Counting the Cost & Carrying the Cross

There is a great deal of confusion in our day about the call of Jesus. We see the fruit of this confusion in the prevalence of worldly and carnal churches. I want to briefly look at the call Jesus gives His followers, then look at a few of the common misconceptions about His call, and finally address the consequences of leaving error uncontested in this important area.

The True Cost of Discipleship

Let’s start with the words of Jesus Himself, speaking of the cost of following Him:

Luk 14:26 If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.

Luk 14:27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me, he cannot be My disciple.

Luk 14:28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he may have enough to finish it;

Luk 14:29 lest perhaps, after he has laid the foundation and is not able to finish, all those seeing begin to mock him,

Luk 14:30 saying, This man began to build and was not able to finish.

In this brief passage, Jesus made it clear that if someone wants to follow Him, to be His disciple (which is what being a Christian is), a couple things are non-negotiable. First, everything else in your life must take 2nd place (or lower) behind your discipleship. Second, you are called to death. When Jesus said this, everyone listening understood that no one carries a cross for recreation, for style, or to fit in. A cross had one purpose: to kill the one bearing it. Jesus was not confused. He knew His own destiny, and He calls us all to follow His path to death.

Some may argue that perhaps Jesus saved these toughest of words for only His inner circle of three, or at least only the twelve. Surely such a difficult path was not something He could expect the masses to accept, could He? On the contrary, notice to whom He was speaking in the above passage:

Luk 14:25 And great crowds went with Him. And He turned and said to them…

And again, lest there be any confusion as to the totality of Christ’s call to us and its intended dominion over the lives of His disciples, Jesus said:

Luk 14:33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

“Renounce all” means forsaking everything. When is the last time you heard that in church? Did Jesus really mean this? Did Jesus somehow mislead us into thinking the road to heaven would be easy?

Mat 7:14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Two Common Objections

But what about when Jesus said His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30)? Jesus was comparing the burden He gives His disciples versus people carrying their own burden (their sins), which no person can carry. You try to carry your own sin burden, and you’ll end up in hell. That’s what Jesus was saying: “Let Me carry your sins, and you come and walk with Me in a yoked relationship; and then I’ll give you a load you can manage – not because you can actually handle it (John 15:5), but because in relationship with Me, I promise to supply you with the power to carry your end of the yoke (Philippians 4:13).”

The entrance into and the continuation of this life of discipleship with Christ is death, and Jesus spoke this truth frequently:

Joh 12:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone; but if it dies, it brings forth much fruit.

Joh 12:25 He who loves his life shall lose it. And he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal.

Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul made the daily death of Christian discipleship clear:

Luk 9:23 And He said to all, If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.

1Co 15:31 I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.

In His encounter with the rich, young ruler, Jesus reinforced the necessity of forsaking everything to follow Him. He pointed out the rich man’s blindness to his idolatry and then explained the price to become His disciple. He left no doubt.

Mat 19:21 Jesus said to him, If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in Heaven. And come, follow Me.

Mat 19:22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.

Some may argue, “Well, there’s your problem. Jesus asked the man if he wanted to be perfect, and we all know no one can be perfect!” But Jesus repeated this idea elsewhere:

Mat 5:48 Therefore be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.

The faithful walk of carrying the cross crucifies the flesh and conforms us to Christ’s likeness. As we grow, we mature, and we are “perfected” (James 1:4). Would Jesus call His disciples to be something that they could never become? In a positional sense, we have already been perfected, but we are still in the process of walking it out by faith:

Heb 10:14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified.

Assuredly, it’s one of the great mysteries of the faith, how sinful people made of flesh can be changed into Christ’s image and perfected; however, it is true; at the very least, our perfection will be completed at our glorification.

Jesus the Divider

Be sure to notice also that when the rich, young ruler went away sad, Jesus did not stop him from leaving or call after him to try to get him to change his mind. His word was enough for the man to make his choice, and choose he did. The truth of Jesus’ words were proven:

Mat 6:24 No one can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Jesus also spoke of the difficulty of discipleship after feeding the five thousand men. Jesus deliberately challenged those who were happy to follow Him for the free food and the excitement but who had no heart to carry their cross and obey Him:

Joh 6:26 Jesus answered them and said, Truly, truly, I say to you, You seek Me not because you saw the miracles, but because you ate the loaves and were filled.

