Counting the Cost

Through my recent foray into social media, it is easy to observe that the majority of political conservatives consider themselves to be Christian. Whether this is indicated in their bios by statements such as, “God wins”, “God first”, “Trust Jesus”, or through shared memes or comments, the percentage of claims to Christ is high. However, when discussions ensue or just by observing content it becomes evident that despite the use of Christianese, often descriptions of God or Jesus in whom faith is professed is markedly different than that revealed in God’s Holy Word. Admittedly, this is anecdotal, however in the public square the road to Christ is broad. This should not surprise us as our Lord continually warns us to this reality throughout His earthly ministry.

One of these warnings occurs in Luke 14:25-33

25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “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. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 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? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 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? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

Luke 14:25-33

Three times in the passage above, our Lord defines discipleship by placing negative stipulations on it, “If you don’t do this, you won’t be my disciple.” Before looking at these, we might ask what is a disciple? Stated simply, a disciple is a learner. Sometimes in application it may even refer to a follower. Before assuming you are a follower of His, Jesus places some steep costs on this claim. First, He places demands on overvaluing a person’s closest earthly relationships, father/mother, wife/children, brother/sister, and then ultimately one’s own self above a relationship with Him. In other words, the cost of all immediate, familial, and personal relationships should be counted before following Him. In stating this, Jesus uses strong language, hate, to heighten the serious and deliberate consideration that must be given. The objective here is of course to rule out easy-believism and hollow claims to Christ, as is so prevalent today. Elsewhere, He calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves, how then do we reconcile a passage calling us to hate? In this context, hate is not taken as an absolute, rather it is meant to highlight a distinction and drive the removal any relational obstacle that might prevent one from following Christ. A disciple ought to count the cost of how following Christ will affect their personal relationships.

The second stipulation, occurring in verse 27, concerns the life of a disciple in bearing his or her own cross. First, personal relationships and now the personal way of life. This is a remarkable statement given Jesus’ pending death on the cross, suffering God’s wrath in the place of all who would believe on Him. The cross was literally a Roman torture device. By placing the requirement of carrying an instrument of torture and ultimately death, Jesus is using hyperbolic language to eliminate any expectations that following Him will result in a life of luxury and ease. In fact, quite the opposite. It should be expected that by following Jesus, the road will be difficult and could realistically cause your death. In the near context, this was of course true of Jesus’ disciples as they followed the path of their Master. In the broader context, this applies to all believers for all time. For far too often and far too frequently it has been taught that following Christ will lead to blessing and prosperity in this life. This, perhaps more than any other teaching, has led to a posture of being “at ease in Zion”. Prosperity never drives one towards Christ, just the opposite, “how hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom.” The majority of those on the broad road who claim the name of Christ, assume that just because they have material prosperity it necessarily follows that it is a blessing from God. As such, the actual phrase, “blessed” has been neutered and abused to refer to material prosperity. Now, to be clear, can having your needs met or even abundance be a blessing from God? Most certainly, but caution is warranted against prosperity as an idol above our Lord.

Before concluding with His third stipulation, Jesus uses two supporting examples, that of a man building a tower and of a king going to war, both of whom need to count the cost before undertaking their respective tasks. In the first example, the tower builder has failed to properly count the cost and subsequently can’t finish. In the second example, the king has failed to properly count the cost and subsequently surrenders and gives up. Both describe well the consequences of not properly counting the cost of following Christ. Because of this, it is understandable why our Lord makes reference to the broad path being filled with many and narrow gate having few that find it.

Moving now to the third stipulation which we alluded to earlier, Jesus provides a comprehensive summary, “any one of you who does not renounce all that he has”. We have seen the stipulation on relationships, including oneself, on comfort, and now on possessions. As with the previous two, we ought to caution ourselves against taken the stipulations to their literal extreme, like some have throughout history in renouncing all of their possessions, joining a monastery or convent, and cutting off all relationships. This is not the idea that Jesus has in mind. He wants us to live and engage in the world, but to avoid the entanglement of idolatry that could accompany any of these, should they be placed in preference to our Lord.

Salvation is by faith through grace. It does not guarantee harmony, preservation, nor prosperity. If any of those are the motive for professing Christ as Savior or the result of professing Christ as Savior, then it is very likely that one’s faith needs to be examined in the light of Scripture.

Count the cost by ensuring your knowledge of who God is aligns with the revelation of Himself through His Holy Word and not of your vain imagination of a lesser god. Second, count the cost by rooting out any and all avenues of idolatry in your life. It could be relational. It could be preservation and prosperity. It could also be possessions. Count the cost. Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him.

About the author

Christian saved by grace through faith.

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