Unedited notes from a sermon I preached on the Cost of Discipleship… Jesus commands us to count the cost, but what does that mean?
The Gospel doesn’t come to us on our terms… sometimes we want to shift and change what God’s word clearly says to us because it doesn’t fit our desires, or makes us uncomfortable. Yes, the Gospel is beautiful, Christ is a gracious Saviour, God is merciful, and I am captivated by the great love of God shown on the Cross… but there is a severity to the call of discipleship that is perhaps often overlooked as well. The Gospel, in many ways, is not as much an invitation as much as it is an ultimatum. No where do I see Jesus beg someone to follow Him. His challenge and call are often steep – take it or leave it. He’s God, and we need to recognize who is the beggar in this exchange. God is not begging, we are the beggars blinded to our own poverty.
“God warns with his wrath and he woos with his kindness. He speaks both languages: severity and tenderness. Do you recall how Jesus interpreted the coming of John the Baptist as a severe, leather-girded, locus-eating, desert-living, adultery-condemning prophet, on the one hand, and his own coming as a party-going, wine-making, child-healing, sin-forgiving Saviour, on the other hand? He said, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” Instead, you said, “John has a demon and Jesus is a glutton” (Matthew 11:17). The gospel came with both languages, but they would not hear.”
– John Piper
Jesus often used that phrase, “he who has ears to hear, let him hear.” In fact, a lot of times He would give a high challenge when there was a crowd following to intentionally see who was serious. In Luke 14:25-33, we find Jesus giving one of the most non-seeker friendly Gospel invitations ever.
“If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.
And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.
…So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.”
(Luke 14:26-27, 33 NLT)
We should remember that this was not some “advanced level discipleship”, this was an alter call… this was basic. Perhaps we need to learn from how He did discipleship and stop trying to be so “seeker sensitive” to the expense of the Gospel and it’s cost.
These are the marks of a true disciple and convert. It is a weird thing today, that some evangelicals seem to have some sort of separation between a convert to Christianity and a disciple. As if you could be saved, but not be a disciple. And while salvation is free, discipleship costs. We do a great disservice to people when we preach a ‘costless’ Gospel. So we’re going to take a look next at the cost of discipleship and see if this is one you want to take, or have taken.
ALL OR NOTHING:
Jesus said it twice in Luke…
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23 ESV)
Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:27 ESV)
As if that wasn’t clear enough, just a bit later he clarifies:
“So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.” (Luke 14:33 NLT)
But surely He can’t mean that? Let’s take a look at the Greek… maybe that will tell us something different… In the Greek, the phrase used is:
οὕτως οὖν πᾶς ἐξ ὑμῶν ὃς οὐκ ἀποτάσσεται πᾶσιν τοῖς ἑαυτοῦ ὑπάρχουσιν, οὐ δύναται εἶναί μου μαθητής
or “pas ex hymōn hos ouk apostassetai pasin tois heautou hyparchousin, ou dynatai einai mou mathētēs”
…which means ANYONE WHO DOES NOT GIVE UP ALL THAT YOU POSSESS CANNOT BE MY DISCIPLE!!
I know right!! Go figure! Jesus meant what He said!! If anything it might be stronger in the Greek. The word “apostassetai” (where we derive apostate) means, “to withdraw from, renounce, send away, give away, bid farewell, say goodbye to”… this what we do to “pasin” or “all, the whole, every kind of, the entirety of” that we possess. Maybe we need to stop trying to look for loopholes and new ‘interpretations’ for what the Sovereign Lord says is necessary for discipleship and just listen to Him, because maybe He knows a little bit better than us…
So it follows that, if following Christ has never cost you anything, you’re not following Him. Martin Luther said that, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.” If you’re sitting here and your whole Christianity never incurred any loss, any giving up totally of your old life, of control of your life, your finances, your relationships and all that you own – if your Christianity is just based on “I made a decision”, you have bought into decisionism and not really grasped the Gospel’s cost.
