What Is the True Cost of Discipleship?

Dear Roger,

When I read the Bible, I see Jesus placing so much emphasis upon a full-blown commitment to him. His demands remind me of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
I’m not certain that I see much “dying” among Christians today. It’s breaking my heart. I’d appreciate your thoughts on the matter.
Sincerely, Kendall

Dear Kendall,

Have you personally counted the cost of discipleship lately?

Jesus expected total commitment.

In John 6, we have the record of Jesus feeding the five thousand. What a moment of joy and triumph! 

But then, the next morning Jesus preached the “hardest” sermon that He ever preached: 

I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and makes my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:53-59)

By the time Jesus finished calling for full commitment, 4,988 of his audience walked away. Only the 12 disciples were left.

Jesus asked them, “You’re going to go away, too. Aren’t you?”

Peter replied, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of life.”

True discipleship comes when we understand that there’s no place else to go except to Jesus.

Jesus never refused anyone who came with a surrendered heart.

However, He did not shovel people into the kingdom indiscriminately. There’s plenty of biblical evidence that He knew how to turn people away … and did.

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have their nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

He said to another man, “Follow me,” but the man replied, “Lord first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead.”

Another said, “Lord, I will follow of you but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62)

Sometimes, I wonder whether or not we give people enough information to intelligently reject Christ.

Think about it.

When I was a children’s pastor, an out-of-town evangelist came to lead our church in a two-week revival. At the end of one sermon, the evangelist called for everyone who wanted to be a Christian to come to the front of the church and receive Christ. 

Thirty-five kids came forward. Most of the children had no idea what was going on … they just wanted to be part of the excitement.

The evangelist was so excited! He said to me, “Just get them to fill out a response card and pray a prayer of salvation with them.” 

He then put his arm around a child named Martha that I knew was intellectually disabled. 

The evangelist asked Martha: “Do you believe in Jesus?” 

“Yes,” she said.

The evangelist said to me, “Roger, write her name on a response card. She’s ready!”

I turned to “Martha and asked, “Why did you come to the front?” 

Martha replied, “Can I go to the bathroom now?”

Christianity is not a “featherbed” religion.

Jesus never said that life in Christ would be easy. He promised a rough, hard struggle … a life full of heartaches and sorrows … a life that takes the very best that we have.  

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who laid who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

We're to be committed disciples for Jesus, not just to sit in the pews and remain spiritual babies.  

I noticed an intriguing book in the public library when I was in high school. The Comfortable Pew was the work of an atheist who was asked by the Anglican Church of Canada to write an outsider’s viewpoint of what was wrong with their churches.

The atheist found that the reason their churches were failing – the reason that there was no fire of evangelism and their churches were not filled – wasn’t because of church beliefs or dogmas. It wasn’t because their churches weren’t keeping up with the times. 

He believed that the reason their churches were dying was because their people have claimed the pew that remains easy, and "they're not getting up."

That sounds to me a lot like today’s American Christian church. 

A. W. Tozer wrote, 

Only in America can we develop instant potatoes, instant TV dinners, and instant coffee. Unfortunately, we have now given the world instant Christianity, whereby we believe that we can satisfy the demands of Christ in a once-in-a-lifetime walk down the aisle of a church or pray a little twenty-second prayer of surrender and think that we have fulfilled the calling of Jesus.

As a result, there is no essential difference between ordinary human life and the life of a person who claims to be a Christian.

Your level of discipleship directly relates to how well you know the Bible.

The following tool is not meant to be statistically correct. It is designed to give you an experiential sense of how far along you are in knowing the Bible and thus how far along you are in your discipleship (read 1 John 2:12-14). 

You’re behind in your Bible knowledge if:

1. You’ve been a Christian for five years, and you can’t explain the relationship between Christ and Melchizedek.

2. You’ve been a Christian for ten years, and you don’t know which two Psalms are just alike.

3. You’ve been a Christian fifteen years, and you are unable to locate the Sermon on the Mount without help.

4. You’ve been a Christian for twenty years, and you can’t locate even one of the three records of Paul’s conversion in the book of Acts.

5. You’ve been a Christian for twenty-five years, and you cannot carry on an intelligent discussion about election and free will.

6. You’ve been a Christian for thirty years, and you’ve never led a soul to Christ.

A woman said to me, “Why do I need to be totally committed to Jesus. As long as I make it to heaven by the skin of my teeth, who cares about anything else?”

What do you suppose Jesus would say to her?

I hesitate to put words into the mouth of Jesus, but I think that He would say something like this: “When you’re ready to commit your life wholeheartedly to Me, then come and follow Me. Until then you have no part of Me.”

Total commitment makes a difference to the believer.

1. Total commitment means we no longer live to "help God out" with human effort, but that we give it all to Jesus now—before we need a bailout.

