Including a Cost-Benefit Analysis

What would we think of an army recruiter who got people to sign up for the military by telling them about the free food, free clothing, educational opportunities, and camaraderie, but never mentioned that soldiers also had to discipline themselves, obey orders, and likely go to war where they would be shot at? Not very honest, is it?

Someone considering enlisting needs to consider both the benefits and the costs of being in the military. Of course, no one would be so ignorant, at least when it comes to military service. But what about following Jesus?

Once again I attended a church service where the (guest) preacher extolled the many benefits of being a Christian—and there are many. He went on and on about how Jesus loves us, how God does miracles on our behalf. He assured us that God would always take care of us, and listed off some of the promises found in the Bible. Then he capped his sermon with a reminder that only Christians get to go to heaven. Would we like to come down and sign up? Hearing the gospel presented like that, who wouldn’t?

But that isn’t the way Jesus talked when he was telling people about the kingdom of God. Sure, he told them the good parts. But he also said things like,

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)

You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me. (Luke 21:16-17)

If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-27)

Not very encouraging, is he? Like soldiers, Christians also need to discipline themselves, obey orders, and go to war.

I’m assuming our guest speaker’s intentions were good. After all, Jesus told us, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16-15) But tricking someone into following Jesus will backfire when they discover that it’s not all fun and games. We’re in a war, just as much as the war our soldiers are fighting overseas, and wars have causalities. Yes, we know that God wins in the end, and we will be fine in the long run. It’s just that there are no guarantees that everything will be fine here and now. Jesus also said,

In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Jesus told his followers to count the cost before deciding to become disciples. Luke 14:28-35 includes two parables, one about considering the cost before building a tower, and the other about counting the cost before committing to battle. I think a lot of people miss the point of this passage.

The common interpretation says something along the lines of, we should count the cost before we make any decisions in our life. For example, I’m offered a highly attractive job in another state. It involves a promotion, a higher salary, and it would further my career goals. On the other hand, my family likes it where we are, my spouse has a good job here, and the kids would have to make new friends. What do I do?

But is that the way we make decisions as believers?

I don’t think God wants us to list pluses and minuses and decide things on that basis. Rather, we only truly need to count the cost once in our lives—when we decide whether or not to allow God to be in charge. Do run our life ourselves, or do we give up control and submit? If we do decide to become a Christian, then God is the one who is responsible for counting costs. Our role is to pray and obey his decisions, whatever the cost.

The context of this passage supports this view. I never realized before why the next words out of Jesus’ mouth talk about salt:

Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.

But thinking of “counting the cost” as applying only to being serious about my decision to trust God, then it makes sense. If I become a believer, and then change my mind when the going gets rough, I’ve “lost my saltiness.” I think this is just another way of saying,

No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.  (Luke 9:62)

It all reminds me of a time when Pete was on a trip to the Mideast. He was expressing his concern for some of the believers who were at risk of prison. The man he was talking to asked him, “But when you became a believer, didn’t you realize it was a life or death decision?”

Didn’t I realize? Did you?

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