This is the title of a book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It’s not hard to understand that attempting to be faithful to Christ in Nazi Germany would come at a cost, but it has been more difficult for us to grasp that to be a true disciple of Christ will always entail a cost, even in times of peace, prosperity and favourable public opinion.
We are forgetful people. It appears that we have forgotten that the friendship of the world is enmity with God. Or perhaps we never really understood how that could be true. The world was just a big, soft, cuddly bear, and would never do us any harm. Are we beginning to see the danger today? Is it too late to sound an alarm?
When we speak of the cost of discipleship, it should not be thought to mean that we can earn or pay for salvation. It simply means that if we try to carry the baggage of the world as we embark on our pilgrimage to heaven, we will never reach our intended destination. There will be dangerous, narrow passages along the way where we just will not be able to squeeze through with that baggage. There are alternate routes where that baggage will not be a hindrance. Christian beware! Those routes do not lead to the celestial city.
That baggage includes things like pride of accomplishment, feelings of superiority, bitterness, resentment, lust, the desire for material gain, a failure to admit and take full responsibility when we have done wrong, refusing to accept admonition and anything that might diminish our love for others.
It is entirely possible to convince ourselves that we love God and the feeling is mutual, but others just don’t understand us. Perhaps they don’t fully understand us; or perhaps they understand us better than we do ourselves. More important, we have missed the teaching that our relationship with God can largely be discerned by our relationship with our fellow believers. “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:9-11).
The cost of discipleship will vary from person to person, according to what part of the world is most dear to us. God may grant material abundance to someone, but let such a person beware of boasting or thinking himself better than those who have less. God may use someone to do great things in His kingdom, but let such a person beware of thinking he is too important to consider the reproof of his brethren.
Others may study to become humble, learning the right appearance, words and mannerisms to appear the most inoffensive. Such a person may be unwilling to do the little things the Spirit prompts them to do for fear that someone might misunderstand and criticize. This may be the worst mistake of all. A person who is active in serving the Lord will be criticized, sometimes with cause, sometimes unjustly. The one who is truly spiritual will recognize his faults, make the needed corrections and carry on serving the Lord.
Perhaps fear is the most cumbersome piece of baggage that some carry. Such a person may believe himself to be humble, but could fear get such a hold if there was no pride for it to fasten itself to?
God is sounding the alarm today for all who will hear to cast off the baggage that hinders us from truly being His disciples. If the cost seems too great, perhaps we do not grasp how great the reward will be for those who are faithful, nor how great the loss for those who are not.