“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Cost of Discipleship - Part II

I closed out the last post by looking at the Scribe who approached Jesus, anxious to follow Him 'anywhere'. However, as we saw, Jesus is not moved by his apparent piety, clearly stating the cost of discipleship.

Jesus’ teaching may have moved this man, or the miraculous healing of the leper may have amazed him, but Jesus knew his heart. The Scribe makes the pious statement that He will follow Jesus wherever He goes, but Jesus outlines the reality of following Him. The Scribe might have thought that it would be exhilarating to follow this man who healed people and was an incredible teacher, but he had not given much thought to the reality of following Jesus.

In today's world, we have gladly brought this guy in and maybe even put him in a leadership position, (he was, after all, a Scribe). At a minimum, we would have him as a member of our church before you knew it. But Jesus knows the heart of man, and penetrates to the crux of the issue in one statement. Just like the rich young man in Matthew 19, Jesus looks beyond the pious words to the heart and makes the statement that He does not live a lavish life, but one of discipline, not having a big home or a even, at times, a place to lay His head. Interestingly, we do not hear from this Scribe again!

So often one can get caught up in the moment and make vows and oaths to God, but once they have calmed down, they are still unregenerate; they simply got caught up in the 'hype' that often surrounds altar calls! I have heard many people say that this person or that person is saved because "They said the sinners prayer with me", but there was never any indicator that they had been regenerated, and often times these self-same people go on to live lives that make it obvious that their 'commitment' to Christ was but a fleeting moment of emotion.

This is why emotional, manipulative methods that get people to ‘come down front and accept Jesus’ are non-Biblical – Jesus is basically telling this man, "Count the cost – here is what life with Me is like.”

In Luke 14:26 – 33, Jesus says it this way: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 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? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

Believe me, He is not fooled by our pious words! He says in Matthew 15 that the people honor Him with their lips, but are, in actuality, far from Him! You see, there is a cost to discipleship – and that cost is death to self, and a new life in Christ. I fear that we have done away with this vital teaching because it is not the type of teaching that packs the house. And our churches have suffered because of it – we have churches that have a membership roll of hundreds or thousands, many of whom never darken the doorway of the church, but at one point said – “I will follow Jesus anywhere”.

The church no longer talks of the cost of discipleship, it might cause people to find another place to have their ears tickled, but it is those who are truly redeemed who can grasp the incredible gift of salvation found in Jesus Christ, it is these people who are not offended by the cost of discipleship.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, in his incredible book, “The Cost of Discipleship” -- "Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. It remains an abstract idea, a myth which has a place for the Fatherhood of God, but omits Christ as the living Son. … There is trust in God, but no following of Christ."

Bonhoeffer made the distinction between ‘cheap’ grace and ‘costly’ grace in his book; here are a few more passages that bear repeating -- "cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ." In contrast to this is costly grace: "costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." "

The second man we read about is one who seems to have a reasonable request – “I need to go and bury my father.” I mean, who could refuse such a request? Yet Jesus says that the dead should bury the dead. What does Jesus mean by this seemingly heartless response? Well, there are several thoughts on this – the first is that the man was saying – “Let me wait until my father dies and I claim my inheritance”. This was known to have been a colloquialism meaning just that; the Jews would have buried someone the same day that they died, unlike today in the West.

Some would say that the man’s father was not yet dead, but aging, and he wanted to wait until his father HAD died before embarking on the journey of discipleship with Jesus, and finally, some say that Jesus means that we are to let the ‘spiritually’ dead bury the dead. And in some sense this is also true; but I believe that what Jesus is saying is something contained in all of these perspectives. He is calling this man to drop his earthly concerns and follow Him now!

The call to discipleship is one that is immediate and all consuming. We cannot have one foot in the realm of the world and one foot in the realm of the kingdom. We are to be IN the world, but not OF it – and it would seem that this man had the concerns of the world consuming him – he was asking Jesus to allow him to delay his following until he had taken care of the earthly concerns that he had. Jesus’ answer is unequivocal – following me will require that you leave behind your inheritance, letting the spiritually dead bury the dead, and take up your cross and follow Me.

In the case of the first man, he was reacting to the hype of the events taking place around him, he was, like the seed that lands in rocky ground, [Matthew 13], sprouting up quickly (i.e. “I will follow you wherever you go”), but has no root and when hard times come, it withers.

The second man is like the seed that falls amongst thorns; it sprouts up, but the cares and concerns of the world choke the seed and it dies. This man could not leave behind the cares of the world.

Paul talks of leaving behind worldly cares and concerns in Philippians 3:7 – 11 -- whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Friends, do we understand that Jesus Christ calls us to a life of discipleship? Those who know Christ as their Lord and Savior, the redeemed, are called to a life that is perceptively different from the world's. The call to discipleship impacts all aspects of our life: in our marriage we are called to self-sacrificial love, the marriage being the very picture of Christ and His redeemed bride; it calls for sacrifice of our time to help build the kingdom, proclaiming the gospel and helping to build up the body – many who go by the name Christian do not give financially, or time-wise to the church to assist in the ministries that she performs. Often many who would call themselves disciples will spend hours watching a sporting event, or sitting at a computer or playing an instrument, but will not give up any of their time to do anything within the church.

Our lives should reflect the fact that we are captive to Christ; does your life? Are we being conformed to the image of God’s Son, as it says in Romans 8, or do we look, for all intents and purposes, exactly like the world, our biggest differentiator being that we spend a few hours at church on Sunday?

Are we disciples at work? Are we disciples at home with our family? Are we disciples when we are out with our friends? Jesus took these two men today to task – He did not let them get away with a cavalier statement about being His disciples, but clearly explained what the life and concerns of a disciple are to be. I wonder how many of us would still claim to be His disciple if we truly examined the cost?

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