Over my many years in campus ministry, I have watched tuition costs rise exponentially. Often, students graduate now from college with debt equal to a home mortgage! Yet, they (or, more likely, their parents) are willing to pay it because they believe the benefits of a college education for their children outweigh the costs.
Jesus recommended a similar cost/benefit analysis when it comes to following him. In Luke 14:28-33, he says:
Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’
Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If 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.In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
In most churches today, the cost of following Jesus is rarely considered; rather, it is the amazing benefits that are emphasized—forgiveness of sins, God’s love, and eternal life. It is similar to politicians or college administrators who rave about the benefits of going to college, but never get around to explaining the financial costs and the sacrifices required. Thus, people make uninformed decisions.
It is a fact that between 50% and 75% of Christian young people, after graduating from high school, will discard their faith. They make commitments to Jesus at a young age on the basis of what they were taught, that God loved them and wanted them in heaven with him. But once they mature, most will find the faith too costly because they want to do what their peers do. They don’t want to be the odd people out.
Rather than only emphasizing the benefits of following him, of which there are many, Jesus gave us a full picture. There are great benefits, but they come at a great cost. Let’s look at some of those.
If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)
This is a call for great sacrifice in relationships. We often get caught up on the word “hate,” but in context it seems the Lord is saying that our allegiance to him must be first, and by a long shot. In our culture, there is such an emphasis on family, particularly among Christians. I have met so many students who never consider leaving the closeness of their family for the work of God’s Kingdom, and so many parents opposed to their kids doing what they sense the Lord calling them to do. They value their familial relationships over their relationship with Jesus. The cost of following Jesus just might include moving far away from family, letting go of your dreams for your children, or disappointing other family members.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)
There is a lot of emphasis today on being safe. Some universities have created “safe spaces” for students who, for whatever reason, feel unsafe. When we take overseas mission trips, usually I have at least one parent expressing concern about the safety of their child while on the trip. I have even had a couple of parents who asked me to “guarantee” the safety of their child as a condition on letting them go. The cost of following Jesus includes trusting him with our lives. If he is calling us to do something risky or dangerous, we have one choice—to follow him. Our physical lives are not as important as he is. For nearly two millennia, followers of Jesus have sacrificed their lives for him. Not all are called to die for him, but all are called to be willing to give up their lives while serving him.
There is also in this command the idea that we must be willing to give up our dreams and our present to follow Jesus. We may have dreamt all of our lives to live a certain way. The Lord may grant us our dream, but we must be willing to give it up if he calls us to something else. Or if we are settled into a lifestyle and are happy with it, we must hold onto it loosely. He may call us away from it, and we will have to go.
The cost of following Jesus is nothing less than giving all we have and all that we are. He wants it all. Now, he may give us back much of it, but we have to entrust him with all of it. I often tell students to picture coming before the Lord and handing over their entire lives to him. Then I tell them that he might give back that dream of being married, or that chosen career path, but that they have to be willing to trust him regardless what he does.
Unfortunately, following Jesus is not as cheap as some have implied. The Lord said it is costly and we should be prepared for the sacrifices it requires. However, the rewards are amazing and we can trust him to take care of us regardless of the sacrifices we make in our lives, even death, if that is what he wills for us. Thus, take heart in the words of Jesus to his disciples,
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. (Matthew 19:29)
The steep cost is worth it if we are willing to pay it.
© Jim Musser 2020 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.