The Disciple is not greater than his Master:
There are warnings both to the unsaved and also to those who have made a profession of faith in the bible. We are not greater than our Master, and if they mistreated the King of Glory, we can’t expect that following Him is going to be all peachy – unless we’re not truly following Him.
“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.
The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me.
(John 15:18-21 NLT)
Jesus’ promise of comfort was not that we would have an easy life when we become a disciple. All these prosperity preachers sell a false gospel to tickle the ears. They speak of your best life now, but what then is your next life? If your best life is now, your next certainly is not heaven! No, the Gospel’s call is to come and die to yourself with the promise that ALL who desire to live a godly life will suffer… The promise of suffering is all throughout every book of the New Testament, except for 1 Timothy, but Paul makes up for that in 2 Timothy… Jesus’ own words were:
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NLT)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way, “Discipleship is not an offer that man makes to Christ.” It is one that we receive, on His terms. The call is to take comfort, not in the material, not in the seen, but in Christ alone… that He has overcome the world, and in Him we have hope beyond this world. This is our great inspiration to live boldly beyond what makes sense in this world’s eyes. Paul said:
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1 ESV)
Paul said he bore in his body the wounds of Christ, he longed to partake in the fellowship of His sufferings so that more and more he could be like Jesus and know Him more… what drives a man to give up all that he has to follow after someone? Only that which vastly surpasses all that he has in worth could make such an exchange even considerable… well how much more when we’re offered the very Son of God Himself as our reward!?
1. Your Life & Passions
Picking up your cross is a call to die… What does it mean to give up our life? We are not called to be suicidal… but it is a giving up of our rights to live our life, to own our life.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
“…for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor 6:20 ESV)
Salvation is an exchange. We give up our life, for new life. So, neither do we any longer live for selfish gain, for our own dreams and desires apart from God, but rather – every decision, every detail is brought under the Lordship of Christ. How often do we ask before we make a life decision or choice, “would this bring glory to God or help in the testimony of the Gospel in my life?” Paul again said:
But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24 ESV)
But how do we live this out practically?
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV)
This is not just a mere belief in a higher power, this is a call to bet it all on Christ. All or nothing. We’re all in with no backup plan. We trust in the Lord with ALL our heart – even when it doesn’t make sense within our own understanding. Acknowledging Him in ALL our ways goes back to what I just mentioned about making every decision in light of the Gospel’s demand on your life. If you really believe the Gospel, that people who don’t know it are damned to eternity of torment, how does that practically affect the decisions you make, your life direction, how you spend your time and money?
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)
Notice that Paul does not say work FOR your salvation, he says work OUT your salvation. Implying that if we’re already saved, you already have the Holy Spirit living in you… so work that out, work out what has already been placed in you. Let the new nature, with its new desires for righteousness and godliness direct you – knowing that this is how God works in you – both to will (desire) and to work (ability) for His good pleasure. When we are saved, God sovereignly works through our free wills by giving us Godly desires to direct us, and the ability to do the things which please Him so that we delight in following Him! This is why 1 John says that we follow His commands and they are not burdensome… they are now our delight!
If you claim to have a new relationship with God, you should have a new relationship with your sin and His word! The old self serving passions should be crucified daily and replaced with new passions to serve, share the Gospel, love sacrificially, read His word, pray and fellowship together with believers. Here is the great paradox – that the more we try to live to please ourselves, the more we become miserable. Sin has a way of titillating our desires but never satisfying them and just leaving us more empty. In this, the one who tries to gain his life loses it… the more you make your life about you – the more miserable you’re going to be. And we know this!! But we still continually buy into the myth that all we need is more of that which never satisfies… the Gospel frees us from this slavery, because we know that God is for us so we don’t need to be so obsessed with our own well being. Our focus can be outward. We can lose our life to gain it.
ASK YOURSELF: So do you delight in following Him? Do you weigh all that you do according to the Gospel’s call on your life? Or are you still following your own plan for your life? Do you hate the sin you once loved and love the Word you once hated? Are your hearts stirred when you hear the truth preached, or are you half asleep and bored?