Joh 6:27 Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for that food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you. For God the Father sealed Him.

Joh 6:66 From this time many of His disciples went back into the things behind, and walked no more with Him.

We can draw no other conclusion than that Jesus intended to bring division among His followers, in order to separate the true disciples from the false. He said as much:

Mat 10:34 Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I did not come to send peace, but a sword.

Mat 10:35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.

Mat 10:36 And a man’s foes shall be those of his own household.

Mat 10:37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

Mat 10:38 And he who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.

Jesus wants fully devoted disciples, not half-hearted, fickle people who are just looking for the latest sensation or some free handouts. One thing that stands out in scripture as being a clear indicator of half-hearted, fickle people is love for the world. After all, as Jesus said, no person can serve two masters, and “the world” is definitely antichrist!

Jas 4:4 Adulteresses! Do you not know that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever desires to be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

1Jn 2:15 Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him,

1Jn 2:16 because all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

Do We Observe This Kind of Discipleship?

After reading these things, one would think that Christian society would be quite unique and separated from the rest of the world. It would be marked by humility, simple lifestyles of modesty and sacrifice, and corporate as well as personal devotion to the scriptures, fellowship, and worship. But is this what we see in modern Christian society? Far from it. Most professing Christians today are so immersed in the world that you can’t tell them apart from the world. They live lives of greed and excess, and follow “another gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4) that has been invented to justify it all. If you were to ask most professing Christians if they’ve counted the cost of being a disciple of Jesus, they would likely look at you in surprise and ask, “What cost?”

Certainly, in America, we have (for now) religious freedoms that mean there will indeed be fewer costs to follow Christ here in the United States than if you happen to live in Iran. However, this makes no difference and does not excuse the false gospel that has replaced the truth in this country. Paul assured us:

2Ti 3:12 Yea, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

Where you live makes no difference. As a disciple of Christ, you are an enemy to the world and to the one who rules it: Satan. Thus, you will be persecuted and suffer, in some form or fashion. Why do today’s Christians not understand this? The modern, false gospel of abundant, cheap grace leads people to this wasteland of selfishness, complacency, and sloth. For a thorough explanation of what is the real gospel, have a look at this post:

https://lastlamb.wordpress.com/2010/09/06/christianity-101-basic-truth-for-a-society-where-light-is-dim/

In the meantime, let’s consider some of the faulty thinking that is prevalent among today’s worldly, carnal “Christians.”

Forsaking… a la Carte

Since counting the cost of discipleship and carrying the cross are rarely if ever mentioned in many churches and even less rarely explained, it is understandable why people are deceived. Combine that with the fact that sin and judgment are also rarely mentioned, and you end up with people who come to the natural conclusion that what Jesus wants is for them to consider giving up the really wicked stuff (at least the stuff that seems really wicked to them or to the culture), and then they’re doing just fine. Perhaps fifty verses could be cited here to explain how unbiblical this is, but one passage is sufficient:

Eph 4:11 And truly He gave some to be apostles, and some to be prophets, and some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,

Eph 4:12 for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.

Eph 4:13 And this until we all come into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full-grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;

Eph 4:14 so that we no longer may be infants, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine, in the dishonesty of men, in cunning craftiness, to the wiles of deceit.

Eph 4:15 But that you, speaking the truth in love, may in all things grow up to Him who is the Head, even Christ;

There is no room for casual riders, slackers, or the curious in this passage. As illustrated by Jesus’ own words above, He Himself divided those who refused to take Him seriously. Are we to teach people differently?

N.O.T.W. But Just Don’t Look Too Closely at My Life

Another amazing thing I have noticed in modern “Christian” culture is the manipulated doctrine surrounding being “in the world” (John 17:11) but not “of the world” (John 17:14). People seem to think that if they wear the name “Christian,” then they are no longer “of the world.” The abundance of “N.O.T.W.” (not of this world) stickers on cars supports this idea. However, when He prayed for His disciples in John 17, Jesus made quite clear that what made them “not of the world” was their opposition to everything the world stands for, which is the ways of sin and rebellion.

Joh 17:15 I do not pray for You to take them out of the world, but that You protect them.

Joh 17:16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

Joh 17:17 Sanctify them through Your truth. Your Word is truth.

