We sat at lunch yesterday and this young twenties, beautiful soul looks straight at me and says . . .
How come we always hear how salvation is free but we don’t hear much about what comes after—the cost of following Christ?
Over pizza we discuss theology and cover a lot of biblical terrain on the subject of salvation and discipleship. Jesus came to earth, died on the cross, and was resurrected to pay the price of our sin and break bondages so we could live life here to the fullest and inherit life ever after once our mortal bodies die. And He did this with no cost to us. But what is free for us cost Him his life.
And Scripture does not just emphasize salvation. Jesus emphasized discipleship. In his parting words to his disciples, Jesus gave these instructions:
Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:18-20
Jesus didn’t command that they make converts and quit. Jesus talked about the life-long process of discipleship—of becoming like Christ. And this was not an optional course. If one considered themselves born again by the Spirit, submission to Christ and a willingness to live God’s way was a requirement. Still is. And Jesus spoke plainly about the cost of discipleship. While salvation is free, discipleship costs us everything:
Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:33
Jesus even gave specific examples:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26-27
Too many disregard His words here because how could Jesus call us to love everyone and also call us to hate our relatives and even our own lives and to give up everything? Seems contradictory. But it isn’t. Jesus is calling us to renounce idols—attachments to anything or anyone that are greater than our attachment to God. Idol worshippers cannot be true God worshippers. Idol worshippers cannot be true disciples of Christ even if they claim salvation through Him. Even our attachments to good gifts from God must be kept in proper perspective. Why?
A.W. Tozer wrote in The Pursuit of God:
There is within the human heart a tough, fibrous root of fallen life whose nature is to possess, always to possess. . . . The roots of our hearts have grown down into things, and we dare not pull up one rootlet lest we die. Things have become necessary to us, a development never originally intended. God’s gifts now take the place of God, and the whole course of nature is upset by the monstrous substitution.
Certainly, we are to love others as Jesus loves, and we can appreciate and enjoy all God-given gifts, but we are not to elevate anything or anyone above Him in our hearts. When a choice must be made between opposing forces, we must choose Christ or we are not choosing discipleship.
In 1937 Dietrich Bonhoeffer attacked “easy Christianity” and “cheap grace” in his masterful book The Cost of Discipleship. He wrote that one cannot be a disciple of Christ without giving up things we all normally seek in life. Bonhoeffer was eventually executed by the Nazis. He paid the ultimate price for his unwavering devotion to Christ.
Most of us will not face execution like Bonhoeffer. So what does it mean to be a true disciple of Christ? It means to have a desire above all other desires to be like Christ. Jesus saves and we must do nothing but accept His free gift. However, He does not save us to keep living in sin apart from Him. That isn’t salvation at all. Salvation is free for us but the cost of becoming a disciple is high. Are we willing to pay the price? Are we willing to say yes to Christ when it means saying no to our most precious loves on earth? And we’re not talking just about material possessions. Clearly, Jesus put family relationships and our own lives on the list of allegiance renunciations when they come before allegiance to Him. God demands undivided hearts. He requires all of our devotion if we want to be true Christ disciples. Interestingly, the way of God is always good. For when we loosen our grip on even the good gifts from God and allow Him to maintain first place in our hearts, we find that we gain even more than we feared we might lose. Tozer writes:
The blessed ones who possess the Kingdom are they who have repudiated every external thing and have rooted from their hearts all sense of possessing . . . These blessed poor are no longer slaves to the tyranny of things. They have broken the yoke of the oppressor; and this they have done not by fighting but by surrendering. Though free from all sense of possessing, they yet possess all things. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Renunciation can feel like death sometimes.
There have been several points in my life where God clearly called me to take a stand with certain loved ones because to not do so would be the same as dethroning Him and enthroning loved ones. People who demand the throne are usually not happy about being usurped. And those we love the most are often the ones most capable of inflicting the greatest heart wounds. But though the flesh wails, the spirit soars when priorities are kept.
Over time, I have found that most loved ones settle down, accept their throne-less kingdom positions, and relationships not only resume but grow. There’s always risk though. Some discard relationship as easily as throwing out the daily trash and it hurts badly to find the only thing holding together relationship was strings. To discover we’re conditionally loved never feels good. But to keep up pretense of real relationship doesn’t feel good either.
Can we be alright with rejection? I doubt Jesus in flesh enjoyed rejection any more than we, but the fear of rejection and actual rejection never deterred Him from His purpose. His abnegation of all things that fought for the throne of His heart was clear. And if we are to be His true disciples, we are to be like Him, to become like Him. And this is the path to true life—to true freedom.
Dallas Willard, distinguished American philosopher and professor, writes about discipleship in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines by emphasizing that the much greater cost to us is always the cost of nondiscipleship:
Nondiscipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short, it costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10). The cross-shaped yoke of Christ is after all an instrument of liberation and power to those who live in it with him and learn the meekness and lowliness of heart that brings rest to the soul. . . . The correct perspective is to see following Christ not only as the necessity it is but as the fulfillment of the highest human possibilities and as life on the highest plane.
Willard is right. I try to always keep in mind that every choice of thought and action has a price and that conducting cost-benefit analyses is a wise exercise. So often, we think that one choice is free while another choice is costly. The reality is that every choice costs us something. Being the pragmatist that I am, I try to choose investments that give the greatest return with the smallest price in the long run.
Most people want cheap and fast. And the notion that we can have it all is false. Choice always implies sacrifice whether we recognize this truth or not. Unfortunately, many of us choose chronic pain—living in pain for long durations of time, repeating cycles of dysfunction—instead of choosing good pain, acute pain, in order to gain something better. When we begin to see the insanity of doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results—when we begin to realize the high price of keeping ourselves on the throne of our lives—often we become ready to submit to the truths of God which always bring about order and goodness in the end.
As harsh as it might sound to souls who want to be enthroned, the way up is always down, ultimately. Only in bending the knee of our hearts and learning to live life God’s way, the right way, with Him in His rightful place on the throne of our lives, will we be known by Jesus as His true disciples. Christ’s extravagant, costly grace covers our missteps along the way as His call to discipleship never ends.
“Follow me.” Jesus said to all who would be true disciples when He walked the earth.
“Follow me.” Jesus calls to all, still.