When Jesus called people to follow Him, what did they understand they were saying Yes to? And if we are calling people to something different than Jesus was, are we inviting people to be a real Christian – or something else? We don’t very often talk about the cost of following Jesus. But Jesus wasn’t timid about talking about it.
When people in the church talk about people getting saved, what are we talking about? Too often it seems some combination of selling fire insurance and membership in a social club. Say this prayer, and you won’t go to hell. And you can be an “insider,” one of those people who get entertained on Sunday morning. Jesus is here to solve your problems, and give you your best life now.
Oh, and you might become as self-righteous and prickly as we are.
That’s certainly an incomplete and overdramatized description, and hopefully not at all the way things are in your church. But wouldn’t that be the perception many “out there” get by listening to many Christians?
So again, when Jesus called people to follow Him, what were they saying Yes to?
Saying Yes to Following Jesus
I can’t imagine Peter and Andrew, or James and John, thinking Jesus was inviting them to simply gain entrance into heaven, or to experience peace and happiness. Those things are benefits of following Jesus, but that wasn’t the selling proposition Jesus presented. He was clear that becoming His disciple would cost them something. Everything.
“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27-33)
The disciples who first said Yes to following Jesus would have understood that He was calling them to a wild and uncertain life. Jesus would challenge all their previous assumptions and turn their previous values upside down. Miraculous, yes! But also often dangerous, putting them at odds with society in just about every way.
The 3000 who joined the Way after hearing Peter on the Day of Pentecost – yes, forgiveness of sins was a big issue. But they also knew that following Jesus was upending the life they knew. Far from making life more pleasant, life would in may ways get seriously more difficult.
For the next couple hundred years, the early Christians had nothing of the “good life” to offer. Becoming a Christian came to involve a 2-3 year course of study, discipleship, deliverance, and training. The leaders knew there was a good chance that person they were discipling would one day be hauled in front of the authorities and be faced with a choice; pledge allegiance to Caesar and live, or proclaim Jesus is Lord and be killed. That’s what they were training would-be Christians for.
The Cost of Following Jesus Today
During my seminary training I shared some classes with a woman who had grown up in Romania during the days of Nicolae Ceaușescu. The small band of Christians her family was a part of was betrayed by her best friend, arrested, and some did not survive. She eventually emigrated to Australia and then the United States, and was stunned at the complacency of Christians in the West. “Following Jesus doesn’t cost you anything!”
You know that in many parts of the world today following Jesus is costly, even life-threatening. We pray for and stand with our fellow Christians who are suffering persecution. And it’s in some of those most difficult places where the family of God is growing most rapidly.
I do not pray for persecution, although the church in the West will likely look very very different when that time does come. But I am concerned about what we are inviting people into. Seeker-friendly and convenient is not bad in itself. But is it inviting people into real Christianity?
Our Personal Cost
Regardless of the political climate, each of us is called to face our own personal cost of following Jesus. It may or may not be disdain or persecution from those around us. But it is always costly. Following Jesus is not just some pretty screensaver on our lives; Jesus always intended following Him to be revolutionary.
For some, following Jesus might mean turning your back on material riches, as it would have meant for one young man Jesus invited to follow Him (Matthew 19:20-22). For others, it might mean risking family members’ displeasure (Matthew 19:29). And for others, it might mean a radically different way of handling their sexuality, or a change in vocation, or giving up one’s right to revenge.
I talk and write regularly about living Fully Alive. And Jesus does promise an abundant life (John 10:10). But that life is not without cost, steep cost. External circumstances, comfort, or pleasure do not determine the “success” of living for Jesus.
Jim Elliott, missionary murdered by the Quechua Indians of Ecuador who he had come to help, wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
And whatever your cost of truly following Jesus, it’s nothing in comparison to the “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)
Your Turn: Has following Jesus cost you anything? Would you invite Jesus to speak to you about anything He may be inviting you to let go of to follow Him? Leave a comment below.
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- Following Jesus is not fire insurance or a social club. There is always a cost to truly follow Jesus. Have you reckoned with the cost? Tweet that.
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