“Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (Luke 14:33).
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matthew 13:44).
Sometimes we make a big deal about the “cost of discipleship,” as though the people who heed the call are a special elite brand of spiritual heroes: the ones who have “paid the price.” The few, the proud, the disciples.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Because part of “counting the cost” is adding up what you gain, not just what you lose. Disciples aren’t people making special sacrifices for God, they’re people who have realized this is the bargain of a lifetime.
Nobody ever goes reluctantly into discipleship to Jesus. If you’re hesitant about it, you’re not calculating it right. This is the best deal you’re ever going to get. Discipleship to Jesus is the most phenomenal bargain anyone could ever hope for. That’s what “counting the cost” means: add up how much it costs, and how much you gain, and do what makes sense.
The man who found the treasure in the field was “counting the cost,” and that’s he joyfully sold everything he owned to buy the field: the value of everything he owned wasn’t nearly as high as the value of the treasure. The point of the parable is that the life you gain in the kingdom as a disciple of Jesus is far more valuable than the stuff you have to give up to get it.
So if Jesus’ call to follow him still sounds daunting to you, the problem is that you don’t really understand yet the value of what you’re gaining. You don’t have fully formed yet in your mind a picture of what life in the kingdom of God could be like.
What will happen is that you will gain the kind of life you’ve always wanted. You will be at ease, at rest. Joy will characterize you. You’ll love your life, even though it might contain difficulties, persecution, or worse. You’ll love who you are, and you’ll be able to love others from a full heart. Worry will fall away. You’ll find everything you need is taken care of moment-by-moment, day-by-day.
You will experience a power operating in your life that makes it very difficult to have a bad day. Joy and peace will be with you even in the hardest of circumstances. Your thoughts and feelings will be transformed: you will be confident and hopeful, and won’t indulge in thoughts of rejection, despair, failure, hopelessness, because you’ll know better. You will become so aware of God’s presence and grace around you that you will hardly remember how to be gloomy or negative.
And you’ll find that God’s future, where there is no sin, sickness, or sadness, flows through your life easily and naturally. You’ll find that God works through your life to bring healing, joy, peace, and goodness to others. You will be filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, and partake of eternal pleasures. For a fuller picture of what disciples of Jesus end up “looking like,” look at the section titled “A Composite Picture of ‘Children of Light'” in this article.
It won’t happen all at once, of course. We’ll have to learn how to do it, but if we take on Jesus’ easy yoke of discipleship, he will teach us. And he will send others to help us.
That (and so much more) is what we gain. We should also be clear about what it costs:
- You must give up the old life. That’s the meaning of the cross: the end of your life. There can be no half-measures here. “Whoever does not carry their cross cannot follow me” (Luke 14:27).
- You must make discipleship to Jesus the most important thing in your life. It cannot be an extra-curricular activity. It must be more important than your family, your job, your TV shows, your money. “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).
- You must actually put his teaching into practice. One of the most destructive lies of the devil is that you can’t do what Jesus said. The truth is that he expected us to put his teaching into practice. As we do so, we will find the power of the Spirit working in our action, enabling us to do the things Jesus commanded. “Anyone who hears these words of mine and doesn’t put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:26-27). “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).
I think the prize is worth the price. That’s what it means to “count the cost.” Once we see the deal we’re getting, we’ll sell everything to buy the field, because we will have seen the treasure.
Then we’ll discover the secret that “taking up our cross” is actually the same thing as taking on the “easy yoke” that brings rest to our souls. That the obedient life is the abundant life.
Dan O'Day says
Great post. In one way I knew this already, in another way I really had never thought through it like this. More of the latter. I tend to slip into spiritual elitism ("the few, the proud, the disciples"), but in an even worse sense ("the few, the proud, the TRUE disciples"). I tend to think of "counting the cost" as realizing that the Christian life won't be easy. This post really is right on, and it's a very grounded and biblical view of counting the cost of discipleship. Thanks for sharing.
Ben Sternke says
Thanks for the comment. As Dallas Willard (from whom I first understood this way of "counting the cost") has said, "It's the other way that's hard."
Wow…the old law was a lot easier, wasn't it?
(good write-up, by the way).
Kingdom seeker says
Thanks so much for sharing from your heart. I agree TOTALLY and ABSOLUTELY!
Grateful to the Lord for inspiring you to share this important aspect of discipleship.
You zeroed in on the essential elements perfectly. Thanks again!
All for God’s greater glory!