Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Costs of Following Jesus

One of the things I appreciate about Mark Dever's view of evangelism is his insistence that we tell people who are not yet Christians that it will be costly to follow Jesus, but it's worth it. As preachers and evangelists, we can be guilty of stressing the "worth it" aspects of following Jesus, while feel the pressure to share honestly the costs of following the Lord.

When Mark talks about the costs of following Jesus, he is, of course, only paraphrasing the Lord's own teaching. When one teach of the Law cried out, "Teacher, I will follow you anywhere you go." The Lord didn't grow giddy with the thought of "one more" in his corner. He told the man to count the cost in these words: "Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of man has no place to lay his head" (Matt. 8:18-19). Which basically means "welcome to a life of homelessness and costly sacrifice."

Even more explicitly, the Lord discusses the cost of following him in Luke 14, where he says:
"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. 27And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 29For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'

31"Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

Giving up everything is a consequent part of following the Lord Jesus. Bonhoeffer's famous words ring true: "The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ" (Cost of Discipleship, p. 51). And, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." Death and cost-paying are constituent parts of discipleship.

Now, I don't suppose many readers of this post will have difficulty with the truth of these words, even if we all experience the difficulty of living these words. Dying is a hard process. And for many Christians, the subjective experience of that death which leads to life may properly be called "excruciating"--both for its pain and for its cross-related reality.

One thing I've noticed in my own young pastoral ministry is I've not given enough thought to cost-paying. What I mean more specifically is I've glimpsed something of the reality of these words in the lives of men and women who have by God's grace been converted to faith in Christ, who are following Him as best they know how, and who are paying a cost to do so. It's not as though they want to avoid the cost and solely experience the "worth it" of discipleship. Most are not looking for a cheap grace experience. But the cost is heavy.

And I'm convinced that I need to spend more time thinking through how I provide pastoral care and instruction to various people coming fresh out of the world into the life of Christ and paying the cost of following.

It seems to me that most evangelicals think of conversion as so magically wonderful and radical that once the sinner "prays the prayer" most all--if not all--of their problems are solved. The "hard part" in the minds of many evangelicals is just getting the person to commit. But Jesus' words remind us that committing to follow is when the hard part begins. And if that's true, the people of Christ need thoughtful ways of entering into the inevitable suffering and difficulty that is part of the tax and cost of joining Jesus in repentance and faith.

Put simply: How do we more effectively help people pay the cost of leaving the old life of sin and taking up their cross to follow the Lord? How do we help the very sexually active person bear the cost? How do we help the person with an unbiblical divorce pay the cost now that they're following Jesus? How do we labor with the person needing to end destructive relationships pay the cost?

In a series of posts over the next little while, I want to take up this question by looking at a few cases where we call people to follow Jesus and perhaps we need to think more about the costs they'll pay and how we can help.


Gian said...

Excellent post Brother.

God bless.

JamesBrett said...

I think you're completely right that we need to be honest about the (possible) costs of following Christ. He always was.

As for how to help people bear those costs, I'm not sure there's a fixed answer. I suppose, though, we begin by helping them bear these costs in the same way we help them enjoy the benefits -- as a family who is present in the good and the bad, encourages worship, obedience, and accountability at all times, and meets one another's needs.

This, of course, will entail encouraging one another to be discipled by Christ and led by the Spirit, who will surely be active in helping Christians bear the costs of discipleship.

But I look forward to your series. It's a good topic, and I'm interested in seeing some specifics...