2. Money & Time
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13 NLT)
It has been said that you can look at how you spend your money and know where your passions lie. I think that’s pretty true, and if what our culture says is true – that time is money. Then equally true would be where do we spend our time? Do we have the mentality that the things God blesses us with are not ends in themselves? We were never meant to derive our joy or meaning from the blessings of God, but in God Himself. We must have a mentality of stewardship for all that we own, for in reality – if we are Christ’s, we own nothing! Therefore how wicked is it for the servant to spend the Master’s possessions on his own pleasures?
“And the Lord replied, “A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them.
If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward. I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns. But what if the servant thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? The master will return unannounced and unexpected, and he will cut the servant in pieces and banish him with the unfaithful.
“And a servant who knows what the master wants, but isn’t prepared and doesn’t carry out those instructions, will be severely punished.” (Luke 12:42-48 NLT)
We must realize that the Christian life is war. In peace time, people are worried about comforts and luxuries. How they can increase their wealth, how they can buy more stuff and decorate the house. But in war times, people will sacrifice because there is a battle to be fought, there’s an enemy to guard against, there’s ground to be won and wounded who need rescue. Jesus said it himself, He did not come to bring peace but a sword. The Kingdom of Heaven is violently advancing (Matt 11:12) and taking ground… there will inevitably be backlash as we go into enemy territory.
This war-time mentality changes the way we think about everything! Even the way we pray. Prayer is not our room service line to God to call up our temporal conveniences and pleasures. It is our battle walkie-talkie as we go out and engage, take ground and advance the Kingdom. John Piper has said, “unless you know that life is war, you won’t know what prayer is for.” And maybe that’s the problem, too many of us are sideline Christians, like David we have stayed behind when we should be on the frontlines – and likewise we fall into sin. Too many Christians are bored because they’ve been sitting at home when thousands of their brothers fall on the frontlines. May our cry be that of Uriah, “how can I stay here at home and sleep in the comfort of my bed with my wife when my brothers are out there fighting?”
“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.
So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.
“Sell your possessions and give to those in need. This will store up treasure for you in heaven! And the purses of heaven never get old or develop holes. Your treasure will be safe; no thief can steal it and no moth can destroy it. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”
(Luke 12:29-34 NLT)
I’ll be honest. This passage gives me a lot of difficulty. Because I know that many of us struggle with this one. Could Jesus really mean to sell our possessions? Who lives like that? He tells us to not be worried about what we eat or drink, not even the comforts but the material necessities of life, because if we do – we’re like those who don’t believe… but here is the comfort, that it gives God great pleasure to give us the Kingdom!
This sort of thinking makes no sense if we’re living in peace time, but to someone in the battle – it makes perfect sense. To sell what you have for the war effort was common practice during the World Wars… this was what was happening with the war bonds drive, we see this even today with countries at war. We see this in the persecuted church… I saw a glimpse of this in Cuba among a church that is oppressed and a people who are poor – that even out of their poverty, they sold possessions to help out brothers in need. Why? Because they didn’t have the blinders of the wealthy west to realize that they were on the battlefield. So am I saying that you should all sell everything and live like a pauper? Well… perhaps. But maybe the more relevant question is why is that such a foreign or unthinkable thing to us to consider should God call us to do so? Is it because we have made an idol out of things that we’re not able to sacrifice them? This is not me trying to tell everyone to be ridiculous and make rash decisions financially… in fact, just the opposite. It is for us to make sensible financial decisions in light of eternity! Perhaps the very “blessings” we are fortunate to have do end up becoming hindrances to us really keeping our eyes fixed on the goal and mission we’re on… Now, please note – I’m not preaching against wealth, or having stuff, or being rich necessarily – these are not sinful in themselves – I do think that God does bless some people materially… BUT – it is never as an ends in itself. There is a bigger purpose. And we must never stop at thinking that what God has blessed us with is ONLY for our benefit, especially not if we’re mission minded in our mentality.
