When I started on my journey as a disciple of Jesus I was so young and excited that I ignored the warnings in Scripture to ‘count the cost’ of following Jesus. “Whatever it costs, I’ll pay it!” Just like Peter’s brash refusal that he would deny Jesus, I told myself that no matter what happened in the future I wanted to be a disciple of Christ.
Isn’t this what we all do when we become Jesus-followers? We’re so excited at the prospect of a new life, so thrilled at the idea of salvation and consumed with the desire to love other people, that we barely pause before our decision to profess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that Jesus is the Son of God. And who can blame us? It is exciting! God is offering us freedom and eternal life! To make matters worse, many of us accepted Jesus when were in trouble, when we tried every other way we knew how to save ourselves but ran out of options. When our emotions were drained, when we hit bottom, who could blame us for reaching out for that glimmer of hope without considering first what it might cost us? We just wanted help, we just wanted to be saved because we could not save ourselves.
And then things get a little bit better for us, don’t they? Maybe not right away, but our lives start to improve. Maybe we stop hanging around with friends that get us into trouble. We stop the affair, stay away from pornography, stop drinking too much or using drugs. And our lives start to improve. In fact, I’m betting that for many of us, for a long time after confessing Jesus as Lord things got so much better that we forgot there was any kind of cost associated with being a disciple of Jesus. Sure, we had to give up some sin in our lives or maybe even people who were bad influences, but those were costs we gladly paid!
We hear about Christians in other countries being persecuted and think the concept of ‘counting the cost’ must only apply to them. What cost do we have to pay in predominantly “Christian” countries like the United States? Is it possible that Americans don’t have to ‘count the cost’ of being a disciple of Christ? Or could it be that we have misunderstood what it means to follow Jesus? Maybe we haven’t had to ‘count the cost’ because we haven’t taken Jesus’ offer of discipleship seriously. Maybe we haven’t had any real pain in our walk with Christ because we haven’t been walking at all; we took the first few steps of initial repentance and baptism and then stopped in our tracks.
Let’s take a look at a passage of Scripture out of the Gospel of Luke and see what God has to say about ‘counting the cost’ of being a disciple of Jesus.
Imagine with me for a moment. Jesus was traveling through the Judean countryside, with huge crowds following Him. Jesus was healing people, feeding thousands with just a few loaves and fish, and casting out demons. He was preaching about the coming kingdom of God and people were excited! They were hanging on every word! They wanted to touch just the edge of His cloak so they could be healed! As Jesus nears Jerusalem thousands of people are following Him and He turns to them and says:
“‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…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 pile; it is thrown out.
‘Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.'” (Luke 14:26-27, 34-35, NIV)
Whoa, Jesus. “Hate” our mothers and fathers? You want us to hate our wives, husbands, children, brothers and sisters? What happened to the God of love? I thought we were supposed to love others as we love ourselves! And not only that, but under the Roman occupation you actually want us to look forward to carrying crosses to our own executions? Are you saying that if we don’t hate our families and look forward to our own executions we aren’t even fit to be thrown into a pile of manure?
Now I know it’s easy to write off this passage of Scripture as hyperbole, but don’t be so quick to do so. Jesus ends this teaching with, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” He wants us to really dial in here, not skip past it just because it makes us uncomfortable. So if Jesus isn’t using hyperbole, if He really wants us to be willing to hate our families and our own lives for His sake, could it be that we’ve misunderstood what it means to be a disciple?
What if Jesus showed up to preach at your church this Sunday? What if he looked out from the stage at the hundreds of people gathered in His name and saw the large crowds following Him to Jerusalem? Do you think His message to your church would be any different?
Or is it possible that He would look out at the large crowds gathered to worship Him and say: “You’ve come here to follow me, but you don’t hate your father or mother enough to really follow me. You don’t hate your family enough to do what you know is right. You don’t even hate your own life enough to root out all the sin in your life; you only focus on the obvious sins everyone else can see, or the ones that everyone else disapproves of. If you had to die for your faith, would you really do it? Or would you be like my apostle Peter and run from a teenage girl? Is putting a bumper sticker on your car the best you can do? You’ve lost your saltiness. You had a great start when you were baptized, but you let go of that fire! What happened to you? Was peer pressure too much for you? Were you worried about what people would say about you on Facebook? How can you think you could carry your own cross when you won’t even stand up to your own family? If you have ears to hear, then hear what I’m saying to you now.”
I think Jesus is saying these things to me. As I walk with Him in Orlando I am tested and tempted to turn from what I know is right. And what about you? Have you lost the fire you had for Jesus when you were baptized? Did you let your life get in the way? When your family gossips about you or criticizes you, do you give in? Have you lost your saltiness? I hope not. In fact, I’m betting that for all of us in whom the Holy Spirit lives, even if it’s been years since we were on fire for Jesus, there’s still a hint of saltiness in there. I believe that if we want it badly enough, if we are willing to “count the cost”, Jesus can take that hint of salt and multiply it over and over until we are truly salty again.
And that’s what I want for us! I want us to be salty! I want us to be on fire for Jesus together so that we can encourage one another when we’re forced to choose between our families and Jesus, our lives and Jesus. The cost is too great and too difficult to bear alone; we need each other!