Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Cost of Discipleship

“And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”

In my last posting we learned about “counting the cost” of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. We learned from the book of Acts about the man named Stephen. We found that he had the courage to stand up for his belief in Jesus … even at the cost of his own life.

This week we will learn more about counting the cost … specifically about what Jesus said about the cost of discipleship.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ taught that there are three things we must do to become a true follower or disciple. In Luke 9:23 Jesus says, “If anyone desires to come after me“ …

1. “Let him deny himself,

2. And take up his cross daily,

3. And follow me.”

Let me elaborate on these three things.

The first thing that Jesus mentions is self-denial.

So, what did Jesus mean when he commanded those who wanted to become a disciple to deny themselves? What does self-denial really mean?

Jesus was talking about denying the sinful “self.” He was talking about denying everything in us that struggles against God, and everything in us that puts our wants first before God. It means to say "no" to yourself. It means to refuse every want and desire of yours that is against the will of God.

Rather than spending your life trying to fulfill your every desire, self-denial means giving up your wants, desires, and even your dreams, if they are contrary to what God wants.

For example … sometimes we can get so wrapped up in accumulating stuff that we neglect what is really important in life. There comes a time in life when instead of owning our things, our things seem to own us.

That is why Jesus said, "none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions." (Luke 14:33). Jesus knew that if we spend all of our time working for things … spend all our time with those things … and spend all our time trying to protect those things … that we will have little time to concentrate on what is really important in life … worshipping God.

That does not necessarily mean that we should go to extremes. It does not mean that we should all sell of our stuff and move to a mountaintop to live like hermits (unless that is what God wants you to do). What it does mean is that we need to get rid of anything in our life that keeps us from having a real relationship with God.

When we begin to have a real relationship with God, and when we begin to focus our lives around serving Him, then we will find ourselves wanting to give up some of our possessions. We will begin to give up some of the things that hold us back from having a closer relationship with Him.

For example … some of us may find ourselves wanting to get rid of those pornographic tapes hidden in our closets, the satanic books we have sitting on our shelves, or the addictive substances that we have allowed to consume our lives. We may find ourselves spending less time gossiping on the phone, or watching mindless television.

Jesus’ whole ministry was about self-denial. From beginning to end he said “no“ to himself and submitted his life to the will of his Father. Jesus will became the Father's will, and he did what the Father wanted him to do, even when he did not want to. He did so even when it meant giving up his life.

Prior to his crucifixion, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He fell on his face and cried out, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me" (Matthew 26:39). Jesus knew that the end was coming, and at that very moment he did not want to suffer. However, as fast as he paid those words he quickly denied himself. We know this because the next words out of His mouth were, "nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt."

If we can learn to deny ourselves, and give ourselves over completely to the will of God, then we will be on the way to becoming a true disciple.

Secondly, Jesus tells us that we must “take up our cross daily.”

Two thousand years ago crucifixion was a common form of execution. Those condemned to death were forced to carry their heavy crosses to the place of crucifixion. Then they were hung on the cross and left to die a horrible, painful death.

When Jesus said that Christians should carry their crosses daily, he certainly didn't mean this in a literal sense. Instead, his request that we "take up our cross" refers to being willing to suffer for the sake of Christ.

Jesus tells us that we should willing to suffer for our beliefs “daily.” Our willingness to suffer should be a way of life. It should not just be a Sunday thing, but an everyday thing.

For example … suppose a friend asks us to go out and do something that is clearly against the way God wants us to live our life. We must have the courage to say “No!” Of course, if we say no too many times we may lose a few friends. They may even make fun of us and talk badly about us. Naturally losing friends and being made fun of hurts.

Jesus took up the cross in submission to God’s will. In following Jesus there are many trials and tribulations along the way. However, know that we are not called to an easy life, but to a godly life. We are called to a life in which God is the center.

Thirdly, we must “follow Jesus.”

Following Jesus means submitting your life to him … living your life the way he wants you to live your life …giving up anything that keeps you from focusing on what is truly important in life.

However, even when we fail in our attempt to practice serious self-denial … even when we fail at carrying our cross daily … even when we sometimes forget to follow Jesus … we can still find forgiveness, pick up our cross, and start all over again.

Yes, we will stumble, but thankfully we still have the Jesus. We still have Jesus who through his unselfish actions provided us with not only an example to live by, but provided us with salvation.

The cost of not becoming a disciple.

We have learned that there is a cost to being a disciple of Jesus Christ, but know that there is also a cost for not becoming a disciple.

If a person rejects Jesus Christ there will be a heavy price to pay. They may not experience it in this short fleshy life, but Scripture tells us plainly that the spirit of the unrighteous dead will be judged (Hebrews 9:27). Remember that if you think you can get by in life by just being a good person.

Yes, we can spend our lives in the pursuit of obtaining possessions. We can continue to spend our time focusing only on our wants and desires. We can continue to ignore the fact that God exists. But know that there is a cost to be paid for our actions.

In Luke 9:24-25, Jesus tells us that, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?

Stephen knew the cost of being a disciple of Jesus and he willingly paid the price. Jesus knew the cost of submitting to the Father, and he willingly paid the price. Now you know the cost. Are you willing to pay the price?

Are you willing to renounce your own personal fulfillment, your own wants, your own dreams, or your personal glory, if it means they are contrary to what God wants?

If so, Jesus is just asking you to do just three little things … deny yourself … take up your cross … and follow him.

Nathan C. Schaeffer once said:

“At the close of life, the question will not be:
"How much have you gotten?" but "How much have you given?"
Not "How much have you won?" but "How much have you done?"
Not "How much have you saved?" but "How much have you sacrificed?"
It will be "How much have you loved and served," not "How much were you honored?"

Are you willing to pay the price? Are you willing to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? Are you willing to count the cost?

1 comment: