14]. That spiritual teaching, when believed in, results in our conversion.

We have to understand that Jesus is speaking to an audience so entrenched in their identity as Jews, immersed in a thinking that would find the idea of a conversion an offense to their already assumed position as the children of God.

Notice Jesus’ two examples that support His teaching. One is of a man who would build a tower, the other of a king who would wage war against another king. The emphasis on both is what they have at the outset. There is something that needs to be right at the beginning. He who builds is to consider if he has enough supplies, he who wars to consider if he has enough strength. Both for the same end, to accomplish or finish what has been purposed.

Our text says in verse 25 that ‘large crowds were going along with Him’ and Jesus would have them all to understand that there is only one thing that will make them a true and lasting disciple. How we begin will determine how we end. Moralism will end in mere moralism. True conversion will end in true salvation.

Jesus confirms this after His two examples when He says, “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” Salvation is not determined by what we put in an offering box, but it is determined by a conversion made up of renouncing a false position before God that is manifested by idols and tokens of merit. In other words, the possessions that Jesus speaks of are things deeper than coins, houses, and clothes, though they certainly can include them. He goes on to explain that if our salt is tasteless it is useless. Meaning, if what we have at the outset is without value it will fail us.

Going back to Peter, no measure of commitment can prevent us from denying Jesus and no mere willingness to carry our cross will make us disciples. No, we must have it said of us at the outset that we have carried our cross if we are to finish well. Something must be true of us at the beginning and this alone will say we are His disciples.

Here is another passage that has been misunderstood: the rich young ruler.

Luke 18:18-27 A ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’” And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. And Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” They who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But He said, “The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.”

Jesus is not teaching us that we must give away all that we own in order to be saved. He is saying that we must give away all of our self-righteousness if we are to have eternal life. Jesus has simply shown to the rich young ruler that he has not kept the Law as he arrogantly thought. His command to him to sell all that he possessed was for the purpose of showing that he was covetous.

The one thing that would have made the rich young ruler a disciple of Jesus was repentance and faith and that alone is our answer.

The only thing that makes us a disciple of Jesus Christ is our conversion by means of repentance and faith. This is the only right beginning, the only foundation of being a disciple. Discipleship is not a rehabilitation program, it is being in Christ and living out the power of His death and resurrection in our lives.

Read my book Take Up Your Cross: Our Only Power to Live and Walk by the Spirit. On page 7, I have written, ‘Our discipleship is to be grounded in our conversion and we must avoid thinking of our discipleship as something in addition to or separate from our conversion. Discipleship is a result of our conversion and has no life separate from our conversion. Our discipleship does not determine our salvation. Rather, our salvation determines our discipleship.’

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is an Enemy of Christ

Throughout my life as a Christian I would see Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s books, and books about him, in Christian bookstores. Everyone can easily observe how popular he is. I wondered why, but never read any of his writings. He is considered one of the most popular teachers of our age, even among evangelicals.

It is amazing to realize just how much Bonhoeffer has influenced Evangelical Christians, particularly regarding discipleship. Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship is counted his most widely read book.

I am amazed that so many evangelicals love this man. I am amazed because when I thought I would have look at this man’s teaching I found within only half an hour that he advocated doctrines that are clearly against Evangelical Christianity. Some evangelicals are beginning to admit that this is the case. Nevertheless, his impact upon bible believing Christians has had lasting harmful effects. While some may ignore his denial of a literal creation, of the inerrancy of Scripture, and of personal conversion, they love what he has to say about the cost of discipleship.

Bonhoeffer is complicated in his arguments and this helps him to disguise his false position.

Jesus said to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees [Matt 16:6,11,12]. If there was ever anyone to whom we should apply Jesus’ warning, it is Bonhoeffer.  Sure enough, many men like Bonhoeffer have had a harmful influence upon Evangelical Christians, but few as many as Bonhoeffer. As his writing is academic, it is particularly his influence upon Evangelical Christian leaders that his errors have had the most impact, which unfortunately has necessarily impacted those under their ministry.

Of particular importance is the costly impact of his book The Cost of Discipleship, in which he advocates a works-orientated view of Jesus’ teaching that we must deny ourselves and take up our cross.

Underlying Bonhoeffer’s approach to discipleship is the fundamental denial of the conversion experience among Evagelical Christians. He loathed the idea that by faith in the gospel message a person could have a conversion experience that then made that person a disciple of Christ.

There is constantly repeated in The Cost of Discipleship a different way of being a disciple, in contrast to a conversion by faith in Jesus Christ.

