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Count the cost!

Author: Ben Edgington

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Also See What It Costs to Be A True Christian, (An article by J.C. Ryle found at the end of this article)

And Section Living The Faith

I’ve really enjoyed following the Tour de France on television over the last two weeks. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that it is the most demanding sporting event in the world, and without a doubt it is the sports highlight of the year for me. I’ve been recording all the coverage which they broadcast at three in the morning to watch before I go to work, which means I’ve been getting up jolly early!

It’s not well known round here, but many years ago I used to race bicycles myself, which is how I first got into following the Tour every July. I was a member of St Ives Cycling Club; I used to ride around 250 miles a week in training; I had a skintight, lycra body suit, and I even shaved my legs, as all serious cyclists do. Back then it was my ambition to ride the Tour de France one day.

But as you can probably tell from my now less than aerodynamic physique it’s been some time since I’ve cycled 250 miles in a week. In fact, it’s been over three years since I’ve been on a bike at all. Nowadays my cycling activities are reduced to watching from an armchair. I’m no longer a participant, just a spectator.

What’s that got to do with Luke chapter 14? Well, this is the difference that Jesus is addressing here: the difference between being a spectator of the church and being a participant in the church; between being an admirer of Jesus and being a disciple of Jesus.

It will certainly help you if you have the text open at Luke 14:25 if you can find a Bible nearby. I want to look at this little episode under four headings, which are, crowds, cost, counting and consequences.

So, to my first heading, crowds. In verse 25 we read that, Large crowds were traveling with Jesus (Luke 14:25).

At this point in Jesus’ earthly ministry he seems to be causing quite a stir, and he has drawn a big crowd. I think that for us today this would be regarded as a sign of some success. We love to have our churches full: the successful churches are the ones packed full every Sunday. A successful evangelistic rally is one where hundreds of people go forward to pray the prayer.

So, by our standards it looks like Jesus is doing pretty well here. Jesus, however, doesn’t seem to think so. We find him turning to this marvellous crowd, and launching into an extraordinary challenge to them.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple… Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-33)

Follow the Leader

What are you doing Jesus?! They’ll never stick with you if you say things like that to them. Don’t you know the first rule of selling a quality product: never discuss the cost?

But that’s exactly what Jesus does with this crowd of on-lookers: he tells them what it will cost them to follow him. He outlines to them the difference between being a spectator and being a participant in Christianity. He tells them the difference between being his admirers, and his disciples.

[Also See Seeker Friendly, Church Growth Failures in The Bible]

So here’s the second heading: Jesus is telling the crowd about the cost of following him. “If you want to be my disciple it’s going to cost you” , he says. He goes on to mention two particular ways in which discipleship will cost the follower.

1.) Relationships
First of all, being a disciple of Jesus will means changed relationships. As he says in verse 26,

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)

Hang on, what’s this about hating people? Aren’t we supposed to love our neighbours, and to honour our parents? Jesus says something similar to this in Matthew’s gospel which sheds some light on this,

“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37)

So we see that he does not really mean we should “hate” our relatives. He’s using vivid hyperbole; striking exaggeration. It’s a Hebrew idiom which means that in comparison to our love for Jesus, our love for our families, even our love for ourselves, should look like neglect. [Also See Jesus and Division]

For the disciple, Jesus comes first in every relationship; the true convert’s relationships will all be changed dramatically.

So the new Christian may have to face up to rejection from his or her parents. In some cultures of the world this can mean ejection from the family, or even death. [See Article: Persecution Is A Reality!]

The new Christian’s marriage might come under strain, as new priorities are worked out in that relationship. Indeed, in the Bible we see evidence that marriages broke down when one of the partners became a Christian.

If the new Christian is not yet married, then his or her faith will have a major impact on whom they eventually marry. A non-Christian partner is out; priorities are changed; Jesus comes first now.

A new Christian’s relationships with his or her children may need to change. To try bring them up in knowledge and love of Jesus might be a struggle that is very costly; it might mean discipline and confrontation.

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)

So, being a disciple of Jesus will affect a person’s closest relationships, and by implication all his or her other relationships as well, because Jesus must come first in every encounter we have.

2.) Life
Having talked of changed relationships, Jesus goes on in verse 27 to say that being a disciple will mean a changed life.

“Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)

Jesus is describing here a life of sacrifice. We are to be living sacrifices, as we saw in last week’s sermon; we are to get on to the altar and offer ourselves to God. When Jesus carried his cross he was on the way to give his life for us. In the same way a disciple carries his cross by giving his life for others.