Maybe gathering some perspective will help…
When the rich stay at home:
Make no mistake – we are rich. Even for you here who don’t think you are – you are. If you have ONE meal a day and a roof over your head, you are already richer than the majority of the world’s population. If you have more than $2.50US ($20TT) today – you are better off than 3 billion of the world’s population. 80% of the world lives on less than $10US ($60TT) a day. 22,000 children die every day due to poverty. 1.1 billion have inadequate access to water to survive. Nearly a billion are unable to read a book or sign their name. We are very rich, and very comfortable.
And make no mistake – we are in a war. How many die every day without even hearing the Gospel? In the US alone, there are on average 15 abortions per every 1000 women of childbearing age. This results in over 1 million abortions per year in the US alone. Whole generations are being massacred. The death toll due to abortions in the US alone is more than all wars in history put together! There are 4,083 unreached individual people groups which makes up about 3billion people. That’s about 41.8$ of the world unreached. 1,390 people groups in the 10/40 Window don’t even have any scripture in their language. Approximately 162,000 will die on average daily. In terms of people who believe in the Biblical plan of salvation – it has been estimated only 7% of the world believes. But even if that is totally wrong, let’s say and they forgot a zero – and it’s actually 70% – that still means that over 48,000 are going to an eternity of torment apart from Christ. There are approximately 7.08 people, and 59,259,600 deaths per year. That means about 17,777,880 people going to Hell a year according to a conservative estimate.
We, the western church at large, are incredibly rich and for the most part – uninvolved on the battlefield. Listen, we often read the parable of the rich young ruler and think that Jesus is talking about those celebrity and multi-millionaire types… but I think this is very much an appropriate word for us here in the western church. We read him saying to sell all your possessions, give to the poor, to truly love sacrificially and we think it’s for someone else!
“How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:24b NLT)
We’ve bought into the lie of the “American dream”. We haven’t truly gotten a grasp of the weight and cost of discipleship. We don’t see the battle raging right in front of us. Meanwhile, there are literally multitudes dying without even a hope of eternity and we’re largely undisturbed or put it off for tomorrow. But…
“Tomorrow is the devil’s day, but today is God’s. Satan does not care how spiritual your intentions are, or how holy your resolutions, if only they are determined to be done tomorrow.”
– J.C. Ryle
I’m not just saying give… but give for the right reasons… this is not a drive by guilting…. These statistics do tug at the heart strings, and rightly so… but this is a call to remember… to remember the mission we’re on, the battle to be fought and that nothing we have are blessed with is meant to be an end in itself, but to point us back to the Source of our true joy… this is why, we are to give cheerfully! Knowing that we are blessed to be a blessing – even with the willingness to give it all if required of us, because we recognize it is all His anyways. In being generous – we actually are able to experience some of who God is – because He is so generous to us, and takes delight in being generous… we too experience this joy when we are generous to others!
ASK YOURSELF: So how do we spend our time and money to show that we are wartime Christians? Do you sacrifice of your time and money for the advancement of the Gospel, to help your brothers? Do you decide to live a life of simplicity, living below your means so you can give more to the cause of the Gospel? What is your prayer life like? Is it for life’s comforts, Lord bless me… or do you have bruised knees crying out for the souls of loved ones and friends?
3. Comfort & Convenience
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Luke 9:57-58 ESV)
The Gospel afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted.
If we truly understand the weight of the Gospel – that those who have not heard are perishing to a hellish eternity – our love for them should drive us out of complacency. It did for the disciples, many of them died for the sake of the Gospel and gave up on this life’s comforts. However, largely here in the west we have bred a culture of comfort, where our prayer is:
“The TV is my shepherd, my spiritual life shall want, It makes me to sit down and do nothing for the cause of Christ. It demandeth my spare time. It restoreth my desire for the things of the world. It keepeth me from studying the truth of God’s Word. It leadeth me in the path of failure to attend God’s house. Yea, though I live to be a hundred, I will fear no rental; My ‘Telly’ is with me, its sound and vision comfort me. It prepareth a program for me, even in the presence of visitors. Its volume shall be full. Surely comedy and commercials shall follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in spiritual poverty forever.”