Some Quotes from Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship

  • The response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus. [p. 57]
  • It is only the call of Jesus which makes it a situation where faith is possible. [p. 63]
  • …only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes. [p. 63]
  • For faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience.  [p. 64]
  • In the one case faith is the condition of obedience, and in the other obedience the condition of faith. In exactly the same way in which obedience is called the consequence of faith, it must also be called the presupposition of faith. Only the obedient believe. [p. 64]
  • …we must boldly assert that the step of obedience must be taken before faith can be possible. Unless he obeys, a man cannot believe. [p. 66]
  • The gracious call of Jesus now becomes a stern command: Do this! Give up that! Leave the ship and come to me! When a man says he cannot obey the call of Jesus because he believes, or because he does not believe, Jesus says: “First obey, perform the external work, renounce your attachments, give up the obstacles which separate you from the will of God. Do not say you have not got faith. You will not have it so long as you persist in disobedience and refuse to take the first step. [p. 67]
  • No one wants to know about your faith or unbelief, your orders are to perform the act of obedience on the spot. Then you will find yourself in the situation where faith becomes possible and where faith exists in the true sense of the word. [p. 67]
  • The actual call of Jesus and the response of single-minded obedience have an irrevocable significance. By means of them Jesus calls people into an actual situation where faith is possible….it is only through actual obedience that a man can become liberated to believe. [p. 83]
  • If our exegesis is truly evangelical, we shall realise that we cannot identify ourselves altogether with those whom Jesus called, for they themselves are part and parcel of the Word of God in the Scriptures, and therefore part of the message….It would be a false exegesis if we tried to behave in our discipleship as though we were the immediate contempories of the men whom Jesus called….It is neither possible nor right for us to try to get behind the Word of the Scriptures to the events as they actually occurred. [p. 84]
  • We must not do violence to the Scriptures by interpreting them in terms of an abstract principle, even if that principle be a doctrine of grace. [p. 84]

Bonhoeffer advocates a discipleship based upon a mystical call that creates a situation in which faith becomes possible. He says that we are not to obtain our own discipleship from the Word of God, not from a principle according to a doctrine of grace, but only through some unique experience of our own, as we are obedient to that call.  In order to be counted a true disciple we must be obedient to our unique call. It is a perfection based upon a faith in response to circumstances in our lives, rather than a perfection based solely upon faith in Jesus.

In short, Bonhoeffer teaches that one is a Christian because of how good we practice our discipleship. He rejects a conversion that then becomes the only basis of being a disciple.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is an enemy of Christ.

In another work Bonhoeffer said, ‘It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life.’ He wrote this in his Letters and Papers from Prison.  He was contrasting mere high church ritual to what he saw as a matter of practice upon the field of this world. Yes, it is true that religious acts do not make us Christians, but neither does participation in suffering.

So where does Bonhoeffer go wrong with Jesus’ teaching on taking up our cross and how has this adversely impacted Evangelical Christians?

Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”

Bonhoeffer is fundamentally and seriously wrong regarding what Jesus meant by our denial and by our taking up of our cross and this has significantly influenced Evangelical Christians.

Bonhoeffer on Denial

He wrote, ‘To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us.’

There is a reason why Bonhoeffer is so popular. There is a delusion or a spell he crafts upon the reader. One must be careful and discerning in reading Bonhoeffer. Evangelicals do not usually read Roman Catholics and Lutherans who write beautiful images of spiritual devotion that are nothing more than beautiful gardens of death. It all sounds so spiritual and on the surface seems to be something that could not possibly have anything wrong with it.

The problem with Bonhoeffer’s teaching about denial is that it fails to deny what needs to be denied. Ironically, Bonhoeffer is actually promoting a view that is the very thing that we should be denying. Notice that it is impossible to not see our self as he says. It is an imaginary concept of self-denial that is vague and mystical.

Satan would have everyone imbibe this “self-denial” in which we conveniently fail to focus on what we are to deny about ourselves. Again, it sounds so spiritual to ‘be aware only of Christ’ and to not see ourself or to not be aware of self. Bonhoeffer is putting a delusion upon evangelicals (though he has another target audience). Never are we to have some sort of out-of-body experience in which we are no longer aware of self. On the contrary, we are to deny a self that we have a clear and full view of.

In order to fulfill Jesus’ teaching what is required is not a lack of awareness of self, but rather, a profound awareness of self and what we are to deny.

Paul the apostle teaches us a denial that is specific and concrete. Paul is very clear about what he is denying.

Philippians 3:7-9 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith….

Paul understood Jesus to be saying that if we wish to come after Him we must have this denial of self. A profound denial of any trust in ourselves as that which gives us a basis of a right standing before God. Paul was once like Bonhoeffer, trusting in a perfect discipleship according to the flesh, but then Paul renounced all of that as loss for the sake of his conversion in Christ and a resting alone in the righteous standing that he obtained by being in Christ.

Like Paul we need a denial that is a biblical view of ourselves, as being without any merit, so that we can by faith rightly take hold of a true discipleship. The very thing we need to specifically deny is what is according to the flesh, a salvation by works, and all that is mere self-righteousness.

On the one hand, Bonhoeffer would have us merely become oblivious of the self that we are to deny. He wrote, ‘Only when we have become completely oblivious of self are we ready to bear the cross for his sake.’ This is not only impossible, but unbiblical. Consider that the Lord commanded us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves [Lev 19:18]. We are to love others with the awareness of how we love ourselves, not with a lack of awareness of how we love ourselves.