Practically speaking this means that the new convert will have to make many changes in her life. Jesus will leave no area of her life alone, and a would-be disciple must give up control over every aspect of it.

The disciple has no right to say “no” to Jesus; there is no area of his life where the disciple can say, “No Jesus, not that” . Elsewhere, Jesus says something similar,

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)

A disciple must be prepared to deny himself, and instead to follow Jesus by doing things his way, in every aspect of his life.

To carry one’s cross, to be a living sacrifice, may be very costly. It means giving all of our time and all of our money; it means loving the unloveable and touching the untouchable; it means honesty and integrity in everything we do; it means loving and forgiving however we are wronged by others; it means a life of moral and sexual purity; it means daily confronting and putting right the wrongs we do to God, and the wrongs we do to others.

3.) Possessions
Thirdly, in addition to being prepared to change his relationships and to change his life, the would-be disciple must be prepared to change his possessions —everything he considers to be his own—as Jesus says in verse 33,

“Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33)

Easy to say; not so easy to do, is it?

So, this triple challenge might lead to us changing our ambitions, changing our jobs, changing the country we live in, changing how we spend our time, changing what we wear, changing what we own, changing what we watch on television. Perhaps changing everything.

This is the challenge that Jesus gives to the crowd of would-be disciples. Know the cost: it will change your relationships; it will change your life; it will change what you own.

Jesus gives this challenge because he is not content to fill the church with spectators and half-hearted amateurs. What Jesus wants is disciples: in the Great Commission, he doesn’t say, “Go and make converts of all nations” , he says, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) And, as Jesus says, discipleship is costly.

[A bit of a diversion from the text, but helpful, I hope] A pastor and theologian called Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a wonderful book called “The Cost of Discipleship“, which I recommend highly to you. In the book he draws a contrast between what he calls the “cheap grace” that we offer people to get them into the church, and the “costly grace” that Jesus offers people.

Cheap grace is a promise of God’s blessings without any appreciation of the cost. As Bonhoeffer puts it,

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

People lured into the church by the promise of cheap grace will take their faith very lightly. Bonhoeffer starts his book by saying, “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace” . Costly grace is what Jesus offers us. To quote again from Bonhoeffer,

“Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that the he has. It is a pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son, and what has cost God much cannot be cheaper for us.”

Incidentally, Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew a bit about the cost of discipleship. He was a German, and throughout the war, driven by his Christian faith, he opposed the Nazis. Eventually, in 1943, the Gestapo arrested him and sent him first to prison and then to concentration camps. He was executed by the Nazis at the Flossenburg concentration camp just five days before it was liberated by the Nazis. He had written his book, the Cost of Discipleship, many years earlier, but there’s no doubt that he lived out what he preached.

Costly grace is the only grace worth having, that’s why Jesus here challenges the crowd with the cost of following him.
[See Article: Mustard Seeds and Mega-Churches ]

So, how can we make disciples for Jesus rather than admirers of him? Well, Jesus shows us how in v28. We should take our potential converts and sit them down before they make a decision, in order to count the cost with them. And that’s my third heading, counting the cost.

Jesus gives us two little pictures to illustrate this, and basically it’s just common sense, isn’t it?

In verses 28-30 he describes a man building a tower.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” ( (Luke 14: 28-30)

Of course he will sit down beforehand and estimate the cost, and check his resources, before embarking on the project. No one wants to end up a laughing stock, do they? Perhaps we could change the word “tower” to “dome” to make it more contemporary, or am I being a little unfair?

More seriously, we should understand that Christian discipleship is like going to war, which is the picture Jesus uses in verses 31-32.

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.” (Luke 14:31,32)

In other words, Jesus is saying, “Don’t start it if you can’t finish it. Sit down beforehand and estimate the cost. The cost of failure is enormous” . This is what we should be doing with our would-be disciples, perhaps after the Alpha course this autumn, or whatever other opportunities we have.

This is the kind of thing that Jesus often did. You remember the Rich Young Ruler who came to Jesus? (Matthew 19:16-22) Any church today would welcome this guy with open arms, especially, I guess, if they had some kind of reordering project going on. “You seem to be a genuine seeker. Come in and have a nice comfy seat”. [Also See Seeker Friendly, Church Growth Failures in The Bible]

Jesus, however, isn’t so quick to welcome him in. First he sets out what it will cost the man. Jesus will have to be Lord of all of his life, and that includes his wallet. When the young man heard this, it says, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Matthew 19:22) He wasn’t prepared to do verse 33, to put Jesus first by giving up everything he had, so he couldn’t be a disciple.

You see, Jesus wants to fill his church with disciples, not admirers; participants, not spectators.

