The cost of discipleship
“So don’t follow me without considering what it will cost you. For who would construct a house before first sitting down to estimate the cost to complete it? Otherwise he may lay the foundation and not be able to finish!” (Luke 14:28,29).
For many years, faith was important to me, however it was only one of a number of things I was striving for and investing in. I was pursuing career ambitions—I’d started a couple of businesses and I loved bringing ideas to the marketplace. I was building a network around me and I working on my relationships—all at the same time. There were so many different responsibilities I had to steward, that I often found myself running around like a headless chicken.
One birthday during my mid-twenties, Dad gave me a ceramic coaster with the words, “more ideas than time”. I remember feeling irritated at receiving such a gift, annoyed at the message it conveyed because I believed I could do it all.
Not long after that my world turned upside down. While business and daily life had its usual stresses, it all came to a climax in one week. I was looking down the barrel of a failed long-term relationship, a business partnership headed to court and my car completely written-off in one of Brisbane’s worst hail storms.
Up until this point, I’d been trying to balance it all. Although my faith was important, it was caught in the mix of everything else. As I sat in my hail-shattered car that stormy afternoon, trying to process this devastating series of events, the lie that I’d been living for so long was exposed.
I could now see that my dad’s comical gift was right—you cannot do it all.
Today’s endless pursuit of success and happiness can cost many areas of our lives that actually sustain us like rest, time with family, health, and the list goes on. . . There is a cost to our culture’s aspiration of “having it all”.
What is the cost of discipleship?
And yet, the pursuit of a kingdom life is no less costly. Following Jesus also has a cost. But what exactly does this mean? Jesus often challenged His followers with difficult words to swallow like, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34, ESV). Ellen White shares this challenge when she says ”self-denial and the cross lie directly in the pathway of every follower of Christ” (Testimonies for the Church 2:651).
Jesus’ challenge requires every disciple to make a measured commitment: “So don’t follow me without considering what it will cost you.” It was just prior to this that He said, “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).
Jesus is sharing some jaw-dropping statements here. While His words may be an exaggerated figure of speech, He is not shying away from the declaration that there must be nothing held in greater value or priority than Jesus and His kingdom. He is not condoning actual hostility towards our family but the implication is that following Jesus must be the most important thing in human life in both words and deeds.
Jesus asked Simon and Andrew to “follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). They were so impacted by this invitation that they immediately left their nets, their boats, their family business and followed Jesus. This is the call that Jesus extends to each of us—to follow Him and dedicate our lives to discipling others. What is our response?
The cost of non-discipleship
As we consider the cost of following Jesus, a startling truth becomes apparent. “The cost of discipleship is high, but the cost of non-discipleship is even higher.”1 Non-discipleship, which may also be described as nominal Christianity, feel-good Christianity, moralistic therapeutic deism or cultural Christianity, poses a threat to the deep, Spirit-filled life of living in step with Jesus.
You cannot measure the cost of discipleship unless you have measured the cost of non-discipleship. It has been wisely observed, “You don’t know how much a new car is going to cost you until you also count up how much it will cost you not to buy it.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer made this point in his classic book, The Cost of Discipleship, where he shared, “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
Non-discipleship robs us of the abundant life that Jesus promises us. It has been said that, “non-discipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil.”2 In short, non-discipleship costs you exactly that abundance of life Jesus said He came to bring. Described this way, it’s clear that the cost of non-discipleship is higher than the price of being a true follower of Jesus. Are we willing to count the cost?
There is a love that is worth the cost
Jesus challenged His followers, “And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27, NLT). He goes on, “For who would construct a house before first sitting down to estimate the cost to complete it?” Further He says, “What king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counsellors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him?” (Luke 14:28,33).
The cross we are being called to carry has many forms. The cost will vary for each of us. But, ultimately, carrying our cross means sacrificing our own will to His will. And this is the point Jesus is trying to illustrate—that it would be foolish to undertake an enormous endeavour, like constructing a house, building a tower or waging a war, without considering the cost to see if you have the sufficient means to complete the venture. So, too, with being a disciple of Jesus. He is impressing upon each of us: Consider carefully what it would mean to be a disciple of Jesus and count the cost.
And this is the big idea: The life you gain in the kingdom as a disciple is more valuable than the stuff you have to give up. The cost of discipleship fades into the background as we consider the all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe and His gift of salvation. This gift is both absolutely free and yet it costs us our very lives. We receive it freely but once we receive it, we commit everything we are and have to Jesus Christ.
Yet this idea of discipleship costing us something is not about us doing more. Following Jesus is about surrender— it’s about Him having more and more of us. Discipleship is a continual transformation to becoming more like Jesus. “The disciple is one who, intent upon becoming Christ-like and so dwelling in his ‘faith and practice’, systematically and progressively rearranges his affairs to that end.”1
The cost is worth living
As I’ve allowed Jesus to have more and more of my life, my priorities have changed. I am no longer driven by the need to “do it all and have it all”. I have counted the cost and my heart is set on pursuing the kingdom life. In doing so, my eyes have been opened so that I am starting to see what Jesus sees. He places kingdom value on “the one”: the one person, the one conversation, the one life. Jesus leaves the 99 and searches for the one who is lost. He doesn’t stop until He finds them and then when the one is found, He celebrates with exuberant joy (Luke 15:4–7). As His disciples, He invites us to do the same.
The cost of discipleship could mean reprioritising your schedule. It could mean sacrificing that Netflix series. It could cost you your career as you live in harmony with His ways. It could mean making room at your table during “family time”. It could mean closing your mouth and listening instead. It could cost you financially. Or it could cost you friendships as you prioritise “the one”.
It could be making that phone call; it could be leaning in and talking to your neighbour as you walk past even if you are in a hurry; it could be actually catching with that old friend; it could be simply being curious and listening to someone share their story; it could be inviting them to share a Friday night/Sabbath with you and your family.
Discipleship has a cost. The kingdom life begs us to contend with our priorities. But this cost pales in comparison to the love that Jesus offers us when He says “Follow me”. He offers the incredible gift of His grace. And the honour of journeying with the “lost ones”—becoming a fisher of men—as He beckons them home.
Martin van Rensburg is a Marketing professional who loves sowing into the next generation in Brisbane, Qld.
1. Dallas Willard (2006), The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship.
2. D Willard (1988), The Spirit of the Disciplines.