“The early Church was married to poverty, prisons and persecutions. Today, the church is married to prosperity, personality, and popularity.” ~ Leonard Ravenhill
It’s not comfortable being a disciple maker – especially if you are reaching out to the least of these… the drug dealers, the prostitutes, the poor, the homeless… they’ll be smelly, messed up, drugged up and crass. Gospel work is dirty work. You might have to give up your pristine, clean car to give a ride to someone who hasn’t showered… OH DEAR! Or perhaps sacrifice buying that new CD or video game or jewellery or shoes to give to missions or children’s charities… GASP! Or maybe as you witness to people on the streets and they accept the Gospel, you will have to offer your home to them as they’ll be rejected from their families or perhaps were homeless… UH OH!
The work gets dirty. It’s uncomfortable. It’s inconvenient. But we are comforted by a greater one, and a greater pleasure – that as we do it to the least of these – we’ve done it to our Lord, that as we go He is with us, that as we give – we invest in heavenly riches where neither moth nor rust can corrupt. That seems like a wise investment to me. But we live like we don’t really believe that a lot of the time.
ASK YOURSELF: So how comfortable are you with being comfortable? How willing are you to be inconvenienced for the sake of the Gospel? Or do we just drive past people we see as “inconveniences” from the comfort of our cars?
4. Friends, Relationship & Family
“If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26 NLT)
All other relationships not just take second place to Christ, but must look by comparison to be hate. A non-treasured Christ is a non-saving Christ. Jesus is saying, you must love me more than anyone in your life, even more than your own life. This is a steep demand, a tough call. There are no grey areas with Christ, He leaves none. If He was not who He said He was, it would be ridiculous and offensive for Him to make such demands. But, if He is in fact the Sovereign Lord, Creator and Sustainer of all things – it is His right to ask for that which is rightfully His.
Our love for others flows out from our love for God. It is because we love God so much that this overflows to love expressed for others. Jesus in demanding us to love Him more is not saying to hate others, but actually calling us to a higher love – a love we cannot attain by ourselves. An agape love – God’s love. This is why Jesus doesn’t just want to be number one in our lives – He wants number 2, 3, 4… the whole thing – every place! He’s everything or nothing.
“Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.” (Luke 18:29-30 NLT)
Some of you will lose friends and family for the sake of truly following Christ. But again, this is not a sacrifice without repayment… we await a better land… but also He says in this life as well! For as we follow Him sold out, God supplies others who will become our new family. As Jesus even remarked – who are my brother and mother? The ones who do the will of my Father… As we serve and are sold out for the Gospel – that fire – it attracts others of like mind. And the company we keep greatly affects us and our walk. Let us not forget that this Christian walk was not meant to be done in isolation! You need those Godly men and women in your life who can call you out on stuff, encourage you and keep you accountable. If you don’t have this – you’re treading on thin ice!
“Our closest friends must be those who are pursuing holiness because they will have an enormous effect upon our lives. … You tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you exactly who you are or who you’re about to become. Run with the righteous.” ~ Steven Lawson
ASK YOURSELF: So who are you running with? What does the company you keep say about you? Are they just lukewarm Christians who will never call you out on your apathy? Who never make you feel convicted by the way they live their lives sold out for the Gospel? While this is not a call to remove yourself totally from anyone who is not a radical Christian, the company we keep will affect us and play a big role in either helping or hindering our walk with the Lord. Are you willing to lose your current friends and family for the sake of following Christ? Or are those still an idol in your heart? Are you dating someone who is following Christ wholeheartedly? Or are you willing to be unequally yoked?
5. Your Safety:
“Now go, and remember that I am sending you out as lambs among wolves.” (Luke 10:3 NLT)
Like I had mentioned before, this isn’t a call to safety – it’s a call to battle. And for some of us, safety is our idol. Because we haven’t really grasped the call of Luke 14:26, that even the love for our own life is incomparable to the love for Christ. If we are to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, remember that His steps led to the Cross.