So, like Jesus, we need to sit down with people and help them to count the cost of discipleship before they embark on the Christian life.

As my final heading I’d like to look into the consequences of not doing this. Crowds, cost, counting and consequences.

I guess that we are so reluctant to present the demands of Christ to would-be disciples because we fear that it will put them off Christianity, and drive them away. But Jesus is quite clear that the consequences of not doing so are far more serious.

The consequence of not counting the cost at the beginning is that people will fall away. Like the man with the tower, they won’t be able to finish it; or they are in danger of giving up in a spiritual battle for which they are not prepared.

And for a Christian, falling away completely is disastrous. It’s worse than never having been a Christian at all. Jesus uses a picture of salt to illustrate this,

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure heap; it is thrown out.” (Luke 14:34-35)

A believer who loses his or her saltiness cannot be made salty again. Hebrews chapter six puts it even more starkly:

“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” (Hebrews 6:4-6)

It seems that if somebody is not prepared for discipleship it’s better for them not to begin at all.

On two occasions when I’ve led somebody to Christ I have neglected to present them with the cost of discipleship. To my deep sorrow, as in the parable of the sower, both of these people were like the seed that fell among thorns. The weeds grew up and choked the new life they had begun. They were not prepared for the discipline of discipleship.

On the other hand we should not worry about putting people off by talking about the cost of discipleship. I actually became a Christian at a talk about the cost of discipleship. So I certainly wasn’t put off.

Presenting the cost doesn’t put people off, on the contrary it shows people that we have something valuable, something worth giving our lives for.

So, the take-home message that I’d like you to have tonight is that, like Jesus, we should make sure to tell people the cost of discipleship when they come to us.

But, I’d just like to finish this sermon with a slightly different thought, which is that, like Jesus, we should also live the cost of discipleship.

For so many people in the world the gospel is just a piece of worthless junk; they have no idea how precious it is. We know that the gospel is a “pearl of great price”, don’t we? It’s worth everything that we have, but so often we don’t let it show. In our lives, let’s allow people to see how much following Jesus means to us; let’s show them what it costs us to be his disciples.

Let’s show the world, to borrow from an old advertising campaign, that following Jesus is “reassuringly expensive”.


by J.C. Ryle

Let there be no mistake about my meaning. I am not examining what it costs to save a Christian’s soul. I know well that it costs nothing less than the blood of the Son of God to provide atonement, and to redeem man from hell. The price paid for our redemption was nothing less than the death of Jesus Christ on Calvary. We “are bought with a price.” “Christ gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Timothy 2:6). But all this is wide of the question. The point I want to consider is another one altogether. It is what a man must be ready to give up if he wishes to be saved. It is the amount of sacrifice a man must submit to if he intends to serve Christ. It is in this sense that I raise the question, “What does it cost?” And I believe firmly that it is a most important one.

I grant freely that it costs little to be a mere outward Christian. A man has only got to attend a place of worship twice on Sunday, and to be tolerably moral during the week, and he has gone as far as thousands around him ever go in religion — All this is cheap and easy work: it entails no self-denial or self-sacrifice. If this is saving Christianity, and will take us to heaven when we die, we must alter the description of the way of life, and write, “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to heaven!”

But it does cost something to be a real Christian, according to the standard of the Bible. There are enemies to be overcome, battles to be fought, sacrifices to be made, an Egypt to be forsaken, a wilderness to be passed through, a cross to be carried, a race to be run. Conversion is not putting a man in an armchair and taking him easily to heaven. It is the beginning of a mighty conflict, in which it costs much to win the victory. Hence arises the unspeakable importance of “counting the cost.”

Let me try to show precisely and particularly what it costs to be a true Christian. Let us suppose that a man is disposed to take service with Christ, and feels drawn and inclined to follow Him. Let us suppose that some affliction, or some sudden death, or an awakening sermon, has stirred his conscience, and made him feel the value of his soul and desire to be a true Christian. No doubt there is everything to encourage him. His sins may be freely forgiven, however many and great. His heart may be completely changed, however cold and hard. Christ and the Holy Spirit, mercy and grace, are all ready for him. But still he should count the cost. Let us see particularly, one by one, the things that his religion will cost him.

(1) For one thing, it will cost him his self-righteousness. He must cast away all pride and high thoughts, and conceit of his own goodness. He must be content to go to heaven as a poor sinner, saved only by free grace, and owing all to the merit and righteousness of another. He must really feel as well as say the Prayer-book words — that he has “erred and gone astray like a lost sheep,” that he has “left undone the things he ought to have done, and done the things he ought not to have done, and that there is no health in him.” He must be willing to give up all trust in his own morality, respectability, praying, Bible reading, church-going, and sacrament-receiving, and to trust in nothing but Jesus Christ.

