Cost of Discipleship
Dr. Laji Paul
William Whiting Borden was born in Chicago in 1887. Borden’s father was a millionaire. After his schooling, his father arranged for Borden to travel around the world. This trip was instrumental in motivating him to commit his life as a missionary. Borden’s father died in 1906 leaving him a millionaire. After graduating from college in 1909, he attended Princeton Seminary. In September, 1912, he was ordained to be a missionary and went to Egypt to study Islam and Arabic. He died of cerebral meningitis, less than five months after arriving in Egypt at the age of 25. His family donated $1 million to China Inland Mission, who build the Borden Memorial Hospital in Lanzhou, China. Borden’s famous saying which was the summary of his life was "No Reserves. No Retreats and No Regrets". Borden’s life is a testimony of a disciple who was willing to pay the cost of discipleship. In other words, Borden is an example of a disciple who took up his cross, denied himself and followed Jesus.
The basic idea of discipleship was widely accepted by the time Jesus began his own ministry. The ministry of Jesus began with the call of Peter, Andrew, James and John to be disciples. He chose the twelve disciples that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach (Mark 3:14). It closed with the commission given to his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything he had commanded which would ensure his presence with them(Mat 28:18-20). There are more than 250 references made to disciples in the gospels. Rather than a program, Jesus’ ministry of making disciples by association resulted in their transformation. From the humble shores of Galilee, Jesus’ disciples went to the sophisticated center of Jerusalem demonstrating power and authority.
What was their call? What was the cost they had to pay? What were the implications of the call on their individual lives? These are some of the issues this article will attempt to explore.
Who is a disciple?
A disciple is a follower of Jesus. He has committed himself to Christ, to walking Christ’s way, to living Christ’s life and sharing Christ’s love and truth with others. Discipling implies enabling a committed person to develop a Christ-like character so that the disciple can reproduce a Christ like character in others. There is a vast difference between being saved and being a disciple. Not all who are saved are disciples although all who are disciples are saved. In discussing the question of discipleship, we are not dealing with salvation. We are dealing with a person’s relationship to Jesus Christ as his Teacher, his Master, and his Lord.
One cannot read the gospels without recognizing the relationship that Jesus had with his disciples. It was a personal and intimate relationship - a relationship based on the knowledge of the person of Christ, a love for the person of Christ, submission to the person of Christ and obedience to the commands of Jesus Christ. The prime motivation for discipleship is love. This is in response to the call of love from Jesus. It is simply following Jesus in love, when we receive his love and hear his call.
In Jesus’ discipling process he firstly drew people either by preaching of the good news or by his personal ministry to their needs. Secondly he taught them by his example and thirdly he involved them in ministry. Three important aspects of discipleship are following, learning and witnessing. Discipleship means knowing him, loving him, believing in him, and being committed to him. It means going the way he goes, accepting his plan and will for our lives.
The gospel spread rapidly in the first century A.D. This was because the early disciples obeyed their Lord’s command to go into all the world, preaching and teaching until their contemporaries complained that, they’’’ have turned the world upside down.”(Acts 17:6) How did this small group of 120 grow in leaps and bounds? According to Waylon B. Moore, “These early soul –winners were not satisfied with merely making converts. They exalted a living saviour and implanted into their converts truths from God which made them life-changers and nation-changers. To them being a Christian meant having a vital relationship with a risen Christ. Their passion was to be witnesses and make disciples. Their commitment saw the Kingdom advancing. How did this happen? They were willing to pay the cost.
Cost of Discipleship
Following Jesus Christ means considering the cost of putting him above everything else. While salvation is freely provided to those who believe, receiving Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Saviour means committing everything to him. This means putting him above everything else in life. He is the Lord. He alone deserves to be first above everything else in all of our lives because he is the Lord God who willingly offered himself on the cross for our sins! Jesus is the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. His call to Peter and Andrew (Matthew4:18, 19) and to James and John (Matthew 4:21) was ‘Follow me’ which has always been a command and never an invitation (John 1:43).
While salvation is free, once we receive it, it costs us everything. Acknowledging Jesus as the Lord of our life means no other relationship comes ahead of Christ in our life. We confess and forsake every sin that hinders us from transforming us into his image and likeness. He becomes the Lord of our finances and we assume stewardship of all the possessions he has entrusted us with.
Jesus’ command is to renounce self-seeking pursuits, abandon our rebellion and obey him completely. Jesus never watered down his standard instead he said, “Whoever serves me must follow me…” (John 12:26). This is clear in Matthew 19:21 when the rich young ruler refused to sell all and follow him. Jesus also expected implicit obedience. He accepted no excuses (Luke 9:62). This is also evident from the narrative of a man who first wanted to bury his father before following Christ. Jesus told him, “Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.”(Matthew 8:22).