“The way He talked, the way He walked, led men to kill Him. … If you look like Christ and talk like Christ and act like Christ, they’ll crucify you too. ~ Tim Conway
The Cloud of Witnesses – Martyrs:
The blood of the martyrs has always been the seed of the Gospel. From the first martyr, Stephen and the 2000 Christians who were killed from the persecution that arose about Stephen… to James, son of Zebedee. As James was led to be killed, his accuser ended up repenting because of the apostle’s extraordinary courage and steadiness. So much so that he fell at James’ feet to beg for pardon and professing himself a Christian – he resolved that James should not be martyred alone. So they were both beheaded at once. Next Philip was crucified in AD 54. Then Matthew was slain with a halberd in AD 60. James the less was beat and stoned by Jews then had his brains dashed out with a club. Matthias was stoned then beheaded in Jerusalem. Andrew, Peter’s brother was crucified on a cross shaped like an X. St. Mark was dragged to pieces in Alexandria. Peter was crucified upside down because he thought himself unworthy to die in the same manner as his beloved Lord.
Paul once on the other end of the suffering as Saul, was beaten many times, constantly in prison & in stocks many times, shipwrecked, bitten by a snake, stoned a few times, and finally beheaded in Rome – an execution which he willingly went to despite being warned of His fate. Jude, commonly called Thaddeus, was crucified in AD 72. Bartholomew was beaten at length then crucified in India. Thomas was killed by spear. Luke was hanged alive on an olive tree in Greece. Simon was crucified AD 74. John, was the ONLY disciple not killed… but not for lack of trying! They boiled him alive in oil and he wouldn’t die so that freaked them out and they exiled him to Patmos to die alone… or so they thought, because it was there on that isle that he had the amazing Revelation of His Lord in glory. Barnabas died around AD 73. And these are just the apostles…
Timothy, Paul’s disciple and son in the faith, was bishop of Ephesus – one day he saw the idolatry of the pagans during their celebration feast called Catagogion and he preached boldly against it. The people laid hold of him and beat him with clubs so badly that he died 2 days after. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch after Peter died was sent to Rome and devoured by wild beasts in the coliseum. On his way to his death he said, “Now I begin to be a disciple. I care for nothing, of visible or invisible things, so that I may but win Christ.” Even when he was thrown to the lions he said, “I am the wheat of Christ: I am going to be ground with the teeth of wild beasts, that I may be found pure bread.”
At the martyrdom of 2 brothers, Faustines and Jovita, their torment was so intense but their conduct so honourable that a pagan, Calocerius, was struck with admiration and exclaimed, “Great is the God of the Christians!” for which he was apprehended and killed as well. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, was apprehended in his home by guards. So he served them a feast and begged them for an hour to pray before they carried him to his death. He prayed with such fervency for his captors that several of them repented they had have been instrumental in taking him in. He was carried before the proconsul to be burnt in the market place. When told to recant, he replied, “86 years I have served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King who has saved me?” At the stake he assured them he would not run away from his fate, so they just tied him instead of nailing him to the stake as was custom. As they kindled the fire around him, though the flames blazed, he would not burn. So finally it was ordered for him to be pierced with a sword, at which so much blood poured forth that it extinguished the flames.
“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.
Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”
(Hebrews 11:35b-40 NLT)
Listen, we have this precious faith because of the sacrifices of these and countless other martyrs. They were delivered up to be beaten, crucified, torn to pieces by beasts, dismembered, beheaded, skinned alive, burnt, drowned… they were subject to the most hideous of tortures ever devised by humanity. Emperor Nero even used Christians as lamps for his streets, crucifying and lighting them on fire to illuminate his roads. The Bible we have has been preserved at the high cost of the backs of many saints given to beatings and death. Would we be so disrespectful as to not honour their sacrifice with our own? To not realize the surpassing preciousness of this treasure in jars of clay?
