Summary: Grace is free, but discipleship costs. Are we prepared to pay?
We see adverts all over the place, promising low prices and amazing deals on all sorts of things and products. But on closer examination many of these so-called bargains are to so cheap after all because there are all sorts of hidden extras that have to be paid for. Often the quoted price is a lot less that we actually end up paying. I remember once I was planning to buy a new computer and saw one that seemed much cheaper that comparable models. I was just about to buy it, when I noticed that the price did not include VAT, and when this was added, at 17.5%, it was actually not so cheap after all. Quoting prices that may be technically correct, but are actually misleading seems to be a common practice among people who are trying to sell us something.
Sometimes, I believe, that we preachers can be guilty of the same thing. We are so anxious and keen that people will come and follow Jesus and be his disciples, that we under emphasise how much it will cost. In one sense of course salvation is completely free. There is nothing that we can do or give that will buy it, Christ has already paid the price for us by dying on the cross. We talk of grace – God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense – and this is totally and absolutely true.
However there is another side to it. We cannot buy our salvation or eternal life or our place in heaven. But it does cost us. It costs us our independence; it costs us our will, our plans for our lives. It costs us our old lifestyles. It often brings us ridicule and contempt from people around us.
It costs us our pride, because we have to admit that we are sinners, completely lost and unable to save ourselves. The gospel is no self-help method, it is not for people who think they can sort themselves out, but for people who know and admit that they are helpless.
Jesus said that anyone who wanted to follow him would have to give up much that is precious and dear to them. After giving up much to follow him, then he would give them something. But it is not what you might expect. Rather than wealth, health and honour, they would have to take up their cross and follow him. The cross was a means of execution, it was a burden to carry, heavy and rough, men on their way to their deaths would have the insult of carrying their own cross to the place of execution. It was obvious to all what was going to happen to them. They would often be surrounded by a jeering and gloating crowd. This was no pleasant ramble or stroll. Anyone who follows Christ will have to walk this walk. Following Christ means going down the same road as he did, when rather than bringing himself up, he brought himself down, down from heaven all the way to a painful and shameful death on a cross. He demands nothing other than compete, unconditional surrender of our lives, our wills, our future and everything we have to him.
Some preachers today teach that if we follow Jesus then we will be healthy and wealthy and have a smooth, comfortable, pain-free life. However Jesus did not promise this, he promised the opposite. He stated that hardship, sacrifice, self-denial and often persecution would be the sort of life that his followers would experience. My mother used to listen to a song that had the line in it ‘I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden’ – and I can just imagine Jesus saying that to people who started to follow him but became disappointed when they started to have problems and difficulties in life.
Jesus told them all this, then he told them to carefully consider whether they were prepared to pay the price. We heard earlier of what he does offer – eternal life, fellowship with the Father and Son through the Holy Spirit, salvation from sin. Just before these verses he had emphasised the good things, the great feast, the free invitation, but now he was urging them to count the cost. Unlike many advertisers (and dare I say it, preachers) he was open about the true cost.
Throughout the English countryside are many follies, strange towers and other buildings built for no obvious reason, except, perhaps, to show-off wealth and power. Some of these are not finished, but stand in splendid incompeteness, the builder running out of money and resources before the building project was completed. They are tributes not to the wealth of the builder, but to their folly (hence the name). No proper estimate was made of the cost before building started, and this foolishness is visible for all to say, often after many years. Something similar can be the outcome if we start off on the road as a disciple of Jesus, promising to follow him and to stay with him if we are not prepared to pay the price, to loose our pride, to loose our self-will and independence, maybe to loose the respect of society, to loose sinful pleasures or if we do not get the easy road through life we were expecting and we then leave him, disappointed. We will end up worse off than we were before we came to him. We did not make a proper estimate of the costs before starting out.