Jesus’ parables of the man planning to build a tower and the king planning to go to war in Luke 14 (v25-33) highlight the cost of discipleship, and advise careful planning before deciding to follow Jesus. At our service on Sunday, we weighed up the costs and benefits of discipleship, concluding (as you may expect!) that the benefits outweigh the costs many times over!
Following Jesus doesn’t come for free: Jesus teaches us that we have to deny ourselves and take up our cross in following him (Matt 16:21-27). We tried a light-hearted exercise at our church service on Sunday to compare the costs and benefits of discipleship. For those of us who have already decided to follow Jesus, this exercise is still useful in reminding us why we made this commitment in the first place!
- Sin can be fun! That’s why it is so tempting. If we decided to follow Jesus, we make a commitment to resist the urge to sin and so miss out on ‘the fleeting pleasures of sin’ (Heb 11:25).
- Persecution. Whilst most readers will be free from the sort of persecution that the first century Christians had to face, Paul’s message to Timothy suggests that a degree of persecution will come the way of all Christians at some point (2 Tim 3:12).
- Financial hit. Christianity can be an expensive business (Luke 18: 18-30). (Just to be clear though, any financial contributions must be entirely voluntary, with no compulsion, coercion, or expectation from a church!)
- Family and social group tension. Jesus describes a situation of real family tension in Luke 14:26, perhaps reflecting on his own experience? Also, we may find that friends with which we used to have a lot in common become more distant when we decide to follow Jesus (Eph 5:11)
- A low opinion of yourself. Whilst it is not helpful or in line with Bible teaching to be ‘full of Christian guilt’ and have low self-esteem, which can be very damaging, Jesus and others teach that we need to have a realistic view of our own sin-proneness (e.g. Luke 14:26, Jer 17:9).
- New burdens. Jesus asks his followers to ‘take up their cross’ (Luke 14:27). I suspect that the cross will be an individual thing: it could be a particular temptation, a challenging relationship, or upsetting circumstances – but being a Christian will bring new challenges!
- Purpose. The first and foremost benefit of following Jesus isn’t a personal benefit at all! Your life is surrendered to a God-focused life, with all the sense of purpose that brings (1 Cor 10:31). This allows Christians to recognise and, in a sense, embrace the futility of life (Ecc 2:11).
- Eternal life. The ultimate hope for a Christian is eternal life worshipping God (2 Cor 4:17). Eternal life will be so mind-blowingly amazing that words fail to describe it (1 Cor 2:9).
- Hope. Whilst the ‘deferred reward’ of eternal life is there as a ‘carrot’ to see us through challenging times, there is plenty to be thankful for in the here and now. When the life of a fellow Christian comes to an end, whilst there is a time of mourning, it’s not bleak because of the hope of the resurrection (1 Thes 4:13)
- Fellowship, companionship, and a sense of belonging. Christians become part of a family, which works together, and looks after all members’ needs: spiritually, materially, and socially (1 Cor 12). A Christian family is a place of fun, friendship, and (as with all families) falling-out-and-making-up-again!
- Shared burdens. Jesus promises that his burden is light, because Christian burdens are shared with Christ himself and with fellow Christians (Matt 11:30). When it all gets a bit much, we are encouraged to ‘cast your burdens upon the LORD, and he will sustain your (Psa 55:22).
- Peace and forgiveness. Life can be troubling, and Jesus offers us safe harbour, forgiveness of sins, and certainty in an uncertain world (Psa 103:12, Isa 43:25, Col 1:13-14).
We visualised some of these costs and benefits of discipleship using the help of some of the congregation (see the image above). But where do we start in weighing up the costs and against the benefits? Is it about trying to find more costs than benefits? Not really, because some of the points above hold considerably more weight than others. Paul’s comment to the Corinthian church is helpful here:
‘For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.’ (2 Cor 4:17-18).
Assuming that you conclude, like me, that the benefits of discipleship far outweigh the costs, where do we go from here? We leave our old life behind us and follow Jesus. A good example of somebody who very literally left his old life behind him is Abram, who journeyed from his home in Ur to the land of Canaan by faith (Heb 11:14-16). The passage in Hebrews urges us to look forward and not be drawn back to our old way of life (see also Luke 9:57-62, Luke 17:30-33, Heb 12:2, Col 3:1-11 and Phil 3:13-14).
‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.’ (2 Cor 5:17).