And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. (Mark 2:14 ESV)
Why would Levi (Matthew) do this? What does this verse teach us about discipleship? Jesus is the Christ (King) and He has the authority to call. Levi had a choice, as we have a choice. He could obey and follow or he could remain in his tax booth. There were no promises and no prerequisites.
Not even a path to faith, to discipleship, is aimed at; there is no other path to faith than obedience to Jesus’ call. – The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I think this is Bonhoeffer’s main point in this chapter. Discipleship is obedience and it is obedience that produces faith. It is very tempting to desire to think ourselves into faith. It doesn’t work. In this case the devil is in the details, in our thoughts. In Luke 9:57-62 three different men approach Jesus desiring to become disciples. They all have rational reasons for putting off following Him and Jesus dismisses them all.
The concept of a situation in which faith is possible is only a description of the reality contained in the following two statements, both of which are equally true: only the believers obey, and only the obedient believe. – The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
In Matthew 14:25-32 we find the story of Peter getting out of the boat to walk on the water. I have no idea why he wants to do this, but Peter does make a very important request. He asks Jesus to command him to get out of the boat. Jesus responds with the command, “Come.” Peter obeys, gets out of the boat and for a brief time with his eyes on Jesus grows his faith by doing the impossible. Peter believed and obeyed. At the same time Peter obeyed and believed. We want to put these in order or make it one or the other, but it really is both.
The other danger is that we want to define our works as obedience. If we’re honest, we know they aren’t. This is exactly the religious system that Luther reacted so strongly to. Religious works were being used to justify disobedience to Christ. We look back at those who were buying and selling indulgences and it is so obvious that neither party in these transactions was following Jesus by obeying Him. Yet, how many times have I read something in the Sermon on the Mount and told myself that Jesus couldn’t possibly mean what he said. What might happen if we heard the Sermon on the Mount as the commands of our King and simply obeyed?
On a quick personal note, attempting to summarize and simplify what Bonhoeffer is saying is very challenging. The exercise has been helpful to me, but I strongly encourage you to read his words yourself.