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-11 ESV)
We can listen to all these stories of brave martyrs and brazenly say that we too would die for the faith. But I can tell you this, if you’re not living for it now – what makes you think you’d be willing to die for it when the moment comes? I am not saying that we go looking for persecution… there is no need, if we live lives of biblical faith, it is promised to come… but our hope should be so firmly rooted in Christ, our reward now, that when we are faced with it – we can stand amongst the good company of millions past whose blood cries out from the ground like the blood of Abel for our Lord to revenge. In our suffering, Christ is glorified because He is shown worthy of it… If salvation came to us through the beating and slaying of Jesus’ body, how can we expect it to come to people through any other means than by our sacrifice? We are after all the body of Christ are we not? This is what Paul meant when he said:
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…” (Colossians 1:24 ESV)
We show the world who was not present to see firsthand the suffering of our Lord, His suffering in our sacrifice for the Gospel.
The more I continue in the faith and am led to deeper levels with my Lord, the more I find it is an outright assault on all my hopes and dreams. Like Peter, I feel like He is leading me where I do not want to go on one level… but at the same time, I find deeper within me the call – that yes, if You are with me Lord I will go. We find this all throughout scripture, that in the midst of the flames with three Hebrew boys, before the councils, in the den of lions, in famine, in distress, He is in the midst… and should not His presence be what we desire most?
“As sure as God puts His children in the furnace of affliction, He will be with them in it.”
– C.H. Spurgeon
Heaven is the presence of Christ, and it is not just for then, but now also – as we go and experience His presence with us in the fire. This is why we will gladly embrace the flames. It was never a question whether we should suffer, but rather how much? For it seems to be the instrument of choice God uses on those He loves – to strip them of all else that would get in the way of seeing that when we only have Christ alone – we have more than enough.
When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man
When God wants to mould a man
To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And which every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out-
God knows what He’s about.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honour beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.”
(Hebrews 12:1-4 NLT)
Understand that word “joy” there is important – this is the driving motivation of death defying missions and Christian life! We are pursuing our joy in Christ – forsaking temporal joys for greater eternal joy!! Christianity is not about your begrudging submission but rather your joyful service to a God who has loved you and greatly redeemed you at a high cost…
The Narrow Door
“Work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s Kingdom, for many will try to enter but will fail.” (Luke 13:24 NLT)
We’re told to work hard to enter through the narrow door… that word “many” should make us check ourselves. To examine whether or not we are really in the faith. Do our lives line up with what we see in the Bible? If we were to write our life story in there, would it make sense or would it stand out? The Gospel is not void of effort, it is void of earning. We don’t earn the grace that saves, but the grace that saves is never absent of the hard work and effort to express our thankfulness. We must be careful we don’t buy into cheap grace…
“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, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the 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.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
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: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
This is the discipleship we’re called to. This is the type of discipleship we must practice and teach. This is the type of discipleship that our lives must give testimony to. The Gospel’s call is one to come and die, to find that you might truly live. The true cost of discipleship is to say with Paul:
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…” (Philippians 3:8 ESV)
This is why:
“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19 ESV)
Why would we be of all people to be most pitied? Because if we lived the cost of true discipleship, and lost all our possessions, were tortured, persecuted, mocked, sacrificed earthly pleasures and martyred for a lie – then yes, we would be! But it is true, and maybe for those struggling with committing to this wholeheartedly, you need to wrestle with this… research, study apologetics and know that what you believe in is firm and secure – being a Christian doesn’t mean that you check your brains out at the door, but we are encouraged to ask, study, question, test – so you can bet it all joyfully!
I know a lot of this has been a very high challenge… I have been challenged and convicted myself on a lot of things to re-evaluate where I can sacrifice more, give more joyfully, live more sold out for Christ, etc… BUT one point I want to re-emphasize is that of delight and joy… that we do all this because we are sacrificing smaller temporal joys for greater eternal joys found in Christ. The Christian life in a lot of ways, even in the midst of suffering, is actually then hedonistic… the pursuit of lasting joy found in Christ. So learn to treasure Christ, and these things flow naturally as all else begins to fade away in the light of His glory and grace. JOY is the driving motivation of bold, fearless, sacrificial Christian living! How this is played out individually and practically in the life of every believer may look different though as we are many parts to one body… some called to give, some called to go, but all are called to the gospel’s cause.
To be a disciple is to live in this way. To count the cost. To live fearlessly. To live joyfully. Because:
“…to live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21b ESV)