Christ’s call to discipleship is a call to self-death, an absolute surrender to God. In Luke 9:23-24, Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after me. Let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, he is the one who will save it.” While there are several aspects to the cost to be paid by a disciple, I would like to focus on the following three important aspects in following Jesus:
1. Denial of self
2. Taking up the cross
3. Following Jesus
Denial of self
We live in an age where self is idolized. Self-centeredness and self-obsession is given high priority. Discipleship is a call to take up a life of self-denial and of taking up the cross. This does not mean asceticism but a willingness to place everything we have on the altar and acknowledge that all that we are and all that we have belong to Christ. Self-denial is joyfully giving up what we need or what might contribute to our comfort to see the Kingdom advance. It is the death of selfishness. Apostle Paul says, “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:7-8) It is impossible for Christ to be the Lord of my life so long as I am the Lord of my life.
Christ’s call to discipleship is a call to self-death, an absolute surrender to God. In Luke 9:23-24, Jesus said, “… If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” Jesus disciples were pursuing their own selfish agendas in following him. Jesus is making it clear to his disciples that there is no glory before the cross. Jesus is reminding them that putting to death their own agenda was important if they wanted to be his disciples. Our ego or ‘I’ which is predominant in all our lives will be sacrificed and we begin saying ‘not my will’ but ‘your will be done in my life.’ This dying to the self is a cost to be paid and we are ready to take up the cross in response to his love for us.
Taking up the Cross
Jesus said that a condition for discipleship is to “take up our cross daily.” (Luke 9:23). How can we do that?
Apostle Paul explains to the Galatians that those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24). It is the process of dying to self which means “crucified with Christ.” The implication is that we give up sinful ways and lifestyles, and pursue things that please God. Just like a physical cross causes suffering for the body, taking up the cross imply suffering in the flesh when it is denied its cravings. Apostle Peter explains the motivation for this in 1 Peter 4:1, “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” God's purpose for our lives is to transform us to the image of Jesus. The key to this transformation is taking up our cross daily. Apostle Peter in his letter states, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps. (1Peter 2:21)
Suffering is never comfortable. We seek comfort. Yet, Christ tells us to follow in his steps. This means that we may very well suffer as well. A quote attributed to Sadhu Sunder Singh a well-known disciple of Christ goes like this: “It is easy to die for Christ, It is hard to live for him, Dying takes only an hour or two, but to live for Christ, means to die daily.”
Obeying Christ’s command to take up the cross results in self-death. Dietrich Bonhoeffer the German theologian in his book ‘Cost of Discipleship’ writes, “Christianity without self-death is only an abstract philosophy. It is Christianity without Christ.” When he was executed for opposing Nazism, his words were, “This is the end–for me, the beginning of life.” It is quite unfortunate that some believers today misunderstand the call of Jesus as a call to health, wealth, and prosperity. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The call of Jesus is a call to die, but today some, unwilling to accept a call to die, leave Him or simply change His message to something more pleasant. Taking up the cross is imperative to follow Jesus.
Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. True discipleship is about following Jesus daily. Our resolve through prayer and dependency of the Holy Spirit should be, "Not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42)
Following Jesus is never a guarantee for a pleasant life. Jesus instead guaranteed that trials would come to His followers (John 16:33). Discipleship demands sacrifice, and Jesus never hid that cost. He also promised that He would be there to us give us the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-19), comfort us in our trials (James 1:12).
Following Jesus is not about joining a religion, but knowing how to live life more fully. It is not pursuing a religion but an authentic relationship. When Jesus offered the invitation, follow me”, it was an invitation to be with him. It was an invitation to learn from him in association of his intimacy with the Father and compassion for people.
Following him meant keeping Jesus as our example and teacher. Dallas Willard, the American philosopher who was known for his writings on Christian spiritual formation said, “Following Jesus is not to live the life Jesus lived. The purpose is to learn to live your present life with all its responsibilities, relationships and roles as Jesus would live it if it were his.
Implications for the Disciple today
If we want to see the gospel changing lives and our market place, it means embracing discipleship and not content in remaining Church members. Discipleship is about willingness to spend and be spent. As disciples we are committed to be a part of a community which is the Church. We are clear that our lives are not about our name or fame. We are intentional through our choice, decision and action in giving honour and glory to the Lamb who is worthy.
Relationships are the most difficult to carry out because by default we are of sinful nature. It is only by focusing on the cross and willingness to pay the cost that we reveal authenticity in our discipleship which is bound to affirm the message of the cross. The church, comprising of Christ’s disciples, has a catalytic role to perform. According to Howard Clinebell, “The challenge confronting the Church in the next two decades is to become a place where the great waste of human life can be reduced drastically as people are awakened to more creative, celebrative and socially useful living. The effectiveness of the Churches can be judged by the degree to which people are helped to discover and develop life in all its fullness.”
The call to discipleship as emphasized by Jesus is not restricted to the twelve disciples. It embraces all who hear his call and turn to follow him as their Lord and Saviour. As disciples we need to take with seriousness the cost of discipleship that Jesus lays upon us. It means following Jesus with, ‘No reserves, no retreats, and no regrets.’ Are you willing?
(The writer acknowledges the use of select bibliography in compiling this article)