Posts tagged ‘the Gospels’

The Cost of Following Jesus, Part Three

This is the conclusion of a three-part series.

When Dietrich Bonhoeffer defined cheap grace, he also defined its opposite: costly grace. I’d ask your indulgence as I read once more from Bonhoeffer:

“Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of His Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered Him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

“Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow Him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Is there a cost to follow Jesus? Oh yes indeed, there is. Jesus intentionally put the rich young ruler in a position in which answering the call of God would have made it would be impossible to go back to the ruler’s old life.  He was asking him to sever all ties with his past and make an irrevocable decision to follow Christ.  The rich young ruler, like many today, seemed to want to try out the call and see if the conditions suited his fancy, then decide later whether or not to stay with Jesus.  No. There is no real cost to a decision such as that. You risk nothing. Truly following Jesus means risking everything you have and everything that you are.

I cannot tell you how many times during my years as a missionary to the Jews that I experienced heart wrenching moments of watching those whom I had ministered to count the cost of deciding to follow Jesus – a cost that for some included the rejection of their families, the loss of jobs, and the censure of their entire community! I think particularly of a young Jewish man named Alan whom I ministered to for most of a year. We met weekly to study Scripture, and was I spurred to pray for Alan often as I judged that he had made such progress that I thought he would surely give himself to Christ at any moment. This hope of mine was crushed one day when Alan confessed to me that while he had come to believe that all I had taught him was true, and that Jesus was most likely the Messiah, he could not follow him. “If I follow Jesus, I’ll lose my family and everything else, and I just can’t do that.” Alan was stuck at a terrible place: the crossroads of truth and convenience. In time I got past my disappointment in his choice, and returned to praying that God would move him past that crossroads. Alan made a choice much like that of the young ruler.

The cost that Jesus would have us pay to follow Him is to abandon our focus on ourselves and on earthly things. “Go, sell what you have,” He tells the young ruler, “give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” The cost of following Him and becoming like Him is to fix our gaze on heavenly things. That cost is achieved by allowing God to take away the heart we have and replace it with a new heart. A heart that beats for Him! A heart that yearns not for the things of this world, but that yearns for the same things that the Lord yearns for! It means giving up who we are in our sinfulness, and becoming new creatures who exist to serve His purposes, not our own selfish ambitions and desires.

The apostle Paul spoke to this idea when writing to the church in Philippi, stating,

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”  Philippians 2:12-13

When Paul says to “work out your salvation,” please understand that he is not suggesting that anyone through some effort on their part can earn God’s salvation. The key to what he means is contained in verse 13, “for it is God who works in you.” Paul was admonishing the Philippians to live lives that made their salvation in Christ obvious – and he wanted them to remember that this could only happen if they allowed God to be at work in their lives, causing their will to conform to His will, causing them to desire that their actions would directed towards God’s purposes.

God will not take up residence within you, His Holy Spirit cannot tabernacle within you, if sin remains in you. If you have withheld a part of yourself from Him and sin therefore remains, how can you possibly expect that Jesus will take up residence within you and transform you from the inside? If you have professed yourself a Christian, and yet are still holding onto something from your past, please understand that by keeping your whole heart from Him you are grieving the Lord by blocking the work of His Spirit in your life. The things you hide from other people, the secret sins you’ve never confessed to another person, that patch of darkness you’ve harbored in your heart … they are all seen and understood by the Lord. He is able to cleanse you of them. It is His desire that you turn them over to Him so that he might heal you and cause you to grow to Christian maturity.

If you have never truly given lordship of your life over to Jesus, you can have no idea of what it means to have Him cleanse your sin, to heal you of all the brokenness in you. In 1997, at the time I first came to know Jesus, there is no other way to describe what I was other than an unqualified mess. I had come through alcohol. I had come through drugs. I had come through one failed relationship after another. I had come to grips with the fact that I just wasn’t any good at my chosen career. I was just plain miserable. But on the day I met Jesus, I gave all of that pain and misery over to Him, and He opened wide His arms and simply said to me, “Welcome home.” From that moment on, although I have had trials and tribulations in life, none of them have ever been more than momentary clouds on the horizon because in dying to the life I led and allowing Christ to live within me, for the first time I experienced God’s  shalom, the peace that surpasses all understanding.

Even as the young ruler trudged away in sorrow, Peter looked at the Lord and said, “We have left everything and followed you.” There’s a question in this statement, and the question is, “Did we make the sacrifice that this rich young ruler wouldn’t?” Jesus’ response recognizes that Peter and the other disciples did make a sacrifice of their lives – a sacrifice Jesus measures in houses, in brothers or sisters or mothers or fathers, in children and lands – for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel. Not only does he affirm that they have made the right choice, but Jesus goes on to indicate that those who are faithful to Him, even amidst persecutions, will be rewarded. Rewarded with what?

