Following Christ Is Costly — But How Do You Count the Cost?
Welcome back to a new week on the Ask Pastor John podcast, answering your tough theological and ethical questions from the Bible. Well, following Christ is costly. And Jesus warns us to count the cost first, before we follow him. Which of course raises the big question: How? How do we calculate the cost? A listener named Sally asks it. “Hello, Pastor John, and thank you for the podcast! Christ tells us to forsake everything to be his disciple right after saying this: ‘For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.”’ That is Luke 14:28–30. Within the call to be his disciple how do we discern the cost and count that cost in each of our individual callings? Most significantly, how do we count the cost in advance when we do not know what cost will be exacted from us in the end?”
The problem here is that the verses which Sally refers to, Luke 14:28–30, are sandwiched between the very verses that answer her question. To give Jesus’s answer, let’s back up two verses and go forward three verses. That’s what I’m going to do — just remind ourselves of the situation.
Sign on the Dotted Line
Jesus is calling people to follow him in discipleship, and then he’s reminding them that it’s like building a tower that you don’t want to leave half-finished because you don’t have enough commitment or enough resources to finish it. It’s like going to war and realizing you don’t have enough soldiers to win the battle and defeat the enemy.
“Authentic discipleship may exact from you the highest price relationally and the highest price physically.”
So, he says, “Be sure to count the cost before you sign up for discipleship with Jesus because it’s costly. I don’t want you to sign up naively and be surprised later when the cost is very high.” That’s the gist of the situation she’s pointing out, and that’s right.
Sally’s asking, “How do you count the cost when you don’t know what’s coming in your life?” The answer is that Jesus requires, upfront, a commitment to the highest possible cost. Got that, Sally? He requires commitment to the highest possible cost. And nothing later is going to surprise you then because you’ve already totally sold to the highest, most excessive cost.
In other words, you don’t need to know the specifics of the cost in your own particular case if the agreement you sign is “I’m yours at any cost.” And it’s exactly what these verses say, isn’t it?
The Highest Price
Let’s back up now. Here’s verses 26–27, just before the unit she cites. He says this: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life” — notice the word was hate — “he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Now, this is extreme language. The most extreme that he could use, I think, to show that the degree of the cost we may have to pay is extreme.
The first extreme language is “I am calling you to something that is going to look like hatred of wife and children and parents.” And the second extreme language is “I am calling you to get on a cross,” which means a willingness to die an excruciating death.
It’s not just a metaphor. This is a cross, meaning, “Join me on the way to martyrdom.” So, counting the cost of discipleship means realizing that authentic discipleship may exact from you the highest price relationally and the highest price physically.
Now, let’s go to the other side of the text and jump forward three verses. Jesus ends the paragraph like this: “So, therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).
“There is no cost you can pay in following Jesus that won’t be made up a thousandfold in the resurrection.”
Now, there are two absolutes in that sentence. One is found in the phrase any one. This applies to every disciple, not just a select few: “Any one of you who does not renounce all he has.” That’s the first absolute. The other absolute is found in the word all. You must renounce all that you have to be my disciple. Your resources may stay in your sway as a manager, a steward, but you must be ready at any time to let go of everything for Jesus’s sake.
So, when Sally asks, “How do we count the cost in advance when we don’t know what the cost will be in advance?” The answer is, you assume the cost could be total. All possessions given up, all relationships given up, all of life given up. That’s the expectation that Jesus calls for.
In other words, there’s no negotiating here with Jesus. There’s no calculating. There is no saying, “Well, if the cost reaches this, then I’m not interested in Jesus anymore.” Because Jesus says, “You can’t sign up that way. Nobody signs up for seventy percent of what I require.” That’s not what disciples say. We don’t talk like that. Hypocrites talk like that. Well no, hypocrites don’t. They lie.
Disciples are all in, or they’re not in. That’s what the text is saying. But let’s make sure that Sally and the rest of us get this in right perspective, because just a few paragraphs earlier — in this same chapter — Jesus said, after he laid down some pretty high costs, “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14).
In other words, “There is no cost that you can pay in following me that won’t be made up to you a thousandfold in the resurrection.” And we need to remember Matthew 13:44, which says, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” A man sees and sells everything he has — everything he has! — to get that treasure. In other words, all the so-called costs and all the so-called losses — everything — are nothing compared to the gains of having Jesus, the greatest treasure.
So yes, we must count the cost in order to be a disciple. The cost is total in principle and may be total in actual experience. In the end, having Jesus means gain, like Paul says: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).