Jesus Offers No Bait and Switch
Paul’s pattern of encouraging converts to count the cost is not surprising in view of the way Jesus put the cost right up front in his evangelism. The most striking text is Luke 14:25–33:
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “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. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
Jesus states the fourfold cost of coming to him so as to be his disciple: (1) hating all our family members (Luke 14:26), (2) hating our own lives (Luke 14:26), (3) bearing our own cross (Luke 14:27), and (4) renouncing all we have (Luke 14:33).
Two Clues on Counting the Cost
Two clues help me see what is really at stake here. First, it is odd that after illustrating the cost of discipleship with a builder that might not have enough money to finish his tower, and a king that might not have enough soldiers to win a battle, Jesus draws this conclusion: you can’t be my disciple unless you renounce all you have (Luke 14:33). It’s odd because the illustrations ask, “Do you have enough?” and the conclusion says, “Get rid of what you have.” That’s a clue.
Here’s the other clue. Right after saying that we must hate our own lives in order to be his disciple, Jesus adds that we must bear our own cross (Luke 14:27). So he describes in two ways how we must deal with ourselves in coming to Christ. One is hate. The other is to be willing to suffer and die. I take the second to clarify the first. In other words, the emotion of hate toward oneself accomplishes little, especially if it carries the ordinary connotation of feeling hostility. Feeling angry and hostile toward myself does not serve Jesus. So Jesus clarifies: “What I mean by hate is that you will be willing to endure things for me (as my disciple) that will look like self-hate, because the world will simply think you are throwing your life away for a myth.”
So both clues point in the same direction. Counting the cost does not mean, Do you have enough in this world to be my disciple? Instead, it means, Are you willing to lose the valuable things you have, even if it looks like hate? Following Christ has often meant that the disciple loses family members. To choose Christ at the cost of losing family will look as if you hate your family. To choose prison or execution over denying Christ will look as if you hate your life.
Do You Have Enough Treasure in Me?
If the only way to become a follower of Jesus, a true disciple, is by saving faith, as Jesus says it is (John 3:36; 11:25–26), what does this text about counting the cost tell us about the nature of saving faith? First, it tells us that some of the inner dynamics of saving faith are being described here. Jesus is not contradicting himself as though there were two ways of salvation. We become Jesus’s true disciples—not Judas-like disciples, but John-like—by saving faith. We become the kind of disciples whom Jesus keeps forever (Luke 22:32; John 10:27–28) by receiving him as the supreme treasure of our lives. That is what saving faith does. And that is what this text is about.
When Jesus asks if the tower-builder has “enough” to finish (Luke 14:28) and if the king has “enough” to win (Luke 14:31), he is pointing to something positive. Do you have enough? Enough what? He ends the illustrations like this: “You have to renounce all you have.” That is, you have to want me more than you want your possessions. That’s the issue. This is not a random story about self-sacrifice. This is a story about what it involves to follow Jesus and be saved. And the bottom line of the story is this: Jesus is worth more than family, possessions, and earthly life.
The question “Do you have enough?” comes down to this: “Do you have enough treasure in me to move you to let other treasures go? If you have not yet found your supreme treasure in me, you are not ready to be my disciple.”
Reversal of What We Treasure
In another text, Jesus confirms that this is the point. He describes family loss and cross-bearing as loving him more than family. The issue, now, is not “hate” of family, but greater love for Jesus:
I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matt. 10:35–38)
We become the kind of disciples whom Jesus keeps forever by receiving him as the supreme treasure of our lives.
I argue that the love referred to here is the kind of love we have for those most precious to us. And I argue that being “worthy” of Jesus does not mean to be deserving of his salvation but rather to be a suitable object of his saving acceptance. In other words, this text describes the way we come into a saving relationship with Jesus. We come by experiencing a change in our hearts. And that change is that we treasure Jesus more than family or earthly life.
Count the Cost, Measure the Treasure
So in our evangelism, there is a place for urging people to count the cost. And the cost they are to count is this: As you consider your great need of a Savior and your great longing for eternal happiness, and as you consider the greatness and the glory and the worth of Jesus as the Son of God, and as you consider the all-sufficiency of his death for the forgiveness of sins and his resurrection for eternal joy, do you find in your heart that Jesus is more needful and more precious to you than all earthly treasure? Are you ready to receive him and believe in him as your supreme treasure, even if it costs you the loss of your family and your life?
Counseling people to count the cost means calling for a true estimate of the worth of Christ.
This article is adapted from What Is Saving Faith?: Reflections on Receiving Christ as a Treasure by John Piper.
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