Join me to recognize the fallacy in some of the statements by which we live (Note that none of these are in the Bible):

“God helps those who help themselves.”

“God won’t do for you what you can do for yourself.”

“Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.”

“When you come to the end of the rope, tie a knot and hang on.”

The idea is that we use all of our human ingenuity, brains, and manipulation to handle our problems. Then, when that doesn’t work and our backs are against the wall, we come begging to God for help.

Will you spend the rest of your life begging God to help you out of your problems, or will you hand things over to His control right now?

2. Total commitment is the difference between gratifying ego and glorifying God.

The difference that total commitment makes is that a person who lives a carnal, self-centered life will serve Christ only as long as the result is gratifying to his own ego.

In all honesty, I have struggled with pride all my life. Most of us have.

I wanted to do things that Paul never did. I wanted to bring revival to America. I wanted to do what Moses never did. I wanted to write books and have a thriving TV ministry.

When I got to heaven, I wanted to hear God say, “Roger, you were the best pastor I ever had.” However, over the years, I’ve realized that all of that was to gratify my ego. 

Today, I am ashamed of my arrogance.

God said to me, “What if I send you to a little church and no one ever hears of you again? What if you write no books, bring no revival, and don’t have a well-known name, will you be content? Will you accept that?”

When the answer is “yes,” the pressure is off. We will find freedom and be more content than ever before. Slowly, I am learning that a shepherd’s best work is done on the backside of the desert where no one is looking.

And what joy comes to those who learn how total commitment frees them from the constant desire to gratify their ego! They are content with God receiving all of the glory.

3. Total commitment means the difference between crowned efforts and crucified self.

The self-centered, carnal Christian who has yet to abandon his life to Christ will be constantly looking for his own efforts to be recognized, or “crowned,” instead of daily praying for God to put to death anything in his/her life that is contrary to the mind of Christ.

On the other hand, total commitment means that we no longer desire to be noticed or praised so that God can get all the glory.

I was in the kitchen during a churchwide banquet. We could hear the speaker outside thanking by name those who worked preparing food in the kitchen.

Unfortunately, one woman’s name was overlooked by the speaker as he passed out accolades. I imagined that all day she had pictured herself coming out of the kitchen to the applause of the audience. Now, however, she didn’t get to come out of the kitchen to receive praise. He never even called her name.

She was fuming: “Just see if I ever help again.”

Some people will serve God only as long as someone is noticing.

Are you willing to forego “crowned” efforts and be crucified for God’s glory? 

4. Total commitment means the difference between asking “what,” instead of asking “why?”

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him who have been called according to his purpose: for those whom God for knew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his son. (Romans 8:28-29)

Only the one who is fully surrendered to Christ asks “what?”

“What are you trying to teach me?” “What lessons do you want me to learn?” “What are you doing in my life?” 

The fully committed Christian understands that God’s purpose is to use every experience to conform us to the image of Christ.

The self-centered, carnal Christian will never understand or believe Romans 8:28-29 in the hour of crisis. His or her question is “why?” 

He or she will tend to argue with God. 

“Why is this happening to me?” “Why did you let my child get hurt?” “Why did you let me lose my job?” “Why did my spouse have cancer?”

Until God is real, and until we allow him to have total control over our lives, we will reason, argue, question, and fight God’s authority and judgment. However, when we surrender fully to Him, we will experience true freedom.

What does total commitment really cost?

Think of the full commitment of each disciple.

James, one of the “sons of thunder,” was murdered in Jerusalem.

Philip was hanged in Phrygia.

Bartholomew was skinned alive in Armenia.

Andrew was crucified in Greece on an x-shaped cross. Seven soldiers whipped him severely, then tied his body to the cross with cords to prolong his agony. 

Thomas, who was is often criticized for his doubts, carried the gospel to East India where he was run through with a lance.

Thaddeus was shot to death with arrows and buried in Beirut.

Simon the Zealot was put to death in Persia.

Peter got as far as Rome with the gospel. There he was crucified upside down at his request.

Matthias, the one selected to fill the place of Judas, was beheaded.

The other “son of thunder” was John, who alone escaped death. However, he lived in exile. John died peacefully in his 90s after writing the book of Revelation and three other biblical letters. 

Matthew gave up financial security in order to follow Jesus Christ. He carried the cause to a little country called Ethiopia. There he was slain by the sword.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, was the leader of the church in Jerusalem. He was thrown from the southeast pinnacle of the temple when he refused to deny his faith in Christ. When they discovered that he survived the fall, he was beaten to death. 

The Apostle Paul was tortured and then beheaded by Nero in Rome in AD 67. 

Have you counted the cost of discipleship lately? How could we ever consider giving to God anything but our best?

Well, Kendall, I hope this helps.

Love, Roger

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Tinnakorn Jorruang

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his 35-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian. 

Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].

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