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The Cost to Discipleship

Free Gift of Salvation and the Price to Follow Jesus:
The justification of our soul is the free gift of salvation by faith through grace which is given to us through the work and person of Jesus Christ.1 This salvific conquest is not achieved through any human ability to climb a moral latter, but rather God’s infinite kindness and goodness to engage in creation, become an atoning sacrifice, and defeat the bondage of death on our behalf.  All those who receive “Him, who believed in His Name, He [gives] the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 ESV).  Salvation from the deception of sin and the power of death is grounded and rooted in the person of Christ Jesus.  This eternal hope is free for all who embrace Him, and is not contingent upon our own righteousness, but rather His righteousness to uphold the standard of holiness and uprightness in God.
The grace of salvation in Christ has not only given us an ability “to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19 ESV), but has given us the means to live a life full of abandonment for the glory of His Name.  Through the justifying work of Christ the church has received power to live in accordance to God’s design and is fueled to embrace the mission of bringing forth redemption to a broken and fragmented world.2  This power enables holy pursuits for eternal purposes.  Therefore, we have been given power to set our “minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2 ESV).
Yet this shift of mindset and, ultimately, lifestyle is an alteration that is costly and steep.  This pursuit to follow Jesus is one of total surrender, sacrifice, and submission.  American evangelicalism has dulled the edge of biblical discipleship and has yielded its definition to mere programs and an academic intellectual pursuit.  Biblically Jesus is calling for a followship that is cemented upon a surrender to worldliness and an engagement to the eternal and divine aspirations of true discipleship in Christ Jesus.  This lifestyle is not built upon genre, fads, or innovation; but rather upon Christ who calls the church “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1 ESV).  This type of biblical grace “is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow Him; it is grace because Jesus says: ‘My yoke is easy and my burden in light.’”3
The Cost of Discipleship:
In the midst of Jesus’s earthly ministry thousands came to His side to hear the soundness of His teachings and the works of His miracles.  Many were drawn to the amazing signs and wonders performed by the God-man who broke into the created order and lived among the common people.  Many of the Jews were looking for a militant Messiah who would come and overthrow the Roman government.  They sought to gain an advantage with Him in order to reap the blessings of the new world.  Yet their pursuit and inquiries were met with contempt and disdain as Jesus sought not those who desired selfish gain or political status, but rather embodied Gospel living saturated with self-denial, self-sacrifice, and submission to divine authority.
Self-Denial:
During the climax of Jesus’s ministry men and women sought after the attention of the messenger who embodied great wisdom and astounding power.  Even a scribe, as the account in Matthew indicate, came to Jesus proclaiming: “I will follow you wherever you go” (Luke 9:57 ESV).  This man of high esteem and whose colleagues were hostile toward Jesus came to Him and sought to learn under Him.  There was no doubt that the scribe had witnessed much of Jesus’s teachings and miracles.  Yet, like so many other instances, Jesus had a keen understanding of the scribe’s intention and, rather than embrace His new found convert, solidified the treacherous road ahead of him.  Jesus simply responded by saying: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58 ESV).  Jesus was aware that “the scribe, having seen the crowds and the miracles and having heard Jesus’ incomparable teaching, wanted to be associated with the one in the center of all the action, who had an unequalled potential of elevation.”4 Though the scribe desired for fame, honor, and reputation; Jesus indicated the stark reality of His call to discipleship.  Gospel discipleship is not a pursuit toward worldly glory, but rather the glory that is founded in saturating oneself in the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus understood that the issue underlining the scribe was his unwillingness to deny his own idol — fame and notoriety — and pursue the glory and majesty of Christ.  Like the rich young ruler5 the scribe’s reluctance to deny himself was the downfall in pursuing his ultimate joy in Christ Jesus.
Luke 9:62 ESV, “62 Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.'”
Self-Sacrifice:
Others were eager to follow Jesus and jump on the band wagon of what was stirring around His earthly ministry.  Jesus openly invited those who were around Him and many seized the opportunity.  Yet it is important to understand that Jesus’s call to discipleship was not merely an emotive drive or an event coursed agenda, but rather a commitment to a life long journey as having Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Luke uses the Greek word akoloutheo which the verb was used “in the present imperative tense, to indicate He was not seeking a momentary following, but a continuous, lifelong commitment.”6  The individual’s response of wanting to return to his family, first, and fulfill the customary traditions of the son in burying the father was contrary to the type of commitment Jesus was demanding.
Jesus’s response was straightforward and sincere by saying: “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.  But as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60 ESV).  Jesus may have seemed emotionally disconnected or insensitive to the individual’s situation, but His challenge was for the “individual to leave temporal, earthly matters to worldly people and not make them his overriding priority.”7 It was not that Jesus was cold and cynical, but rather Jesus was aiming at the heart of the individual and the idol that hindered ultimate loyalty to Him.
Sacrifice is an essential attribute in the life of a Christian.  Sacrifice mirrors and reflects the character of the Savior and fuels, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Gospel living.  Christian discipleship is not an embrace of grace that enables sinful practice, but rather it is the empowerment of grace that enables obedience in pursuit of Christ exaltation in the heart of the saint.  Discipleship, rooted in Christ, is continuously sacrificial in its aim to have Jesus as the center and focus of one’s life.
Submission to God’s Authority:
The third and final individual to engages in Jesus’s offer says: “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home” (Luke 9:61 ESV).  This individual seems adamant to take Jesus at His offer and embrace the life of discipleship under the wise and authoritative counsel of the Lord.  But what seemed to be an appropriate response becomes a lens into the heart and mind of the potential disciple.  Jesus responds by saying: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62 ESV). Jesus is directly saying that it “is impossible to follow Christ with a divided heart.”8  This individual’s request of Christ revealed that his ties to his family were stronger than his pull to sit under the leadership and discipleship of Christ.  His idol, though within itself (family) is not inherently evil, became a stumbling block in the throne of his heart.  Jesus will not share His glory nor will His “glory [He] give to no other” (Isaiah 42:8 ESV).
Conclusion:
Full submission to Jesus is the response He is seeking for and that is not cheap nor easy.  Cheap grace has lead the church to trample on the glory of God by embracing a Hollywoodized picture of Christianity.  Biblical discipleship is costly and it challenges individuals, as well as the church, to surrender themselves to the power of His Spirit and the grace He provides to fulfill His requirements.
No doubt about it, salvation through the work and person of Jesus Christ is a gift which is freely given by God.  Yet discipleship, in following Jesus all the days of our life, is a costly call to leave the world behind and seek out obedience in His Word for our joy.  In God’s infinite love and compassion He does not leave His church to pursue a life of obedience by our own strength or ability, but has empowered us by His grace through His Spirit to affectionately pursue righteousness for His glory.  Though the Christian life is full of peaks and valleys, His promise is secure in this: He is “with [us] always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 ESV).  This truth allows us to press forward with hope, assurance, faith, and love.
Footnotes
1 Ephesians 2:8 ESV, “8 For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing: it is the gift of God,”
2 Acts 1:8 ESV, “8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
3 Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The Cost of Discipleship (Simon & Schuster: New York, 1995), 45.
4 John MacArthur. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Luke 6 – 10 (Moody Publisher: Chicago, 2011), 318.
5 Matthew 19:16 – 30; Mark 10:17 – 31; Luke 18:18 – 34
6 MacArthur, 315 – 316.
7 Ibid., 320.
8 Ibid., 321.

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