THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP

-by Brigadier Ian Dobbie

Introduction

The Good News that sinful men can be forgiven and reconciled to God solely through repentance and faith in the substitutionary death of Godís Son, and that we can make no contribution whatsoever in receiving this free pardon, may draw contrasting reactions.

There are those whose pride is deeply offended. An undeserved and unearned pardon is in stark contrast to intellectual and physical experience where, for example, the most hardworking and intelligent, and the fastest and strongest secure academic and sporting accolades by personal achievement. It humbles men to hear that Christís Gospel offers us a free pardon on the grounds of Godís mercy and not Manís merit. A godly, simple ploughman once remarked to an educated man: "It is harder to renounce proud self than sinful self; but it is absolutely necessary".

There are also those who suspect that the Gospel is too good to be true. This may be due to the evangelist failing to declare faithfully Jesusí teaching on the Cost of Discipleship. Such default leads to shallow professions, often driven by an ephemeral emotionalism, and causes the first 3 responses depicted by Jesus in the Parable of the Sower(1). Unconsidered responses to Jesusí call to follow Him caused Him to teach the parable of the man who faced mockery for leaving a building unfinished because he had not first counted the Cost (2). Jesus and the Apostle Paul experienced the sadness of men withdrawing(3). Early enthusiasm evaporated because the Cost had not been counted.

It has been said the entrance fee into the Christian life has already been paid for us by none other than Christ Himself(4), but that the annual subscription is our total commitment. Jesus was not content that we should pursue a cheap and easy religion with a mere outward allegiance and being tolerably moral, for He taught:

"...If anyone would come after me, he must deny Himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For who ever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me and for the Gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in his Fatherís glory with the holy angels"(5).

A 3-fold Renouncement

Followers of Jesus are called to say:
No to Sin. We are called to repent of sin - which is "the transgression of the law"(6) - to relinquish attitudes, thoughts, words and deeds which grieve our Creator and Redeemer. We are to abandon sins of omission as well as those of commission - that is "leaving undone those things we ought to have done and doing those things we ought not to have done".

No to Self. Jesus says we are to "deny ourselves". No longer are we to seek to preserve the autonomous control of our lives with the foremost desire to put our self-interest first. We are to forsake the wish to be king of our own castle for in so doing we become our own slaves. More positively, we are "to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship"(7). True worship is not confined to singing and praying; it is far more comprehensive. It involves our surrendering all our body members - mind, hands, feet, lips, eyes, ears etc - so that they are employed to please the Creator Who gave them to us. This is no less a standard than Jesus Himself set - "for even Christ did not please Himself"(8). All areas of life are to be placed at His disposal - resources, relationships, work and home - and the New Testament has teaching to guide us on all these matters. This will draw the hostility of the unregenerate world, "for everyone who wants to live a godly life will suffer persecution"(9).

No to Secrecy. When Jesus tells us to "take up our cross", He cannot be calling us to add to that finished work which He completed "once and for all" at Calvary(10). What He is surely calling us to do is to so identify ourselves with Him and His Gospel that we are willing to bear the scorn and contempt of an unbelieving world - just as Simon of Cyrene did as he carried Christís cross(11). Many of the jeering crowd that day could have thought that as Simon bore the criminalsí load, he was the one condemned to be crucified. Not only are we to be unashamed of Jesus Christ, we are to be unashamed of His words as the quoted passage above reminds us. This has a modern significance as some theologians of our time have sought to separate them frequently. Yet our loyalty to both will be reviewed on the Day of Judgement. There will be no crown without a cross, no prize without a price, no gain without pain.

If this 3-fold Requirement seems daunting, let us fortify ourselves with 3 over-riding reasons to count the cost and follow Christ.

A 3-fold Incentive

For our own sake. We may be surprised that Jesus holds this incentive before us. Yet it is He in the quoted passage Who tells us that our lives are "saved" by "losing" them. "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?" After all his soul is the one attribute which he has which has an eternal destination! While there are some matters about which we are to be secretive if we are to enjoy the rewards of our Heavenly Father, such as giving fasting and praying(12), an open allegiance to Jesus and His words will be acknowledged by our Mediator and Advocate at the Fatherís throne. Whatever we have given up for Christ will be replaced by something far better! The time when the Christian life begins to cost is often the time when it begins to count, and the issues of death, judgement and eternity can be faced with humble and grateful confidence.

