What does it cost to be a Christian?
The term Christian is only used a few times in the Bible (Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28). It means “little Christ,” and adequately describes the wholistic nature of the Christian faith. Christians are those who follow Jesus and are becoming like him.
True Christians don’t just tune in their attention to Jesus at their leisure. Christians are those who have been convinced Jesus is the only Savior from sin who can reconcile us to God, the Lord of all, and thus worthy of our entire lives (Romans 5:10).
If you want to know what it costs to be a true Christ-follower, the best person to ask is Christ himself.
Let’s listen closely to his answer:
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24 ESV)
From Jesus, we learn that he extends the invitation to follow him to everyone. He says that anyone is welcome.
We don’t count the cost of following Jesus according to the currency of the world—Am I emotionally strong enough? Was I raised right? Am I religious enough? Have I done enough good? Am I socially apt? Do I belong to the right organization, or ethnic group, gender, class, or rank?
Jesus sweeps all our judgments and self-evaluations aside and says, “To anyone who wants to follow…” and then gives us his qualifications for any aspiring follower.
Three Costs of Being a True Christian
So, what does it cost to be a Christian, according to Jesus?
Three things. First, you must deny yourself. Second, you must take up your cross daily. Third, you must follow Jesus. Let’s think about each one carefully.
Denying yourself doesn’t mean adapting your nutrition habits or adopting a Buddhist sort of anti-pleasure worldview. It means surrendering You to the King of kings.
Who makes the most decisions for you in your life? My guess is you do. This is natural, because God made us individuals who perceive and interact in the world according to our limited perspective.
Instead of seeking God for guidance, we decided we were God (Romans 1:21-23). We claimed ultimate authority over Me. Jesus says if you want to follow him, you hand over the keys, you get off the throne, you step down from first place. You hand over you to God—totally.
We deny ourselves because Jesus is Lord. Those who want to follow Jesus likely recognize him as their Savior from sin. But any follower who recognizes Jesus’ authority over sin and death must also recognize his authority over their life and willingly submit to him.
Are you willing to live a life of saying Yes to Jesus and No to yourself, even when what you desire comes in conflict with his Word and will? Here’s what this might look like practically.
You want to harbor bitterness; he says forgive (Colossians 3:13). You want to keep sleeping with your girlfriend; he says cut it out until you are married (1 Corinthians 6:18). You want to wear the latest trend; he says to dress respectfully with self-control (1 Timothy 2:9-10). You want to move states, and he says, stay where I have led you (Psalm 37:3). You want to be liked by your culture; he says don’t conform to worldly ideologies, but stay in my Word (Romans 12:2).
Are you ready to surrender your will to Jesus? Then come, and follow Jesus.
Take Up Your Cross
Onto the second charge—take up your cross daily. Jesus is wonderfully concise, telling all with few words. You might wonder what it means to take up your cross daily, and Jesus’ precision helps us understand.
First, we must take up our cross. A cross is an instrument of torture. Jesus’ statement would have shocked his first hearers who knew the cross to be the ultimate symbol of suffering and oppression. In short, Jesus sets the expectation that following him includes suffering. By telling us to “take up” our cross, he’s asking whether we are willing to accept suffering for his sake, and submit to it, whether that be God’s loving discipline (Hebrews 12:6-10), persecution (2 Timothy 3:12), or the pain of denying ourselves. Jesus says following him will not be easy. It includes no promises of a comfortable or cozy lifestyle (2 Corinthians 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:3).
Second, we must take up our cross. We each have a cross to bear. As we submit to Jesus’ authority, we must willingly take up whatever suffering he has ordained to enter our lives. He has not asked us to bear anyone’s cross but our own. Jesus assures us elsewhere that we can trust him to lay just the right cross upon our shoulders (2 Corinthians 12:7-9; Matthew 11:28-30).
This idea might send us spinning into a tornado of future fears. That’s why Jesus follows up his call to take up our cross with the word, daily. Jesus does not tell us what our entire journey with him will look like. He just assures us of what he is like (Matthew 11:28-30). He doesn’t call us to accept a grueling challenge for him, but to exhibit a wholehearted commitment to him day-by-day.
Don’t start wondering about perils ahead (Proverbs 3:25). Jesus calls us to just be ready to follow him every day. Some days, this won’t feel very hard. Other days, it may feel like death, like torture. And perhaps one day, it may cost our lives. But we only live with Jesus one day at a time.
We take up our cross because we follow a suffering Savior. We also take up our cross because God has determined to mold us into the likeness of our Perfect Savior. To remove sin from our lives, God will put us through fires (1 Peter 1:6-9). To make us spiritually strong, he must lay crosses on our backs.
Are you willing to walk with Jesus into suffering and accept from his hand whatever hardship he deems best for you?
Then come and follow Jesus.
Lastly, Jesus invites aspiring followers to “Follow me.” Seems simple enough, right?
What about when Jesus’ way isn’t the way you want? What about when Jesus’ way isn’t favored by the world? What about when Jesus’ way leads you into danger? What about when following him would cost your reputation, your job, your lover, your GPA, your social acceptance, or your life?
Following means accepting someone’s leadership. And Jesus tells all his followers that a sincere devotion includes letting Jesus lead and leaving whatever you must to follow.
We follow Jesus because Jesus knows best. How will he lead?
- By his Word, the Bible (John 10:27)
- By the Holy Spirit, who he puts in the hearts of his followers to bring to their memory his Words and work, to steer them away from the world and into God’s will (John 16:12-13)
- By the wise counsel of other believers who know and treasure Jesus (Ephesians 4:10-13)
- By the way his Providence will open and shut doors (Psalm 37:23)
Are you willing to forsake the things that hinder you from following Jesus and embrace his means of leadership in your life? Are you ready to commit to listening to his Word above all other voices in the world?
Then come, and follow Jesus.
The Non-Exclusive Invitation
We have discovered Jesus’ three qualifications for those who follow him—that we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. In Jesus’ own words, this is what it costs to be a Christian.
Is the cost worth it?
Yes! The more we know of Christ, the more we will want to follow him.
What did it cost for Jesus to be able to extend to us the invitation to follow him?
It took the Son of God leaving his throne in heaven to bend his back beneath a wooden cross, shouldered for the sins of those who would believe in him. It took trusting God the Father (Matthew 26:39)—even if that meant his own death. And it took Jesus rising from the dead to break the power of death in our hearts so that we could receive his Spirit and be given a will that wants to follow him and wants to say no to sin (Romans 8:2-4; 11).
We do not follow Jesus because of what we can get from him. We follow him because, by his grace, we want to be where he is. Having come to know the love God has for us, we do not want to live a moment without him (1 John 4:16).
Do you want Jesus? Have you considered what it costs? If so, then come, and follow.