The Cost of Following Christ
This is a guest post by Zack Chatterton. Zack is a good friend of Pastor Ryan. They served in ministry together in Phoenix, AZ. Zack currently serves as a volunteer leader at Phoenix Bible Church and is an Adjunct Instructor of Christian Ministries at Arizona Christian University.
“28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” (Luke 14:28-30, ESV)
The American church is riddled with unfinished foundations. If you stop and think, it is likely you can quickly think of people you work with, are acquainted with, or are related to who “used to go to church”. For some, they abandon the faith when catastrophe strikes their lives. They decide that Christianity isn’t working for them, and they choose to find a new worldview or coping mechanism to ride out the storms of life. If I am honest, there have been dark moments in my life where I have prayed “I didn’t sign up for this.” Why is it that so many Christians seem shocked and they crumble in the face of suffering? It is because they did not first sit down and count the cost.
Being a disciple of Jesus is costly. The verses just before the passage above record Jesus saying that discipleship requires prioritizing your relationship with Him before any other relationship, and the verses that follow record Jesus saying that we must renounce all things to follow Him. James writes that we should count it as joy when we face trials (James 1:2), and we see Paul repeatedly exhorting his audiences to persevere in trials. It is clear as we read the New Testament that the Christian life is a life not only where opposition and suffering is possible, but expected.
So, if the Bible is so clear on the difficulty in following Jesus, why do so many turn from the faith when they face opposition? I suspect for many it is because they did not count the cost, and nobody bothered to tell them the cost when they came to Jesus. In the typical church, becoming a Christian means raising your hand during an “altar call” and reciting a prayer. When offered the chance to avoid going to hell, having our sins forgiven, and experiencing joy, people jump at the invitation, because they know life is hard and they are sinful, so this will fix all that, right? Churches give a false sense of security by selling a version of Jesus and Christianity that is not biblical. This evangelistic approach produces people who are interested in Jesus for what he can do, not who He is.
How does this affect individual Christians? It should affect how you live, and how you evangelize. First, if we come from a background of “easy believe-ism” we need to correct our understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Scripture is clear, we do nothing to contribute to our salvation, but it is also clear that after being saved, we are to follow in the sufferings of Jesus, to take up our cross and forsake all other relationships and things that we value more than Jesus. Following Jesus is hard, and costly. If you want some examples, look up how the lives of the apostles went after Jesus commissioned them to spread the gospel to the world.
For those of us who have counted the cost and are being empowered by the Holy Spirit to be disciples of Christ, we must be careful not to soften or distort the cost of following Jesus to those we are sharing the gospel with. I imagine that if you have ever sat in an evangelism training class, you have not been taught to talk about the great cost and expected suffering that goes along with the Christian life. But if we want to accurately represent the gospel, Jesus, and the Christian life (which we do) then we must present the whole gospel, and the whole cost. A simple prayer to avoid hell is giving false assurance to those that have not had their heart changed so that they will follow Jesus. To portray salvation as this is to portray God as weak, able to be manipulated and coerced into action by saying the magic words. The God of the Bible is powerful and sovereign, able to save whomever He chooses. We don’t need to “clean up” the Christian life to make it more attractive to non-believers. We need to be faithful to the Bible, telling the truth about God and about humanity’s plight, trusting that those who God draws to himself will come to him with full knowledge of the cost of following Jesus.