Now this sounds hard to some. I do not wonder. “Sir,” said a godly plough-man to the well-known James Hervey, of Weston Favell, “it is harder to deny proud self than sinful self. But it is absolutely necessary.” Let us set down this item first and foremost in our account. To be a true Christian it will cost a man his self-righteousness.

(2) For another thing, it will cost a man his sins. He must be willing to give up every habit and practice which is wrong in God’s sight. He must set his face against it, quarrel with it, break off from it, fight with it, crucify it, and labour to keep it under, whatever the world around him may say or think. He must do this honestly and fairly. There must be no separate truce with any special sin which he loves. He must count all sins as his deadly enemies, and hate every false way. Whether little or great, whether open or secret, all his sins must be thoroughly renounced. They may struggle hard with him every day, and sometimes almost get the mastery over him. But he must never give way to them. He must keep up a perpetual war with his sins. It is written — “Cast away from you all your transgressions.” — “Break off thy sins and iniquities.” — “Cease to do evil.” (Ezek. 18:31; Daniel 4:27; Isa. 1:16).

This also sounds hard. I do not wonder. Our sins are often as dear to us as our children: we love them, hug them, cleave to them, and delight in them. To part with them is as hard as cutting off a right hand, or plucking out a right eye. But it must be done. The parting must come. “Though wickedness be sweet in the sinner’s mouth, though he hide it under his tongue; though he spare it, and forsake it not,” yet it must be given up, if he wishes to be saved. (Job 20:12, 13.) He and sin must quarrel, if he and God are to be friends. Christ is willing to receive any sinners. But He will not receive them if they will stick to their sins. Let us set down that item second in our account. To be a Christian it will cost a man his sins.

(3) For another thing, it will cost a man his love of ease. He must take pains and trouble, if he means to run a successful race towards heaven. He must daily watch and stand on his guard, like a soldier on enemy’s ground. He must take heed to his behaviour every hour of the day, in every company, and in every place, in public as well as in private, among strangers as well as at home. He must be careful over his time, his tongue, his temper, his thoughts, his imagination, his motives, his conduct in every relation of life. He must be diligent about his prayers, his Bible reading, and his use of Sundays, with all their means of grace. In attending to these things he may come far short of perfection; but there is none of them that he can safely neglect. “The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat” (Prov. 13:4).

This also sounds hard. There is nothing we naturally dislike so much as “trouble” about our religion. We hate trouble. We secretly wish we could have a “vicarious” Christianity, and could be good by proxy, and have everything done for us. Anything that requires exertion and labour is entirely against the grain of our hearts. But the soul can have “no gains without pains.” Let us set down that item third in our account. To be a Christian it will cost a man his love of ease.

(4) In the last place, it will cost a man the favor of the world. He must be content to be thought ill of by man if he pleases God. He must count it no strange thing to be mocked, ridiculed, slandered, persecuted, and even hated. He must not be surprised to find his opinions and practices in religion despised and held up to scorn. He must submit to be thought by many a fool, an enthusiast, and a fanatic — to have his words perverted and his actions misrepresented. In fact, he must not marvel if some call him mad. The Master says — “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also”(John15:20). [See Article: An Open Letter to Richmond, VA ]

I dare say this also sounds hard. We naturally dislike unjust dealing and false charges, and think it very hard to be accused without cause. We should not be flesh and blood if we did not wish to have the good opinion of our neighbours. It is always unpleasant to be spoken against, and forsaken, and lied about, and to stand alone. But there is no help for it. The cup which our Master drank must be drunk by His disciples. They must be “despised and rejected of men” (Isa. 53:3). Let us set down that item last in our account. To be a Christian it will cost a man the favor of the world.
[See Article: A Call To Separation!]

Such is the account of what it costs to be a true Christian. I grant the list is a heavy one. But where is the item that could be removed? Bold indeed must that man be who would dare to say that we may keep our self-righteousness, our sins, our laziness, and our love of the world, and yet be saved!

I grant it costs much to be a true Christian. But who in his sound senses can doubt that it is worth any cost to have the soul saved? When the ship is in danger of sinking, the crew think nothing of casting overboard the precious cargo. When a limb is mortified, a man will submit to any severe operation, and even to amputation, to save life. Surely a Christian should be willing to give up anything which stands between him and heaven. A religion that costs nothing is worth nothing! A cheap Christianity, without a cross, will prove in the end a useless Christianity, without a crown.

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