Counting the Cost
This past weekend I had the opportunity to take my youngest son and attend a men’s retreat in northern Georgia, just over the Tennessee border. We stopped on our way down and visited the Chickamauga battlefield the nation’s oldest memorial of the Civil War. It contains incredible history. We learned so much walking the field, seeing Union and Confederate positions, imagining the bloody conflict. It is easy to measure a battle by the number of lives lost, but as we walked the battlefield we realized the cost of losing that war would have been so much more than the cost that went into winning it. There was so much at stake – most importantly the freedom of hundreds of thousands of people.
The retreat itself was called “Follow Me”. It was a call to stop being “fans” of Jesus and to become followers. It was a call to go “all in” to follow Jesus with everything we are and have. Each of the teaching times was excellent. In the third session, we were challenged from Luke 9:57-62 to count the cost of following Jesus. Our speaker said, “Following Jesus comes with a high cost I must be willing to pay.” He said it will be difficult and that we must be willing to lose in this world as we pursue Jesus and put him first. He challenged us to “consider the call…count the cost…and commit to follow.”
While I agree with most of what he said, as I reflected on this talk I couldn’t help but think that the cost of following Jesus is not seen in what I give up to follow him. The real cost of following Jesus should be seen in what I lose if I don’t choose to follow him! Not following Jesus offers the hope of all this world has to offer. But, in the end, I gain this world and (Jesus says) I lose my soul. The cost of not following Jesus is far, far more than what I give up to follow him.
Dallas Willard writes, “the only real bargain in life is surrendering…to Jesus…The cost of (not following Jesus) is…unbearable” (from Revolution of Character: Discovering Christ’s Pattern for Spiritual Transformation, p 60). Just as the costs of the Civil War – as enormous as they were – were much, much smaller than the costs of not fighting or losing, so the costs of dying to self and following Jesus are nothing compared to the prices of not following!
Yes, we need to consider the call; count the cost; and then make a commitment – to follow or not. But we need to hear the words of Jesus and let them sink in: 23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a person if he/she gains the whole world and loses or forfeits him/herself?
We can save our lives in this world; we can gain everything this world has to offer; we can be the ultimate success story…but when all is said and done the cost of all these things is our very selves. The cost of following Jesus is not really a cost at all. What we give up is worthless compared to all we gain. As Jim Elliot – a missionary who would die serving Jesus – once wrote, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he can never lose.”
Following Jesus is not easy. Following Jesus entails loss. But, following Jesus brings hope and joy and peace and life that is full. It brings transformation and love and forgiveness and so, so much that we long for deep in our souls and which is always just out of our grasp when we pursue it in the things the world offers.
I am grateful for people like my great-great-great-grandfather who fought for the freedom of all men and women in the Civil War. I’m grateful that the cost of not winning was deemed too steep and the hard course of fighting was chosen. And I’m grateful for the opportunity I have to count the cost and to choose to follow Jesus knowing that there will be a cost but it’s a bargain compared to the alternative!