Following Christ Costs Us All Something

easyyoke (1)It was one of those moments where the weightiness of following Jesus was very pronounced. I sat in my office with a friend, a sweet and kind man who wanted desperately to follow Jesus. He also desperately wanted to find a mate. He was also gay. I knew what following Jesus was going to mean for this dear friend. I didn’t know personally the emotional toll it would take on him, but I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It seemed unfair that I, a married man, was telling my friend that following Jesus was going to mean that he remain celibate and single. It seemed like a high cost. I am reminded now, however, that following Jesus costs us all something. If there are some unique costs for my gay and lesbian friends, there is, nonetheless, a cost that all of us must count to follow Christ.

Jesus makes this point clear. He says:

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 man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:23-25)

Self-denial and daily cross bearing are the marks of a follower of Jesus. Becoming a Christian does not sanctify our self-indulgence. Rather, it is a call to surrender your rights and submit to God’s agenda. In chapter 14 Jesus is, perhaps, even more pointed. There we read:

“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. (14:26)

We must love Jesus so much that in comparison it looks like we hate parents and children, and even our very lives. There is a significant, a high, cost to following Christ, and it placed upon all who would call themselves by the name “Christian.”

It’s not that I am insensitive to the demands made upon my gay and lesbian friends. It is a steep price, ultimately it was too much for my friend. They are not, however, the only ones upon whom Christ makes such high demands. In our Americanized, “best life now,” version of Christianity it is easy to miss this reality, but look to our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan and Iraq. The cost for following Jesus is steep for them too. Think of the husband or wife who, because they want to be obedient to Jesus, is stuck in a loveless marriage with a spouse who has no care for them. There are many for whom following Jesus requires more than they naturally are inclined to give. Following Jesus costs us all something. Rosaria Butterfield describes how she came to this very realization in her early days as a believer and the difference it made in her life. In her book Secrets of an Unlikely Convert, which recounts Butterfield’s own conversion, she describes meeting a young woman in the church who had lost her child. As the woman recounted her struggle and her experience, and her desire to trust the Lord in the midst of it, Rosaria was awakened to this reality: following Jesus costs us all something. It’s not easy for anyone.

The costs may be different, and certainly each of us is going to feel the weight of our own surrender more acutely. The key point, however, is that none of us is alone. This is what Paul communicates when he tells the Corinthians that “no temptation has seized you except what is common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13). The temptation to forego Christ for our own desires and interest is common to all of us. The temptation to give up on following Jesus because it is hard and costly is a temptation to which we can all relate. We may not all experience the same struggle, or the same depth of struggle, but we all struggle. Following Jesus is not easy for any of us. The believer, however, believes it is worth it!

That’s the key difference. Following Jesus is not easy, but it is worth it. Rosaria writes of her own experience in this way:

 In understanding myself as a sexual being, responding to Jesus (i.e., “committing my life to Christ”) meant not going backwards to my heterosexual past but going forward to something entirely new. At the time I thought that this would most likely be celibacy and the single life. Sexuality that did not devour the other person seemed unimaginable to me. And while I never really liked the idea of growing old alone, I accepted that if God could take me this far in life safely, he would see me through this next part, too.

She understood the weightiness of this decision, but she believed both God was worth it and He would help her through it. Each of us must come to this decision too. We must decide that following Jesus, paying the cost, so to speak, is worth it. The ultimate cost has already been paid. Jesus bore the wrath of God in our place. Will we see following him in light of that as worthwhile? Will we believe that Jesus is worth whatever other sacrifices he calls us to make? Following Christ costs us all something.

In light of this reality, then, two final thoughts occur to me. First, because following Christ costs us all something we need to be sensitive to what we are asking others to do in coming to Christ. That is to say, because we know how hard and costly following Jesus is, we should not take lightly the call to become a Christian. When I invite my friend to follow Jesus I recognize what this is going to mean for him. It’s not an easy decision to make in that moment. I want to be compassionate, sensitive, and gentle in my urging. Secondly, I should not assume that I am the only one who struggles to follow Jesus. My situation is not some how so unique that others can’t understand and can’t relate. We are always tempted by a chronic uniqueness. My situation is different, it’s the exception to the norm. I can’t obey. No one understands what I am going through. Such sentiments are simply false, and Jesus puts on all of us the same call: die to self, take up your cross daily and follow me. The community of believers, then, is the right place for me to be as I struggle to swallow the cost and follow Christ. This is a reality all Christians need to get as we live and as we evangelize. It’s a reality I hope my friend will some day grasp too.

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