It was this calling that Dietrich Bonhoeffer heard. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer wrote, “When God calls a man, He bids him (to) come and die.”
Bonhoeffer knew whereof he spoke. He was a rising academic, a promising theologian and a german pastor. His promising academic and ecclesiastical career was dramatically altered with Nazi ascension to power on January 30, 1933. He was a determined opponent of the regime from its first days. Two days after Hitler was installed as Chancellor, Bonhoeffer delivered a radio address attacking Hitler, in which he warned Germany against slipping into an idolatrous cult of the Führer (leader), who could very well turn out to be Verführer (mis-leader, or seducer). He was cut off the air in the middle of a sentence. He eventually started an underground seminary in Germany, turning out pastors who were willing to stand against the complacency of the church in Germany
As restrictions and then persecutions came in waves upon European Jews, Bonhoeffer cried against it and warned the church and the German people of the emerging evil. But no one listened.
He had written that there were five deaths that a Christian must be willing to die: They were:
1. Death to Natural Relationships. During the days of the Third Reich, many pastors said that, personally, they would be willing to endure imprisonment or death, but they feared for their families. Hitler, you see, always used a man’s family as an inducement for absolute obedience. Bonhoeffer, refused to equivocate. He answered that our commitment to Christ should be so all-consuming that all natural affection must come under its authority. (Matthew 10:37)
2. There was death to Natural Relationships, and then Death to success. Bonhoeffer said, “Success is a veneer that covers only the emptiness of the soul.” Christians must die to natural relationships and to success, but then they must experience
3. Death to the flesh. All natural desires for gratification must be placed under the supremacy of the cross of Christ. Closely aligned with the death to the flesh was the . . .
4. Death to the love of money. Finally, a believer was called even to
5. Physical death for Christ, should that be necessary.
In his case, it was. Because he secretly worked with an organization committed to rid Germany of the scourge of Hitler, he was discovered and sentenced to be hanged. At dawn on April 9, 1945, the sentence was carried out. The camp doctor who witnessed the execution wrote: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer ... kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.
Why was he so willing to die like that? Well it was because “When God calls a man, He bids him to come and die.”