Most people have the wrong idea about the “cost of discipleship.”
When Bonhoeffer first coined the phrase, it was a helpful corrective to a very nominalistic faith. But nowadays the phrase “cost of discipleship” stirs up images of spiritual heroes: those who’ve heeded the call and have become a special elite kind of Christian. The Few. The Proud. The Disciples.
We come by it honestly, of course. We hear Jesus say, “Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (Luke 14:33), and it seems obvious that this call to be a disciple is a BIG DEAL. Giving up everything?! Amazing!
The cost of discipleship seems to be very high, and it’s a big sacrifice to say yes. But I contend that the cost of discipleship is actually a lot “lower” than most people think.
The cost of discipleship is also about what you gain
Why is the cost of discipleship lower than we might think? Because, like any value proposition, you have to compare the cost with the benefit.
The cost of discipleship is lower than most people think, because the benefits of discipleship are actually much higher than most people realize!
You have to add up what you gain, not just what you lose. It’s like the man in Jesus’ parable:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field (Matthew 13:44).
Disciples aren’t people making special sacrifices for God, they’re people who have realized there’s a treasure in the field that’s worth more than everything they own. These are people who realize that becoming a disciple of Jesus is the “deal” of a lifetime.
Nobody reluctantly becomes a disciple
This is why Dallas Willard said that nobody ever (really) reluctantly becomes a disciple of Jesus. If they do, they are completely misunderstanding the value proposition. If you’re hesitant about discipleship, you’re not calculating it right.
Discipleship is actually the best deal you’re ever going to get as a human. Discipleship to Jesus is the most phenomenal bargain anyone could ever hope for.
That’s what “counting the cost” means: add up how much it costs, and how much you gain, and make an appropriate investment.
The man who found the treasure in the field was “counting the cost,” and that’s he joyfully sold everything he owned to buy the field: the value of everything he owned wasn’t nearly as high as the value of the treasure.
The point of the parable is that the life you gain in the kingdom as a disciple of Jesus is far more valuable than the stuff you have to give up to get it.
The value proposition of discipleship
So if Jesus’ call to “Follow me!” still sounds daunting to you, the problem is that you don’t really understand yet the value of what you’re gaining. You don’t yet have a fully formed picture in your mind of what life now under the reign of God could be like.
And this isn’t prosperity gospel nonsense. It’s way better than just getting a lot of money or driving a nice car. It’s about your actual life… you can learn to be at east, at rest. You can learn to drop your self-willfulness and allow joy to bubble up from within you. You can learn to really love your life and be thankful for it, even though it might contain difficulties, persecution, or worse.
You’ll love who you are and how God created you, and you’ll be able to love others from a full heart. Worry will increasingly fall away. You’ll find everything you really need is taken care of moment-by-moment, day-by-day.
You will experience a power operating in your life that makes despair less and less prevalent. Joy and peace will be with you even in the hardest of circumstances, running through you like a deep underground river.
Your thoughts and feelings can be transformed: you can learn to be confident and hopeful, and won’t indulge in thoughts of rejection, despair, failure, hopelessness, because you’ll know better. You will become so aware of God’s presence and grace around you that you will hardly remember how to be gloomy or negative.
You’ll find that God works through your life to bring healing, joy, peace, and goodness to others. You will be filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.
It won’t happen all at once, of course. We’ll have to learn how to do it, but if we take on Jesus’ easy yoke of discipleship, he will teach us. And he will send others to help us.
(I’m also speaking in generalities here… the realities of mental illness mean that mean that these are by no means “guaranteed results” but rather a general trajectory.)
So what is the cost of discipleship?
The above description (and so much more) is what we gain. We should also be clear about what it costs:
1. You give up the old life.
“Whoever does not carry their cross cannot follow me” (Luke 14:27). That’s the meaning of the cross: the end of your life. There can be no half-measures here.
2. You make discipleship your top priority.
Discipleship means you make it your top priority to be involved in what God is doing. It cannot be an extra-curricular activity. It must be the filter through which every other relationship and pursuit passes.
“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” (Luke 14:26).
3. You actually put Jesus’ teaching into practice.
One of the most pernicious lies is that you can’t do what Jesus said. The truth is that he expected us to put his teaching into practice, and will empower us to do so.
“Anyone who hears these words of mine and doesn’t put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:26-27).
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).
An investment worth making
“Counting the cost of discipleship” means that we realize the prize is worth the price. Once we see the treasure, it’s easy to sell everything and buy the field. But if we don’t know about the treasure, it will seem like a foolish investment.
But if we do a value proposition on discipleship, we’ll realize the costs are far outweighed by the “benefits!”
Then we discover the secret that “taking up our cross” is actually the same thing as taking on the “easy yoke” that brings rest to our souls.
We discover, as Dallas Willard said, that the obedient life is the abundant life.