The Cost of Discipleship - November 6, 2021
When I was a little boy, my mother and father frequently went to auctions. At one such auction in the late 90’s, a whole bunch of old computer equipment came up for sale: computer terminals with their green screens and keyboards, teletype terminals, piles of cables, and to top it off - a computer mainframe roughly the size of a kitchen stove. My father made the opening bid at $1, and nobody else put a bid in. At that time, this old stuff was obsolete junk that nobody wanted (even though 20 years later a lot of that would become “retro” and worth quite a bit). So he won the auction and brought home a room full of old computer equipment that he wasn’t quite sure what to do with.
That was something that cost practically nothing. By contrast, today we are talking about something that costs EVERYTHING: following Jesus.
Too often, following Jesus is made out to be like buying fire insurance: pray the prayer, sign on the dotted line and then you can go on your merry way just as before safe in the knowledge that you have been saved from the fires of hell. But this is a gross parody of what following Jesus is about!
But what do I mean by the expression “following Jesus”? You could also call it “being a Christian”, or the term the Bible often uses is being Jesus' disciple, and being a disciple is something kind of like being an an apprenctice - so in following Jesus we are effectively his apprentices.
In Luke 14, Jesus has large crowds following him. And rather than doing everything in his power to make them want to keep following him, he gives them, a warning that would almost certainly drive many of them away. He says: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and childeren, brothers and sisters - yes, even their own life - such a person cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26 NIV). Note that Jesus is not calling us to literal hatred of our family and life, but rather - as some commentators point out - our love for Jesus (who, let me remind you, is God made flesh) and the priority we give Him in our lives is to be so great that the love we have for family and even life itself looks like hatred by contrast. Reverend Willcock writes, “Jesus claims the subordination and, if necessary, the sacrifice of all other love to Himself, as the prime, indispensible condition of all discipleship,” and goes on to explain that we need to be ready “to sacrifice the tenderest of these [relationships] when they come in the way of our higher love to Christ.” So it is that following Jesus has the cost of giving Him our highest love and first priority in our lives, which in turn may well cost us some of our relationships here and now.
Jesus goes on to say, “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27 NIV). Since crucifixion was a daily reality in Jesus' time, his hearers would have immediately pictured a person beaten and bloodied and mutilated, stripped naked - or nearly so - being forced to then carry the wooden timber upon which they would shortly be nailed and hung, to the place of their execution. Thus, someone carrying their cross was - in all but the rarest of cases - someone who was about to die a grisley death: a dead man walking.
For many Christians around the world, both now and in the past, the threat of real physical death as a consequence of following Jesus is and was very real - and it is not a possibility we in the west can rule out, safe though things seem now. But beyond mere physical death, the Bible also talks about a more metaphorical death in which we die with Jesus to our evil, selfish desires and to our sin, and rise back up to new life in Him - a new life where our will, wishes and desires intentionally centre upon Jesus. Author Norval Goldenhuys sums it up well when he says “So, in a wider sense, the pronouncement of Jesus means that only the person who - for the sake of His service surrenders all self-seeking and abandons all striving after his own interests can be His disciple.”
So it is that following Jesus costs not only giving Him our highest love and first priority in our lives, not only potentially costs some of our earthly relationships, but also costs our very lives!
This is not something to be taken lightly, and so Jesus goes on to ask the crowd if any of them would start building a tower without first estimating the cost - because someone who builds just the foundation and then has to cancel the project for lack of funds looks like an idiot! Yet, is it so different for someone to begin following Jesus oblivious to what it costs, and then to give up entirely when the going inevitably gets tough? Such a thing is a tragedy!
Jesus then offers us another example to consider: that of a king who is about to be attacked by another king with an army twice the size of his own. In such a scenario Jesus asks if the king wouldn’t first figure out whether he could win with his smaller army, and if he could not win ask for terms of peace. To which Jesus adds, “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”
The king being attacked, in suing for peace, would naturally have had to be willing to give up or renounce his claims on everything he had, unconditionally surrendering to the opposing king. In the same way, Jesus is calling us to relinquish our hold on everything we have: our possessions, our careers, our dreams, our plans for the future - everything.
Sometimes, Jesus lets us keep these things once we have relinquished all our claims upon them, but sometimes he asks us to get rid of them - especially when those things lure us away from Him. For myself, I believe Jesus has asked me to get rid of a number of things in this season of life that were drawing me away from Him: He asked me to get rid of my home internet and my personal cell phone plan because of how those things opened the door to the sin of pornography which corrupted my heart and lead me away from Jesus. He asked me to get rid of my T.V., my video game console, and to put away my computers for now and be judicious in my work cell phone use because of how video games and endless hours of YouTube were gobbling up all of my time leaving nothing for Jesus. Yet, in comparison to the joy of knowing Him and being at peace with Him, those sacrifices have been well worth it.
So it is that following Jesus costs not only giving him our highest love and first priority in our lives, not only potentially costs some of our earthly relationships, not only costs our lives, but also costs us our claim and right to everything we have and hope to have - and may cost us some or all of those things in of themselves. Following Jesus - far from being a cheap one time prayer you say to avoid going to Hell, is a costly whole life committment.
So if you intend to follow Jesus, count the cost of doing so with care. Yet, also count the cost of going your own way and living like the rest of the world around you. For my money, the cost of following Jesus now is cheaper by far than the eternal costs of following the way of the world.
Yet we do not make these sacrifices by our own strength, nor in my experience all at once, for following Jesus is a process - a journey. Apart from the power of God poured into me, I cannot do any of it. But it is through God’s power, enabling me to surrender myself to Him and His will again and again, day after day, that I am able to begin to give what it takes to be Jesus' disciple.
Jesus closes by saying, “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor the manure pile; it is thrown out.” (Luke 14:34-35 NIV) The Christian life that is unwilling to embrace the high cost of discipleship is - I suspect - a life that has lost its saltiness. So watch out!
So what are you holding onto? What seems like too high a price to pay to follow Jesus? What are you reluctant to let go of? I challenge you to think about it… And I dare you to let go, or begin the process of letting go of those things that are holding you back from or are even leading you away from Jesus and from knowing the joy and peace that there is to be found in Him.