The Cost of Discipleship

Here's May's magazine article.  Need to hear this one myself.  Enjoy!

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Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34b NIV)

The proliferation of pound shops and bargain stores over the last few years says something about us as a society. Maybe it's in part that we have less money, but it's also that we don't want to have to pay for things. At least we don't want to pay much!

The gospel is the free gift of God's forgiveness for all we do wrong. However, that gift is not a pound shop bargain, but the most costly gift in the world. In April, we remembered what it cost God the Father and God the Son to buy that gift for us during Easter – the death of the Lord Jesus on the cross, in our place, taking our punishment. That's why we are so thankful to giver!

There's something else though. It's absolutely and wonderfully true that God gives those who believe in Jesus that gift freely. Yet, if we follow Jesus it costs us everything. That's what Jesus is getting at in Mark 8:34b. If we want to be disciples of Jesus, then three things must happen.

First, I must deny myself. Now that's tough! The reality is that naturally, in my life, I come first. I do things because I want to, or because it's best for me, or because I enjoy it. We might pretend we're not selfish at times, but even then it's often because I want people to think I'm not selfish! Jesus says, if you want to be his disciple, if you're going to accept the free gift, then your life is not about you any more. He is in charge and you have to do what he says, whether it's comfortable or not.

People sometimes want to be Sunday Christians. They think if they show up fairly often on a Sunday, sing a few hymns, say a few prayers and endure the vicar's sermon then that's enough. The thing is, Jesus says it's more than an hour or two on a Sunday. It's actually 24 hours a day, seven days a week 365 days a year and no time off for good behaviour!

Second, I need to take up my cross. Now that phrase has slipped into our language. “We all have our crosses to bear!” Usually what we mean is an irritating mother-in-law, or a bit of a dodgy knee. But if you've switched on at all to what the cross is in the gospels, then you know that those things don't come close. The reality is that the person who is carrying their cross is on their way to execution.

Jesus' first disciples, who he is teaching with these words, ended up with a very real knowledge of taking up their crosses, as many were imprisoned and martyred for their faith. Some of our Christian brothers and sisters in countries around the world where it is dangerous to be a Christian know what this is like – they literally live in the shadow of death because they follow Jesus. For us, the threat is not currently so physical and yet we still need the challenge to be willing to accept whatever cost to our life and livelihood there is when we follow Jesus – whether it is financial or a matter of prestige or some other cost.

Third, I need to follow Jesus. This grounds denying myself and taking up my cross in an example and a perfect one at that. It was Jesus, facing the cup of God's judgement, who denied himself in Gethsemane, saying “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:46c NIV). It was Jesus who faced the cross, not for himself, but for others.

Ultimately the cost of following Jesus is all of me traded-in to become like him. And the big question is, am I willing for that change? The gift of the gospel is totally free. The price was paid fully by Christ and him alone. But if I put my trust in Jesus, then the transformation I face will be total.

Jesus continues in Mark 8 to show us that it's worth it. The only way to save our lives (eternally) is to lose them now (8:35). There's no value in having the whole world now and losing our soul (eternally) (8:36). We have nothing to give to rescue our own souls, so we must follow Jesus who can (8:37). The point is, that this decision to give your whole life over to Jesus is absolutely worth it – whatever it costs now – because eternity will be much longer (!) and better.

My observation of 21st Century Christians in the UK, is that we're pound shop Christians. We want the gift of the gospel, but not the true cost of discipleship. So we're only willing to commit to a cheap imitation that costs us little or nothing. We see it when we ignore sin in our lives, in our churches and in our denominations. We won't face the personal and relational costs of facing it. We see it when we have precious little commitment to evangelism, because it can be awkward and embarrassing and we might lose a friend. We see it in our surface level care for one another, which cares when it is convenient and passes by on the other side when it is not.

So how about you? Here's a couple of questions to get you thinking.

  1. What, if you are honest, are the sins you will not face? Will you pray that you will deny yourself and live for him in those?
  2. Would you die for Jesus, as brothers and sisters round the world are? If not, why not? Do you really believe following him is worth it?

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