On the other hand, Bonhoeffer’s spiritualized denial of self, by means of an assumed ability to be oblivious of self, is the blindness of hypocrisy. This supra spiritual state that Bonhoeffer promotes is really an infatuation with a sense of merit that comes from making such a “denial” of self. “Oh, how spiritual my self is because I am oblivious of self and am aware only of Christ.”

Philippians 3:18-19 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.

Paul is talking about men like Bonhoeffer. Men who walk in the name of Christ but promote doctrines that are against Him. As Paul said at the beginning of Philippians 3, ‘Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh….’

The word ‘appetite’ is literally belly. Meaning, that these men are fleshly in their doctrine. The same word is used in the passage just below.

Romans 16:17-18 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.

Bonhoeffer on Taking Up Our Cross

How then is Bonhoeffer an enemy of Christ regarding Jesus’ teaching that we are to take up our cross?

Bonhoeffer wrote,’The cross means sharing the suffering of Christ to the last and to the fullest. Only a man thus totally committed in discipleship can experience the meaning of the cross.’

How can any evangelical read this and not be alarmed? Are those who promote Bonhoeffer without any sense at all?

Any true Christian knows that it is not our experiences that make us Christians, but Jesus Christ alone. Bonhoeffer would have us esteem the pitiful experiences of our life as that which transports us into true discipleship.

Bonhoeffer goes on, ‘The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death–we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise godfearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.’

If this doesn’t sound like error to you, then please let me explain. He is saying that by means of a discipleship under Christ, in which we continually experience various crosses, we fulfill Jesus’ words. By means of discipleship we become saved. By means of repeating over and over again all those little crosses in our life can we say that we have begun in our discipleship and in the same we maintain our discipleship. This is works righteousness and will necessarily burden us. When will we ever fulfill a sufficient taking up of our cross to say that we are truly disciples of Christ under this sort of teaching?

Galatians 6:14 But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Paul has only one cross in which he boasts, not lots of little insignificant crosses that Bonhoeffer would have us boast in. It is no wonder that Bonhoeffer denies personal conversion for this sort of Christianity. It is about a way of being a Christian that is built upon our own man made cross. Paul provides for us the true means of being separated from the world and its ways. Paul boasts only in the cross of Christ!

The serious error of Bonhoeffer is that he takes Jesus’ teaching and makes it a way to be counted a Christian by equating suffering in our life to taking up our cross. He writes, ‘But how is the disciple to know what kind of cross is meant for him? He will find out as soon as he begins to follow his Lord to share his life. Suffering, then, is the badge of true discipleship.’

Where does it say that suffering is the badge of true discipelship anywhere in the bible?

Dwight L. Moody wrote, ‘Love is the badge that Christ gave His disciples. Some put on one sort of badge and some another. Some put on a strange kind of dress, that they may be known as Christians, and some put on a crucifix, or something else, that they may be known as Christians. But Love is the only badge by which the disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ are known. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).’

Bonhoeffer does put on a strange dress. He then wrote, ‘If we refuse to take up our cross and submit to suffering and rejection at the hands of men, we forfeit our fellowship with Christ and have ceased to follow him.’ While it most certainly true that our profession of faith will result in suffering at the hands of those who reject Jesus, what Bonhoeffer is doing is to equate ‘taking up our cross’ to our experience of suffering. He is saying that we can say we are taking up our cross as we experience suffering. This creates bondage and confusion. His vague application of what this means necessarily burdens the people of God.

Jesus said that in order to be saved we must take up our cross. So in order to be saved, according to Bonhoeffer, we must suffer. If you are not suffering you are not taking up your cross and cannot be counted a disciple of Jesus. Again, he is rejecting the conversion experience in which a person becomes a Christian because of faith in Jesus. Bonhoeffer is wrong. When a person believes in Jesus they are born again. They have become saved and now they are to walk by the same means in which they became a Christian [Gal. 5:25; Col. 2:6]. They are not to see their discipleship as something that saves them, but rather, that because they are saved they now have a discipleship that can be lived out, in the power that is in Jesus.

Bonhoeffer has made the common experience of Christians, namely suffering, to be a thing that determines whether or not we are a disciple of Jesus Christ. This is serious error and is to be absolutely rejected. Many suffer because of doing wrong [2 Peter 2:13]. Others wrongly think that because they suffer persecution that this proves that they are God’s chosen people, such as the Mormons and other cults. Furthermore, what then can we say of ourselves if we are not suffering at some particular time? Christians go through all sorts of experiences and yet we must understand that our experiences, whether good or bad, do not in themselves say if we are truly saved.

Instead of Bonhoeffer’s view of a vague denial of self and a never fulfilled taking up of our cross, we should hear Paul the apostle. Paul understood that Jesus’ teaching about denying ourselves and taking up our cross was about our conversion, not our ongoing discipleship. In other words, it is about denying what Bonhoeffer would have us make an idol of, ourselves, and it is about being crucified with Christ, which alone puts to death our sinful self.

If you would like more information about what Jesus meant when He taught that we must deny ourselves and take up our cross in order to be saved, then please read my book: Take Up Your Cross: Our Only Power to Live and Walk by the Spirit,