Jesus asked the Father to protect the disciples and to sanctify them, which literally means to set them apart. Again, how many today understand this? Jesus spoke often of a new kingdom He was establishing. He invites all people to come and join this new kingdom. In the days of the United Nations, dual citizenship, and porous borders, these concepts lose their strength; but people need to understand that a person only holds allegiance to one kingdom. Jesus made that abundantly clear. Christ’s call is to separate from the world. Of course, we are still “in the world,” but our call as disciples of Jesus is to beckon other people to come out of the world in order to join His kingdom.

2Co 6:17 Therefore come out from among them and be separated, says the Lord, and do not touch the unclean thing. And I will receive you

Rev 18:4 And I heard another voice from Heaven, saying, Come out of her, My people, that you may not be partakers of her sins, and that you may not receive of her plagues.

The misunderstanding regarding being “in the world but not of the world” in reality amounts to people choosing to create and follow doctrine that matches their lifestyle choices, rather than lining up their lifestyles to the Word of God. People also like to cite 1 Corinthians 5:10 to defend their being immersed in worldliness, saying, “Like Paul said, we can’t just leave the world!” However, Jesus called us to be salt to people in the world – to flavor, preserve, and affect them (Mt. 5:13) – to be a smell of death or life (2 Cor. 2:15-16) to them by preaching the gospel to them, so that they might be saved. Instead, people today practice “guerrilla evangelism,” by which they go out to worldly events with people in the world and practice many of the same things as people in the world. This is justified by the hope that one day, the other person might ask them about their bumper sticker or their tattoo, ask them about their church or that book on their desk, come to the church movie night or barbecue, etc.

I’ll provide one more scripture to drive home the point that Christians are to separate from the world and from love for things of the world, and to not partake in every worldly activity out there:

2Ti 2:3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

2Ti 2:4 No one who wars tangles with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who chose him to be a soldier.

This is the call for all disciples of Jesus Christ, not just the leaders, the preachers, the pastors, or the teachers. May professing Christians today awaken to this truth and repent if necessary.

What’s Your Inheritance?

A natural question arises when looking at the complacency, laziness, and worldliness of the modern church: are people who live this way going to be saved and go to heaven? A better way to phrase this question is: are they going to inherit the kingdom of God?

1Co 6:9 Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor abusers, nor homosexuals,

1Co 6:10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

1Co 6:11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

Gal 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are clearly revealed, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lustfulness,

Gal 5:20 idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, fightings, jealousies, angers, rivalries, divisions, heresies,

Gal 5:21 envyings, murders, drunkennesses, revelings, and things like these; of which I tell you before, as I also said before, that they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

1Co 10:1 And, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea.

1Co 10:4 and all drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank of the spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.

1Co 10:5 But with many of them God was not well pleased, for they were scattered in the wilderness.

1Co 10:6 And these things were our examples, that we should not be lusters after evil, as they also lusted.

1Co 10:7 Nor should we be idolaters, even as some of them, as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.”

1Co 10:8 Nor let us commit fornication, as some of them fornicated, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.

1Co 10:9 Nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted Him and were destroyed by serpents.

1Co 10:10 Nor murmur as some of them also murmured and were destroyed by the destroyer.

1Co 10:11 And all these things happened to them as examples; and it is written for our warning on whom the ends of the world have come.

1Co 10:14 Therefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.

The Word of God speaks for itself. Those who do not follow the way appointed by the Lord will have no place in His kingdom.

The Greatest Example

After looking through these scriptures, I hope that the call of Jesus has come into clear focus. The cost of discipleship is something that Jesus spelled out clearly on numerous occasions. And as the greatest example of all, He showed us His own life, which was submitted perfectly to the Father’s will, all the way to suffering, mocking, scorn, shame, and a humiliating, undeserved death. Jesus’ life and death give us the greatest picture of how Christians are to look and live. John summed it up as follows:

1Jn 2:6 He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk even as He walked.

In other words, put your life where your mouth is.

Final Exam

As a final “litmus test” for where you (or your church) stand in terms of being a faithful disciple, read the words to the following song. Could you sing them from your heart and mean it? Or would they possibly offend you? Or are they just esoteric and meaningless to your life? Would this song be popular in your church, or would it even be understood? If answered honestly, these questions should tell you exactly where you stand in relation to true discipleship.

