What does it cost to follow Christ? For so long the Protestant Church in the West has taught how easy it is to believe in Christ that it is nearly sacrilege to speak of the cost of following Jesus. We teach the ABCs of salvation: “ask Jesus into your heart;” “believe in the name of Jesus;” and “confess your sins.” Then you will be saved. There is no mention of repentance. There is no teaching that we should take up our cross. There is no mention of the price is salvation.
Yet salvation does have a price. Of course we know that Jesus Himself paid the price, because nothing short of the death, burial, and resurrection of God could pay the price for the sins of the entire world …Because nothing we could do could ever earn our way into heaven.
Yet, Christ speaks of a cost. Think of the story of the Rich Young Ruler as it is found in the synoptic gospels (MT 19:16-30; MK10:17-31; LK18:18-30). The young man asks Jesus what must he do to attain eternal life. Jesus answers that he must keep all of the commandments.
The young man answers that he has done exactly that. Jesus then tells him, “Sell everything you own and give the money to the poor and the come and follow me.” The young man considers the cost and declines, going away sad. Why did he decline? The Bible tells us that he declined because he was very wealthy.
Why did Jesus answer this way? Well many Bible commentaries tell us that Jesus was talking about two different things: eternal life on the one hand and the Kingdom of God in the other. I don’t buy that because Christ does not trifle with one’s soul. If the man had not understood, Christ would have clarified.
Other commentators tell us that the passage is hyperbole. That Jesus didn’t really expect the man to sell everything and give it to the poor to be worthy to follow after Him. He only needed, some claim, to stop loving his material goods more than he loves Jesus. He could’ve, in reality, they say, continue to possess his goods and followed Jesus anyway.
Others tell us that we miss the entire point when Christ tells us that it is impossible with man, but all things are possible with God. And here we get closer to the truth.
Now we know that neither selling everything we own and giving it to the poor nor keeping the commandments is enough to get you into heaven. Nor does Christ tell us that everyone must give all they own to the poor.
Let’s take a look at other passages that speak of the price of salvation. At one point a scribe – a scholar dedicated to accurately copying Scripture – tells Jesus that he will follow Him as His disciple. Christ replies, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
The Bible doesn’t directly state this but implies that the scribe, like the Rich Young Ruler, left disappointed.
Another follower asked to leave Jesus to go to his father’s funeral. Jesus answered, “Let the dead bury the dead.”
That seems harsh, but Jesus never once said it would be easy to follow Him.
And with that last sentence I just lost half my audience. Many of those who remain are saying “What about John 3:16?”
Well let’s take a look at John 3:16 in the larger context of the entire chapter. We have lived so long with the term “born again” that we fail to recognize it’s significance. Sure, Christ says that everyone who believes will be saved, but how many of those who follow the prescriptive ABC of salvation really believe? I fear not many, for few can live up to the expectations of the full context of the discourse in John 3. Take a look at verses 19-21.
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
How many who consider themselves Christians actually change their direction? How many of them repent?
Christ tells us that we must be born again but he also tells us that we must die to self. In Luke 9:23, he says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”
The cross is not a symbol of hardship, like I heard growing up in church (a man I knew speaking of his life as a single father after his wife abandoned him years ago always ended the discussion with the words, “that’s just my cross to bear”). Not at all. The cross is not a symbol of hardship it is a symbol of death. When Jesus said to take up our cross and follow Him, he added a clause to the beginning: “deny yourselves, take up your cross daily and follow me!”
If we are to be born again we must also die to our own self. Christ does not tolerate a double-minded person; you should be either hot or cold but not lukewarm.
I have had preachers warn me about this message, the message of repentance. They tell me that, were they me, they would be scared of turning away seekers from the altar. I preached at a church three Sundays ago and preached on repentance. Another preacher was in the congregation that morning. He was scheduled to preach the following Sunday. When he did preach, he looked me in the eye from the pulpit and said that it is enough that people accept Jesus, believe in their hearts, and confess their sins. It is up to God to convict them enough to repent. I worry that preachers like him are convincing many sinners they are saved because they said a solitary prayer but never really repent and trust in Christ. Their lives show no fruit of the Spirit.
What does it cost to follow Christ? Just our very self.
Holiness is, perhaps, the most misunderstood concept in Christianity. Anyone who has striven to follow the life of Christ can likely tell you that it is impossible to do. No one can match His love, His grace, or His compassion. For no one but Jesus is perfect. Once the believer is filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit, though, he or she is filled to the brim with the love of Christ, and desires nothing more than to please God and follow in Christ’s steps. The love of sin is gone. In its place is a love and passion for others. That is Christian Holiness. This is Christian Holiness Daily.