“that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 NRSV

Is there a cost to following Jesus? As I wrap up, I don’t want to keep beating the same drum.  But if you say you are following Jesus, and your life hasn’t changed, I want to challenge you to ask yourself why. If you call yourself a follower of Christ and yet your life doesn’t reflect Him, it begs the question of whether you’ve truly turned your back on your own sin and thrown yourself entirely on the mercy of God. Maybe you’re thinking that there are things in your life you’ve done that God can’t forgive. Maybe there places of darkness you’ve wandered into where you think His light can’t reach. People, understand that the cost to follow Jesus is not about following rules. It’s not about managing your sin. It’s about saying to God, “Here I am, you can have all of me.” That’s the cost of following Jesus. That’s what it takes.

Have you paid that cost? Are you willing to pay it? Who are you living for? Are you living for Jesus, or are you living for yourself? Do you find yourself in possession of a cheap grace or a costly grace? When God calls, will you cast down your nets – as some of the disciples did – and follow Him, or will you walk away downhearted as the rich young ruler, unwilling to give all of your heart to Him so that he can give you a new one?

* All quotes or information regarding Dietrich Bonhoeffer were drawn from The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer,  1959, Simon & Schuster

** All quotes or information regarding Richard Wurmbrand were drawn from Jesus Freaks, dc Talk & Voice of The Martyrs, 1999, Albury Publishing

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The Cost of Following Jesus, Part Two

This is part two of a three-part series.

Is there a cost to follow Jesus? There are those who have come before us who have understood clearly that we follow Jesus at some price. German pastor and theologian Dietrich Boenhoeffer was one who understood this very clearly. Bonhoeffer was among the few in the German church who publically opposed the Nazi Party and Adolf Hitler. Although friends in England got him out of Germany, his conscience told him that he could have no part in helping to rebuild and heal Germany after the war ended if he did not share in his fellow Germans’ sufferings. His leadership within the state Church the Nazi party was trying to destroy, and his close ties to individuals who plotted to assassinate Hitler led to Bonhoeffer’s imprisonment in a concentration camp and eventual death by hanging.

The writings of Bonhoeffer can be a bit weighty. I’ll go so far as to let you know that outside of the Bible, I have not read any work as convicting as his best known work, The Cost of Discipleship. Although first published in 1937 it is almost frighteningly contemporary in the topic it addresses, especially when set against our post-modern culture. Bonhoeffer lambasted the idea that intellectual assent to belief in Jesus was sufficient. In speaking to the true price of following Jesus, Bonhoeffer decried what he saw as “cheap grace.” Cheap grace, according to Bonhoeffer, “means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner.”

Let me break this down for you, because this is something that has become pervasive. We continue to battle today in the Church against the idea that you can say “I believe in Jesus, and I know he forgives my sins,” and yet not turn away from that sin! The cheap grace Bonhoeffer wrote of is a grace that is assigned to us by ourselves, not by God. It’s a grace that requires no change in our lives. We have those who profess themselves Christians today who have bought this hook, line, and sinker without any knowledge of how false it truly is. Cheap grace means proclaiming yourself forgiven without ever having bothered to throw yourself on your face before the Lord and repenting of your wickedness. Cheap grace means proclaiming yourself a saint without having bothered to give up being a sinner. Bonhoeffer called it “grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” What a sad, pathetic “grace”.

The rich young ruler sought a cheap form of grace. While his desire to gain eternal life may have been genuine, he wanted it on his own terms. He mistook the outward display of righteousness – following the commandments – for righteousness itself. For him, it was simply about following a list of rules. When presented with God’s terms, when asked to turn his whole life over to God, he turned away. But it doesn’t work that way. We cannot come up with Christianity on our own terms.

You cannot call yourself Christian and continue to live a sinful lifestyle. Simply saying that you believe in Jesus does not make you a Christian, anymore than walking into Taco Bell makes you a chalupa, people. If you are Christian, the life you lead must reflect that. If you are Christian, you cannot continue to fill your head with all manner of ungodly things from TV or movies or magazines. A Christian lives a life in which they die to self. A Christian seeks a life of service, not a life of self-gratification. A Christian lives a life in which they allow the Holy Spirit to be their guide … not the prevailing culture.

