The True Cost of Discipleship
As 2018 concludes and 2019 begins I find myself asking a simple yet nagging question: “What is the true cost of discipleship?”
Are we being honest with ourselves and others as we proclaim the gospel? Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous German pastor hanged by the Nazis for opposing Hitler was quoted as saying, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Is that the Jesus we preach? It does not take long to find verses that support what Bonhoeffer said. Just take a look at Matthew 10:37-39; Matthew 16:23-25; Mark 8:33-35; Luke 9:23-24; Luke 14:25-35; and Galatians 2:20. Is this the calling we have accepted, or have we swallowed a kinder, gentler Jesus that doesn’t demand anything from us but instead invites us to give and serve—as much as possible. Which of course means we quickly become the ultimate lord over our time and finances, setting our standards not by the example of Jesus—who gave up everything—but our fellow “responsible” Christians who serve—as much as possible. We may compete with, or even promote, those that have more “possible.” But we never expect sacrifice because God rewards a cheerful giver, right?
What about when sacrifice hurts? What if those who give up comforts are doing only the bare minimum of what God calls all of us to do while the rest of us are merely wallowing in various levels of unbelief? What if I am not the faithful church of Philadelphia but I am actually the “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked” Laodicea?
The intersection between faith and sacrifice is difficult to navigate because it is so full of pitfalls for heresy and deceit. The book of James almost got itself disqualified from the canon as it stressed the value of works to demonstrate our faith in action. Even the infallible Google let me down. When searching “faith sacrifice” my first result was an article from BYU (a predominately Mormon University). Clearly Christ calls us to live abundantly and to hate your life, but not for the same reason as the legalist or the cult does.
So how does Christ call us? Does Jesus call us to sacrifice as a necessary theme of our Christian life? Or does Jesus’s ultimate, final sacrifice mean that we do not need to sacrifice but only to love and serve in thankfulness?
If sacrifice is a necessary Christian theme then it ought to be a universal expectation. Positively: Christians ought to encourage and practice radical, gospel-oriented sacrifice individually, communally and missionally as they imitate Christ and practically long for the Kingdom of God to come. Conversely: Christians who show an unwillingness to sacrifice are revealing their unbelief and that they may not be Christians at all. Understanding sacrifice to be a necessary theme is clearly more costly than as-much-as-possible Christianity. Christ rebuked Peter (the jumping out of the boat disciple) calling him “Satan” when Peter advised Jesus to be more responsible with his life and avoid going to Jerusalem.
If, on the other hand, sacrifice is a product of great faith it becomes optional. Christian sacrifice is like a gifting of the Spirit that we cannot apply universally but we rather hope for it to be gifted to us one day. Religious zeal overcomes grace-through-faith as we treat those who do sacrifice with greater importance as if they have a supernatural faith that the rest of us can only read about in books. Positively: Christians should be praised and remembered for sacrifice because it demands great faith to have that level of commitment to the cause of Christ. We should all aspire to that. Conversely: Jesus does not expect for all of us to sacrifice like that, just those with “a calling.” Some Christians with important responsibilities, like marriage and parenting, should prioritize that over gospel-oriented sacrifice. “My spouse/kids should not sacrifice for Jesus just because my calling is to sacrifice.” We filter the eternal call of Jesus through the translucent lense of our temporary earthly responsibilities. Children are not blessings from God but they are excuses we layer on to insulate us from any invitations to sacrifice.
What if Jesus does call us to die? Are you ready? Are you willing? “God so loved the world that He gave…” How much do you love? Love makes sacrifices. Is there any gift, any missed comfort, any costly sacrifice that you can offer that is greater than Jesus humbling himself to become a baby in a dirty manger? Why do we set our standards of sacrificing for the gospel so low?
Let us count the cost of discipleship motivated by our love and measured through our sacrifices for each other this year. Let 2019 be a year where Crosstown is known by our love that delights in making sacrifices for one another.
“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” ~ 1 John 3:16