The True Cost of Discipleship

The True Cost of Discipleship

Are you paying the price?

Author: Andrew Nelson/Monday, September 15, 2014/Categories: Andrew Nelson, Top Picks

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Is there a cost for discipleship? Does it demand something from us? When Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote his book, The Cost of Discipleship, there was not a doubt in his mind that there was a high cost for discipleship. He was not only an evangelist but also a champion for the Jewish plight in Nazi Germany. He was on the front lines promoting the faith and trying desperately to stop Adolf Hitler’s wayward cause.

I have a deep respect for Bonhoeffer. For him, being a Christian did not just mean going to church on Sunday and raising a Christian family; it meant being involved in the cultural norm of the time and making the gospel’s presence known in the midst of this culture. Bonhoeffer’s efforts for the gospel and against Hitler eventually brought him to martyrdom making him a towering giant in the Hall of Christian Heroes. 

I can’t imagine what it was like to be in Bonhoeffer’s world. In fact, I’m thankful that I do not live in such a country. I enjoy my freedom. I enjoy not worrying about martyrdom. I am thankful that I can talk about Jesus without looking over my shoulder.  It is certainly a privilege to live this freely.

I have often heard pastors compare our current lives as Christians to the lives of people like Bonhoeffer in hopes of showing people the importance of living radically for Christ. I remember one time when I was on a mission trip to Mexico with my home church. The speaker focused the entire 7 day message series on the importance of giving your life for Jesus, or at least being willing to do so. By the end of the trip I was riddled with anxiety. I was constantly wondering if I had what it took to give my life for Jesus, and what it meant if I didn’t. I was constantly wondering if I would really pass the test, and what this would mean for me in the afterlife.

Seeking A Cost

Throughout church history there have been pockets of Christians who have sought martyrdom. In the minds of these die hards, there was no greater joy or honor.  They longed for it deeply. It seems that the same mindset is subtly present in much of our current Christian teaching. Often we feel as though we are not good enough Christians if we are not willing to go and seek a “cost” for our discipleship, as if living in a free country is some sort of handicap. Some teachers will even say that living in the United States has made the church lazy, and that we need to light a fire within the hearts of the younger generations if Christianity is going to survive.

Pressure. Pressure. Pressure. Do more. Be more. Pay more.

I understand the temptation to compare ourselves to “spiritual giants” such as Bonhoeffer and to conclude that we come up short. He was born into extreme circumstances and was no doubt a light for truth in a very dark world. But if I had to venture a guess, Bonhoeffer would have loved to see the defeat of Nazi Germany and the freeing of the Jews. I am sure that he would have loved to see his circumstances change. But for Bonhoeffer, there was a cost. It’s just the reality in which he was born.

There is no doubt in my mind that there is a very tangible and real “cost” for Christians in various contexts, even in the United States. While we often compare our sufferings in the U.S.A. to other countries and feel as though we come up short, there truly is no shortage of persecution here as well. It is simply a different flavor. Many of us have grown up Christian in non-Christian families and felt the resistance. Likewise, many of us have witnessed the subtle persecution of Christians in the midst of the marriage and pro-life debates. Yet, for some reason, we still look for worth in “greater” persecution and more “severe” circumstances. We often believe that we aren’t living for Jesus “enough” if we aren’t paying some sort of price.

The reality is that many of us will encounter some type of “cost” for being a Christian. Maybe it will be martyrdom or maybe it will simply be sensing the subtle and snide remarks of an opponent during a supposedly peaceful conversation. But it is important to understand that there is no cost to be paid for discipleship. We don’t need to become Christian masochists who seek out extreme circumstances to prove our worth. If we can talk about Jesus without having to look over our shoulders, then this is a reality to be celebrated. Christianity is not something that only works in extreme circumstances; Jesus meets us wherever we are and the experience of His abundant life is not dependent on how “extreme” our conditions are.

The True Cost of Discipleship

The true cost of discipleship has already been paid in full by the Lord. Because of His work we are the righteousness of God (Romans 3:22, 2 Corinthians 5:21). We can’t be any more “right” than we are. God’s free gift of righteousness is trans-circumstantial. This means that it is relevant and fully available regardless of our circumstances. Those of us who are living in countries where Christianity is illegal can find true power and encouragement in the grace of God. Those of us who have the privilege of living in a country like the United States can also find the power and encouragement needed for daily life.  There will never be a circumstance where we do not need Jesus. No matter how tough or easy our worldly lives are, we still need Jesus. He is the living water (John 4:13-14). He is the ultimate thirst quencher. He is the standard by which we are to judge ourselves.

When Christians look at their lives and feel as though they come up short of true Christian living it is because they are judging themselves by a different standard than Christ. Often times it’s the “11th commandment” that makes us feel most condemned. For many of us this 11th commandment is “thou shalt live radically for God in tough circumstances to prove your worth.” It is no surprise that so many of us feel like failures. Because we judge ourselves by standards that God himself does not even have for us we feel as though we come up short. But we must remember that Christ is our reference point; He has already paid the true cost of discipleship through His finished work on the cross. So whoever we are, wherever we are, may we let Jesus’ work be enough, and may we stop judging ourselves by how tough or “easy” our lives are. Jesus does not rate our worth based on the toughness of our circumstances.


Andrew Nelson
National Speaker and Author of Fight for Grace
www.gracefighters.org

© 2014 Andrew Nelson

 
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Andrew Nelson
Andrew Nelson

Andrew Nelson

Andrew Nelson is a national speaker and the author of "Fight for Grace."

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