Is there a cost to follow Jesus? In 1945, the Communist party in Romania convened a conference of 4,000 of the country’s religious leaders. Many of these leaders, afraid for their lives, proclaimed that there was no difference between Christianity and Communism – despite the fact that in every country where it had taken root, Communism had dedicated itself to destroying faith in Jesus. In the midst of this shameful display, a pastor named Richard Wurmbrand took the stage and proclaimed, “Delegates, it is our duty not to praise earthly powers that come and go, but to glorify God the Creator and Christ the Savior, who died for us on the cross.”

Richard Wurmbrand would spend much of the next 20 years in prison for his faith, where he was repeatedly beaten, tortured, and brainwashed.

“When we were first put into solitary confinement,” he wrote, “it was like dying. Everyone of us lived again his past sins and his neglects of duties. We all had an unimaginable pain in our hearts thinking that we had not done our utmost for the Highest, for the One who has given His life for us on the Cross.”

“After years of solitary confinement, we were put together in huge cells, sometimes with 200 0r 300 prisoners in each cell. I will not tell you the whole truth, because you could not bear to hear it. But this I will tell. Christian prisoners were beaten, then tied on crosses for four days and four nights without interruption. The Communists then stood around them, jeering and mocking, ‘Look at your Christ, how beautiful He is, what fragrances He brings from heaven.’ Then they kicked the other prisoner, forcing them to kneel down and to adore and worship this besmeared living crucifix.”

Years later, Wurmbrand would describe how he was kept imprisoned for so long, without a book to read or paper to write on, that when he was eventually released and had to write again, he could not remember how to write a capital D. In 1965, after his final release from prison, Wurmbrand testified in Washington, D.C., before the United States Senate. Many of the Senators would remember with horror for years the moment that Pastor Wurmbrand stripped to the waist and revealed eighteen deep torture wounds. Until the day he died, he could not wear shoes for any great length of time, because his feet had been so damaged by the tortures he endured.

At the beginning of his time in prison, Wurmbrand was ordered to write out a confession of all the Communist rules he had broken. Although he willingly signed, he ended with a declaration that he had never spoken against his torturers, saying that He was a disciple of Christ, who had given him love for his enemies. He wrote also that he prayed for their conversion, that they might be his brothers.

The Communist officer who had forced him to write his confession jeered at this declaration, telling Wurmbrand that this was a Christian commandment that no one could keep. Wurmbrand’s reply to this man who had the power to have him killed in an instant was simply, “It’s not a matter of keeping a commandment. When I became a Christian, it was as if I had been reborn, with a new character full of love. Just as only water can flow from a spring, so only love can come from a loving heart.”

Pastor Richard Wurmbrand had many other encounters with that particular officer during his time in prison, and in time would come to have the privilege of leading the officer to Christ, but that is a story for another time. Today, I want to talk about the price that Richard Wurmbrand was willing to pay for following Jesus. When we consider the cost of his following Jesus, there was nothing cheap about it. Wurmbrand lost years of his life, not just in terms of time with his wife, family, and friends, but in his very health. At any moment, it could all have been restored to him, simply by acceding to the Communist wishes that he stop proclaiming the Word of God. Yet Wurmbrand was willing even that he should lose His life in order to truly follow Jesus.

The third and final part of this series will examine more about how Bonhoeffer and Wurmbrand accepted the cost, and conclude with some questions and challenges about whether you or I are doing the same.

The Cost of Following Jesus, Part One

This is the first part of a two to three-part series.

I did not have an interest in music – other than listening to it – until I was a  sophomore in high school, and then I dived into the deep end of the pool. In  the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, I  learned to play saxophone, and then during my junior year of high school I  more or less taught myself to play guitar. The guitar I learned to play on was  a beat up old classical guitar loaned me by a friend, but I never think of that  as my first guitar.  My first guitar was an acoustic/electric Takamine, with a  glossy black finish and white detailing. I named the guitar Johnson, after a  famous blues musician, and I paid $600.00 for him at Currier’s Music Store,  which even today seems to me an enormous sum for a 17-year-old to spend  on anything. I paid $600.00, but that doesn’t begin to describe what I really  paid for that guitar. The real cost was a sacrifice of time spent with friends while I worked odd jobs. The cost was not having the money for getting a bite to eat with the gang I hung out with, or not being able to buy a new biker jacket, or a t-shirt from one of the bands I liked. The cost was staying in my room at home instead of cruising because I didn’t want to waste money on gasoline for my car that I could put towards my guitar. Johnson was costly, people.