 

“Fire of God” by Christ Our Life

Father, cleanse these filthy hands

I long for brokenness for all my sin and shame

The tears You’ve wept outnumber the sands

With every sin I know I break Your heart again

 

Help me to understand Your pain

When I conform to this world and blaspheme Your holy name

Help me to understand Your Word

If I’m a friend of this world, it’s hatred towards my God

 

Fire of God, burn in me, consume all my wickedness

So I will not love this world

So I will not be a friend of this world any longer

So I will not be a friend of this world any longer

 

Father, break my prideful heart

I come before You humbly, so I can stand

And wash my dirty feet

I’ve wandered from Your path and walked on unholy land

 

Help me to understand Your pain

When I conform to this world and blaspheme Your holy name

Help me to understand Your Word

If I’m a friend of this world, it’s hatred towards my God

 

Fire of God, burn in me, consume all my wickedness

So I will not love this world

So I will not be a friend of this world any longer

So I will not be a friend of this world any longer

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4 Responses to Counting the Cost & Carrying the Cross

  1. Lisa Scott says:

    Amen. You brought a lot of clarity to those “tough verses” that many do not want to hear. Keep lifting up His word!

  2. Sean Scott says:

    Amen brother.

    “All the supposed misunderstanding regarding being “in the world but not of the world” in reality amounts to people choosing to create and follow doctrine that matches their lifestyle choices, rather than lining up their lifestyle to the commands of God.”

    That’s it brother. If people would simply, as you say, line their lifestyle up to the commands of Christ how different Christianity would look today. But in reality that is already happening. Those who follow Christ love Him and keep His commandments as Jesus said they would. Those who are not are deceiving themselves. I pray those who read you exhortation, which is full of the word of God, would do as the scripture says and “test theirselves and see if they are in the faith”.

    “Instead, people today practice “guerrilla evangelism,” by which they befriend people in the world, go out with people in the world, and practice all the same things as people in the world. All of this is done in the hope that one day, the other person just might ask them about their bumper sticker or their tattoo, ask them about their church or that book on their desk, come to the church movie night or barbecue, etc.”

    You just described the evangalism methods of about every church in America. To ashamed to really preach the truth and all in the name of loving the lost.

    IN Christ,

    Sean

  3. Jason Rowland says:

    Amen Braden. Hard but true words straight from the Bible. I’m thankful for your efforts to be studious and share the truth as it is written not in order to make me feel good about myself, but in order to point me to God’s truth. I pray that these words would reach and convict people in churches across the country. True revival will happen with repentance and obedience of Christ.

    What I would enjoy discussing is applications/stories of how can/has this been applied in your life and my life in a God-honoring way without getting legalistic and/or judgmental of others?

    In Christ,
    Jason

  4. Braden says:

    Jason, I think the answer (my answer, anyway) to your question is a little tricky. But here’s what I think. Walking with Christ in the Spirit is something that requires a great amount of understanding one’s own shortcomings and the humility that grows over time from seeing ourselves properly in relation to God. As one takes these steps with God, truly seeking to obey Him by resolutely determining to follow His Word, it is as the scriptures say: a person is choosing to die daily. I’ve found that in this state, rather than having less compassion for fellow people, whether they be professing Christians or not, I actually have more. I see myself in such weakness and need of Christ that it seems the Lord pours out more grace so that I may extend it to others. This is something that I had very little of before I walked this way, so it has been a real joy to see the Lord do this.

    However, I will also say that the famously dubbed “righteous indignation” is also something that I have experienced more in this deeper walk with Christ. And you’re right – this is where one can slip into sin, by getting legalistic, judgmental, and condemning of others. And of course, lukewarm believers and the lost are always going to be lightning fast to point out what they perceive to be wrongful condemnation in us. But we need to remember that people will react the same way if we simply preach the gospel to them – which is obviously scriptural! Fundamentally, people don’t want to be told they are wicked sinners. So obviously, there’s a line to “straddle,” or walk, if you will. We are to judge those who call themselves Christians (I Corinthians 5). It’s really no different than Christ calling out the Pharisees for the wicked hypocrites they really were! But as Jesus illustrated so beautifully in one of His parables, we are to let God deal with us first, to get that log out of our eye; and then we can try to help our brother with the speck in his eye.

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