For the sake of our fellow men and women. In forsaking our lives for Christ and His Gospel, we will be committing ourselves to act as He commanded as "salt" and "light" in the world(13). Christians therefore are to proclaim publicly and privately the Good News that "this Man welcomes sinners"(14). This is taking the great commission seriously in seeking with the Lordís help to make and sustain Christians(15). However there is also the responsibility to be working for the social benefit of mankind also. History proclaims the practical blessing brought through the Reformation and the Evangelical Revival of the 18th century. In the wake of the latter, Christian social reformers like Wilberforce and Shaftesbury emerged. And significant scientific progress was achieved by Christians like Newton, Boyle, Faraday and Clerk Maxwell, because they knew the Creator was orderly and rational in character, and that His creation was stable and benign. Christian mission involves all that our Saviour has commanded us to do.

For the sake of Christ Himself. Some years ago a visiting preacher at Sandhurst encouraged cadets to live for Christ by presenting the challenge of the Cost of Discipleship. He was grateful to receive a letter shortly afterwards from a retired officer who had heard the sermon. He reminded the preacher that the focus of the Cost in the Christian Life was not what it costs us, but what it has cost Christ. No challenge, reproach, abuse or persecution we may face can ever exceed that borne on our behalf by Jesus. He left the wonder and splendour of His heavenly home, endured poverty, hardship, bereavement, misunderstanding, persecution, treachery and finally in the most agonising circumstances was "made sin for us"(16). No wonder the Apostle Paul urges the Christians at Rome "to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice" on the grounds of "Godís mercies"(17). Nothing can help us face the Cost of Discipleship more than a humble, grateful heart and mind conditioned by Christís sacrifice on our behalf at the cross.

Reaching a Verdict

As we place the issues of renouncement and incentive in the scales, the following words of Bishop Ryle of Liverpool may encourage us to make the only right choice:

"..Time is very short. A few more years of watching and praying, a few more tossings on the sea of the world, a few more deaths and changes, a few more winters and summers, and all will be over. We shall have fought our last battle, and shall need to fight no more. The presence and company of Christ will make amends for all we suffer here below. When we see as we have been seen, and look back on the journey of life, we shall wonder at our own faintness of heart. We shall marvel that we made so much of our cross, and thought so little of our crown. We shall marvel that in "counting the cost" we could ever doubt on which side the balance of profit lay. Let us take courage. We are not far from home..."(18).

O teach me what it meaneth
That cross uplifted high
With one, - the Man of Sorrows -
Condemned to bleed and die!
O teach me what it costs Thee
To make a sinner whole;
And teach me, Saviour, teach me
The value of a soul!

O teach me what it meaneth
That sacred crimson tide
The blood and water flowing
From Thine own wounded side
Teach me that if none other
Had sinned, but I alone,
Yet still Thy blood Lord Jesus,
Thine only, must atone.

O infinite Redeemer!
I bring no other plea,
Because thou dost invite me
I cast myself on Thee
Because thou dost accept me
I love and I adore
Because thy love contraineth
Iíll praise Thee evermore.

Lucy Ann Bennett.

Notes




  1. Mark 4 v1-20		2. Luke 14 v25-30		 3. John 6 v66,2Tim 4 v10

  4. 1 Pet 1 v18-19             5. Mark 8 v34-38		 6. 1 John 3 v4

  7. Rom 12 v1                  8. Rom 15 v3		         9. 2 Tim 3 v12

 10. Heb 9 v12, 26b            11. Luke 23 v26                  12. Matt 6 v4, 6, 18	

 13. Matt 5 v13,14	       14. Luke 15 v2                   15. Matt 28 v19,20	

 16. 2 Cor 5 v21	       17. Rom 12 v1.                   18. "Holiness" ch 5





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