“Grasping the Gospel” (In an Age of Discount Discipleship)

Part Three: “Counting the Cost”

Matthew 16:24-25 (NIV) “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.’”

Vincent van Gogh lived less than forty years in the nineteenth century. Yet the Dutch artist created more than two thousand works of art. He was a remarkable genius whose life was touched dramatically by an unknown instructor. The late Dr. William Nigel Kerr was a Professor of mine at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. Professor Kerr, an eminent historian, used to tell a fascinating story about Vincent van Gogh. It seems the very young man van Gogh was not always highly motivated. At one point, his instructor addressed the young artist regarding his efforts. He was quoted as saying to him: “You have great talent. But talent is cheap. Dedication is expensive. It will cost you everything you have!”

That statement might be a parallel insight for those considering the Gospel. Such a warning should be offered to everyone about to be baptized or make a fresh prayer commitment to Jesus and his Lordship. If great crowds come forward at a baptism where dozens, even hundreds, are invited to the sacrament, do they understand what they are doing? The event might be beautiful to see but one has to wonder … have they been adequately prepared for that commitment?

In pondering this, I recall the great missionary Adonirum Judson refusing to baptize people until he was certain they understood what following Christ would entail. He would not baptize until the one seeking Christ convinced him that he or she understood what true discipleship meant. Whether it be a prayer of receiving/accepting Jesus or a baptism, that moment must only come if the cost is fully embraced. Put another way … Christianity properly understood requires a willingness to give up … everything! But wait. What does that mean? Must we all take vows of poverty? No. But we must all be willing to pay the price. And the Holy Spirit sets the price!

Discount discipleship is that kind of Christian walk that costs nothing. It confuses salvation by grace with no expectations from God. It seems to think because we cannot save ourselves and must come by faith … that God expects nothing from us in response after we are saved …by faith. In reality, we are to deny ourselves not to get saved but because we are saved! But that will work differently for each of us. Consider that unsettling account found in Matthew Chapter Eight. Several disciples have been walking along with Jesus and listening to him. Remember, a disciple is a “student” not necessarily a genuine Christian. In other places, we see some disciples turn away from Jesus (see John Chapter Six.) Consider Luke Chapter Nine: We read:

Luke 9:57-58 (NIV) “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’”

Quite a bold statement. “Wherever you go!?” Really? How would he know where Jesus might go? Is he prepared as Abraham was to leave his family and his connections and just “go?” (see Genesis 12) In other words, it is easy to say, “I’ll follow you anywhere you go!” But Jesus does not give the man a high five. Rather, he says this:

58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Jesus just told the man that he doesn’t know where he will sleep and live and, by implication, he does not know if he will have life’s most basic provisions. It’s as if Jesus is saying “You’re sure you want to do this?” It’s as if Jesus just said, “It will cost you everything you have!” We are not sure what that man did next. Then we read:

Luke 9:59-60 (NIV) “He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ But the man replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’”

The man’s request was very reasonable especially for the oldest son in a family, which may have been the case with this fellow. In that position, a son was supposed to stay near his father as long as necessary until the father passed on. Then he would be free to leave. As with Abraham, Jesus is saying that can be set aside. His response is certainly abrupt:

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Startling! The lost are spiritually dead! Proclaiming the Gospel is far more important than even your family responsibilities! This is consistent with our Lord saying:

Matthew 10:37 (NIV) “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me…”

Not sure what that man did after that. Again, it’s as if Jesus just said, “It will cost you everything you have!” It seems that Jesus wants nothing to do with discount disciples. Then finally, a third man makes what seems to be a simple and reasonable request, but he is rebuked. We read:

Luke 9:61-62 (NIV) “Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.’”

He is like most of us. Certainly me. It’s as if he is saying “Ok Jesus…I’m with you. But I have a requirement that I think you will appreciate.” But no.

62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Once again, “It will cost you everything you have!” If you look back, you will fail in the journey. It will mean that like Lot’s wife, you are longing for what you have left! Do you three really want this? To have nowhere to sleep and to let someone else bury your father and to leave your family even without a polite “Good-bye?”

This is very challenging. Question: What has following Jesus cost me? Cost you? What might it cost us in the future?

Next: “Counting the Cost”

Peace. Pastor Alberta

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