Tag Archives: Cost of Discipleship

Am I a disciple of Jesus?

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I just watched the film, “Tortured for Christ,” and many years ago read the book of the same title.  It’s about Romanian pastor, Richard Wurmbrand.  Opposing the Communist regime, he was imprisoned for fourteen years and repeatedly and brutally beaten for his refusal to forsake his Christian faith.

In his own words, “It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners.  It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating.  A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their [the communists’] terms.  It was a deal; we preached and they beat us.  We were happy preaching.  They were happy beating us, so everyone was happy.”

While watching the film, I was deeply convicted that I have suffered almost nothing in order to follow Jesus Christ.  When Jesus told us to make disciples, He did not tell us to build large buildings and put on entertaining services so that we could fill them with passive pew-sitters.  He told us to go and make disciples everywhere we went.  And before that, He called us to be disciples ourselves, not considering our lives as precious, but giving them away and pouring them out in service of Him for His greater honor and glory.

I have to ask myself often and honestly, am I really and truly a disciple of Jesus?  The reality is, being His disciple, as well as making disciples, is extremely difficult.  It is backbreaking, heart-rending, self-effacing work.  And following Jesus involves more than theoretical sacrifice.  It involves making concrete commitments and costly choices to follow that might result in becoming uncomfortable, being fired, straining relationships, and losing popularity.  For some, it could even mean far more—a significant loss of freedom and/or the forfeiture of one’s life.

When Peter and the apostles were arrested and questioned by the Pharisees for sharing the good news about Jesus, Acts 5:40-42 tells us that the Pharisees “beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.  Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.  And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.”  They were willing to suffer and even die for Jesus because they trusted, loved, and wanted to honor Him.  Any difficulties endured for His sake were a privilege to thank God for, not a hardship or humiliation to be avoided at all cost.  And as they obeyed Him, they experienced deep and genuine joy.

While I know in theory (and by limited experience) that there is great joy and fulfillment in following Jesus, no matter the risk or cost, I am still constantly tempted to make my life more comfortable, less arduous, and inoffensive.  I often love the world more than God, because I do not really believe he deeply cares for me and is a loving, gracious God.  I constantly think I know better how to live my life because I do not really believe God is wiser than I.  I repeatedly give myself over to sin because I do not really believe that the holiness of God is what I was designed to reflect and exhibit in this world.  And ultimately, I continue to fear hardship, suffering, and death because I love the things of this life more than the eternal things of God.  I don’t really believe that heaven will be magnificently, indescribably better than even the sweetest and most joyous moments in this life.

Am I a disciple of Jesus?  In the broadest sense of that term, I hope I can answer yes.  But in the concrete daily struggle to be faithful, I must admit, I am a continuous and consummate failure.  And yet, in His grace, He still offers the promise that He is with me always, even to the end of the age.  For all my foibles, failures, fears, and faithlessness, He remains faithful and promises that He will never leave or forsake me.  He is still in the process of making me His disciple and, praise God, the journey toward joy is only just beginning!

Is Jesus worth it? Counting the Cost for Christ

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When I heard God’s call and went into full-time Christian ministry back in 1987, I was only 22 and fresh out of university. Young and idealistic about God’s plans for me and how I might used by Him to change the world, I thought I was willing to go anywhere and do anything for Jesus.

At the time, I didn’t have much. My parents gave me a nice used car for college graduation and everything I owned in the world fit inside. Following Jesus into the great unknown cost me nearly nothing in terms of worldly goods and treasures. I had almost nothing to lose because I had almost nothing.

After being in ministry for almost three decades, I’ve met several people who have left comfortable, respected, and lucrative jobs to answer the call of Christ and go into full-time ministry. Many took huge pay cuts and had to radically alter their former ways of life. When Jesus calls, He bids us come and die—die to sin, die to self. But wrapped up in that simple call is the reality that this death includes a lot of forsaking and leaving behind the things of this world as well.

When I went into ministry, I didn’t yet know what it would ultimately cost me. In many ways, I still don’t. But those who leave good jobs, material wealth, and comfortable lifestyles know all too well what they are leaving behind. And they choose to follow Jesus anyway.

James—the names are fictitious, the situations are not—was offered a rare and coveted teaching position at a Christian university near friends and family in the US. He turned it down so he could continue to raise his own meager support and teach at an obscure and struggling school in Asia instead. After ten years of living and teaching there, his wife nearly died, suffering permanent lung damage because of the perpetual toxic air pollution.

Mark left a successful and lucrative medical career and joined a Christian ministry where he had to raise his own salary—enough for his family of nine! He not only left behind the perks and privileges of a comfortable life, he moved his wife and seven children to a crowded, polluted, and “developing” country overseas where he didn’t speak the language.

Luke left a prestigious teaching position at a respected world-class university where his three children would have been able to attend for free. Why? So he could raise support to teach at a university in Asia no one has ever heard of. To add insult to injury, the school disrespected and discounted his area of research expertise. But he knew he was called and remained steadfast in the midst of the discouraging trials.

To count the cost assumes you have something to count, and the more you have to count, the more it’s going to cost you. None of these opportunities and temptations ever crossed my path. Perhaps God knew if I ever was given the chance or found myself in a comfortable situation with an enjoyable job and a fat paycheck, I would never have had the strength to walk away. He saved me from myself and taught me I could live on less before I ever had much to hang on to or give up.

The Apostle Paul, like many of my friends, gave up a lucrative and promising career to follow Jesus. In Philippians 3 he describes all those earthly things as detritus and dung compared to what he gained: rich fellowship with Christ and deep spiritual maturity.

Paul understood that the life we’re truly made for is not one filled with earthly effects and custom comforts. We’re made for intimacy with God. And that only comes through obedience to His call to take up our cross daily and follow Jesus. Just as Jesus gave his life away, we are asked to also come and die.

No one understood this better than Jesus Himself. When He told his disciples that it profits a person nothing to gain the whole world and forfeit one’s soul, it was not a theoretical proposition. Satan, the god of the world, offered Jesus exactly that—the whole world—if He would only forsake His divine calling to give His life away for the salvation of the world.

This is the message of Christmas and this is why Jesus was later described by the author of Hebrews as enduring the cross for the glory and honor of obeying God even unto death. He understood the reasons for His death and so was able to face it with reluctant though still willing resolve.

Dying is never easy, but it’s easier when we understand not only the cost, but also the gain. As we obey, God promises sweet fellowship with Him and an eternal glory that far outweighs all other earthly gains. That’s a price worth paying, no matter the cost.