Salvation is both free and costly. As a gift of God’s unmerited favor, redemption is wholly free. By no amount of good works or religious activity can we earn the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Salvation in Christ comes by faith alone, apart from human effort. “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
But this same salvation is also costly. It cost God the Father his eternally begotten and beloved Son. It cost Christ his very life. This is the true measure of the love of God for his people: he “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:31).
So salvation is free, but not cheap; it cost God and Christ all. And there is a high cost for the one who would receive this redemption – that is the cost of discipleship. The same Jesus who offers us a free salvation apart from works demands that we follow him in a life of self-renouncing discipleship. To all whom Christ saves, he gives not only eternal life but a cross to bear.
Jesus didn’t hide this high cost of discipleship from his would-be followers. There is no “fine print” in the gospel. Rather, he proclaimed openly and unmistakably exactly what he demanded of all who would have him as their Savior. One place we find this in the Scriptures is Luke 14:25-33. The sum of Jesus’ teaching here is: if you would be a disciple of Christ, you must put him first before all else, and you must love him more than all else.
Jesus calls us to love him more than we love the members of our own family: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (v.26). We are not literally to “hate” our family, but the service and worship we owe to Christ must come before our devotion to family. This is a hard teaching. I once met a Jewish man whose father virtually disowned him because he became a Christian. His father felt betrayed, and even on his death bed would not see his son. This man never stopped loving his father, but he knew what it meant when Jesus says that for his sake, we must “hate” even our family.
Even more challenging, in v. 26 Jesus says we are to hate our own life in order to be his disciple. In the next verse he puts it this way: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (v. 27). The cross, an instrument of execution, was a symbol of death. To bear your cross means to die: to die to sin, to self-righteousness, and to any dream, ambition, or plan centered on self and not on Christ. If you would be saved, you must die to self and live to Christ.
In the same passage Jesus also declares: “… any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (v.33). Here he calls us to put him before all our worldly wealth and possessions. This doesn’t mean we must take a vow of poverty, but rather that our earthly treasure must have such a light hold on our hearts that we would joyfully part from it all for the sake of Christ (Hebrews 10:34). We must love Jesus more than our wealth.
Having lived in Oklahoma, I am something of a fan of the Oklahoma Sooners football team. But I’m just a fair-weathered fan, a casual follower. But no one can be a casual follower of Jesus. To be his disciple, he demands absolute allegiance. You must put him before your goods, your family, and even your very life. That is the high cost of discipleship.
The good news is that the promise God makes to the followers of Jesus is infinitely greater than the cost. He promises everlasting joy and life in a new heavens and earth to all who come to the Savior and bear his cross. If by faith you take hold of that promise, God will give you the grace to put Christ before all else. And one day there will be no question that it was all worth it.
Soli Deo Gloria!