A dairy farmer went to buy a new pickup truck. He had seen an ad in the paper about discounts and factory rebates, so he decided to trade in his old clunker. He chose a new model and was ready to write the check for the full amount. The salesman said, “Wait, I haven’t given you the final cost yet.” The farmer said, “Isn’t it the price I saw in the paper?” The salesman said, “No, that’s for the basic model, all the options cost extra.” So after the options were added, the farmer reluctantly wrote a check and drove off in his new pick-up.
A few months later the car salesman called the farmer because he wanted to buy a cow for his son’s 4-H project. The farmer assured the car salesman he had several good milk cows for sale for $500. The salesman drove out and selected a cow and took out his checkbook. The farmer said, “Wait. I haven’t given you the final cost yet.” Then he handed the salesman a bill that read:
BASIC COW $500
Two-tone exterior $45
Extra stomach $75
Milk storage compartment $60
Straw recycle compartment $120
Four handy spigots @ $10 each $40
Leather upholstery $125
Dual horns $45
Automatic rear fly swatter $38
Natural fertilizer attachment $185
GRAND TOTAL $1233
Whether you’re buying cars or cows, it’s important to get to what we call “the bottom line.” What is the “bottom line” of following Jesus? You may go into sticker shock when you discover it. Many people are only interested in the basic model of Christian living. They want just enough Christianity to keep them out of hell without intruding on their fun. We don’t find the full cost of discipleship advertised very often these days. Few preachers discuss it because it is unpleasant; it doesn’t fill churches. It isn’t the prosperity gospel that says, “Believe and you will be rich and happy.” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his classic book, The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to die.”
These words applied to the disciples and to all who would come after Jesus—that is, become a disciple and enter his fellowship. Recognizing and confessing belief in Jesus as the Messiah is only the beginning of discipleship. Jesus invites every person to follow, but those who desire to follow him must have three attitudes:
- a willingness to deny themselves,
- a willingness to take up the cross, and
- a willingness to follow.
To deny oneself means to surrender immediate selfish gratification in order to discover and secure one’s true self and God’s interests. It is a willingness to let go of selfish desires and earthly security. This attitude turns self-centeredness to God-centeredness. “Self” is no longer in charge; God is.
To take up the cross was a vivid illustration of the humility and submission that Jesus was asking of his followers. When Jesus used this example of his followers taking up their crosses to follow him, the disciples got the picture. Death on a cross was a form of execution used by Rome for what they considered dangerous criminals. A prisoner carried his own cross to the place of execution, signifying submission to Rome’s power. Following Jesus, therefore, meant identifying with Jesus and his followers, facing social and political oppression and ostracism, and no turning back. For some, taking up the cross might indeed mean death. But Jesus’ words meant that his followers had to be prepared to obey God’s Word and to follow his will no matter what the consequences. We must count the cost and be prepared to pay it. Soon after this, Jesus would take up his own cross. Jesus was speaking prophetically here as well. To follow Christ is also a moment-by-moment decision, requiring compassion and service. Following Jesus doesn’t mean walking behind him, but taking the same road of sacrifice and service that he took.
Jesus asked for something unique and rare when he suggested that his disciples follow him or to be loyal to him. What receives our loyalty today? Sports teams . . . as long as they’re winning. Career . . . as long as we’re advancing. Marriage . . . as long as one’s spouse remains attractive. Basically, the self alone seems to deserve the loyalty of the self. It’s each person looking out for number one. In Christian faith, however, Jesus must be number one, and we must give him our loyalty. Stick with him despite the swift current you’re swimming through. Never think that switching loyalties will reckon to your personal advantage. Remain loyal to Jesus and follow him all the way to heaven!
Jesus says to lose our lives for Him to find life. What does that mean? We do it all the time when we board an airplane. We “lose yourself” in the belly of that plane when we entrust its controls to the trained pilot. Sure, it might be fun to fly that plane ourselves but it would also be a sure way to ruin our life and the lives of others. Likewise if we want to save our life, then lose it in Jesus. He becomes our pilot. Entrust our life to him whose every word, every thought, and every deed was never for his comfort and convenience but for the benefit of others…and still is. That’s why we can deny ourselves and say “no” to our wants and desires. Jesus knows what we need and he will provide it. In the next post we will see what is at stake if we don’t follow Jesus.