I think that the generation in which I have found myself born is one that for the most part has never understood the true cost of things. It’s a generation that feels a huge sense of entitlement, and whatever it is that we’re supposed to be entitled to, we want it NOW, without any waiting! In previous generations this was not so. My late grandfather lived through the Depression, and until the illness which eventually killed him, seemed physically incapabable of inactivity for so much as a day. He spent most of his adult life as a bus driver in New York City, and continued to drive a school bus after his retirement. Even when he eventually stopped driving, he was constantly working, whether it was making some small repair in his home, or building some small item for a neighbor. Those who have come before us understood a connection between desiring something – whether it was tangible, such as food, or intangible, such as knowledge – and the price required to acquire it, a connection that seems more tenuous as time progresses. The blacksmith at his forge was standing there because he had served an apprenticeship of 7 or more years, an apprenticeship measured in his own sweat, and blood, and tears. The doctor treating patients walks the corridors of a hospital because he has served a different sort of apprenticeship of 8-10 years, years of endless studies and sleepless nights spent as an intern before being allowed to don the white jacket proclaiming him as a healer. The professor at a university is entitled to his podium in the lecture because he has gone through 4 years of undergraduate work, followed by 4-6 years of graduate studies, followed perhaps by yet more years of study and work on a doctoral dissertation which he must then defend before a panel of experts in his field of study. There was a price which the blacksmith, the doctor, and the professor paid to earn their place in society.

Today, I want us to consider a simple question: is there a cost to follow Jesus?

“And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.” And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “Lo, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many that are first will be last, and the last first.”   Mark 10:17-31

Is there a cost to follow Jesus? As Christians, we tend not to think this is so. After all, He paid the price for us, did he not? He died on the cross for us, as a sacrifice for our sins. We didn’t do anything to earn that sacrifice, nor was there anything we could have done. It was a gift that God gave to all humanity – His own Son, brutally murdered that you and I might gain eternal life. The apostle Paul bids us knows that if we but confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved. Doesn’t sound like much cost to you and I, does it? The story of the rich young ruler, found in three of the four Gospels, teaches us differently. The moral of this tale is that following Jesus is costly.

Is there a cost to follow Jesus? As Christians, we tend not to think this is so. After all, HE paid the price for us, did he not? He died on the cross for us, as a sacrifice for our sins. We didn’t do anything to earn that sacrifice, nor was there anything we could have done. It was a gift that God gave to all humanity – His own Son, brutally murdered that you and I might gain eternal life. The apostle Paul bids us knows that if we but confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved. Doesn’t sound like much cost to you and I, does it? The story of the rich young ruler, found in three of the four Gospels, teaches us differently. The moral of this tale is that following Jesus is costly.

The rich young ruler is distinctive in the New Testament as being one of the few figures of authority who demonstrates legitimate interest and concern in the afterlife. The nature of his question to Jesus indicates that he had prior knowledge that Jesus was offering eternal life to those who followed him. Although there are those who question the ruler’s sincerity, he genuinely seems to want to know how he can gain salvation. Jesus’ answer treats the question sincerely; our Lord responds by quoting the Ten Commandments. He refers to commandments six through nine, and then cites the fifth commandment. As we examine the passage, note that all these are commandments dealing with relationships with other people. Know that in Jewish tradition, citing any portion of a passage implies the context of the entire passage. By citing commandments dealing with relationships with other men, Jesus by implication is also citing commandments dealing with relating to God. This is important in answering our question.

As sincere as the rich young ruler is, his response shows his misguidedness. “All these things I have kept since my youth,” he says, displaying a certainty that he has the ability to live a righteous life on his own. Although I don’t believe it to be arrogance, the young ruler displays a sort of boastfulness in his own piety, as if to say, “Look how long I’ve been keeping the commandments!” He’s misguided because he thinks that simply doing commandments is the way to a relationship with God. As someone who grew up in Judaism, and has brought the Gospel to the Jewish people, let me make something clear: it is not about doing the commandments. What was the one thing which Jesus told the young ruler he lacked? He was lacking a heart that was truly, wholly and completely given over to God. Jesus’ invitation to come and follow Him was a test of where the young ruler’s allegiance truly lay; it was a call for him to sacrifice his wealth for his faith. Understand that Jesus’ command to the young man is not a call for all people in all times to give up all they own, but it was God’s will for this ruler. He went away sad because the cost of following Jesus, the cost of eternal life, was all that the young ruler believed was important in this world. His reliance ultimately was not on the Lord; he drew comfort from his possessions rather than his God.

In part two of this series, we’ll discuss the price which some have paid for following Jesus. Look forward to some thoughts on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Richard Wurmbrand in particular.

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