And they forsook all and followed Him [Luke 5:11].
There is a cost to discipleship that few people acknowledge or understand. Those who follow Jesus tend to focus on the associated rewards. Those include earthly blessings, personal integrity, closer walk with God, sense of spiritual fulfillment, eternity in heaven as opposed to hell, and eternal rewards. However, only thinking about the positives is like enjoying the smell and prestige of a new car while ignoring the initial down payment, monthly payments, and ongoing maintenance. There is a cost that should also be considered.
Yes, there is joy, peace, and countless blessings in following Jesus. From creation, God inserted into every human heart a God-shaped vacuum that only He can fill. There is a sense of destiny in establishing a relationship with Jesus Christ and being reconciled to God. Nurturing ever deeper intimacy with Him is an additional privilege. Following Jesus is what we should choose and prioritize because that is why God created us.
Conditions of Discipleship
And yet, Jesus offered some solemn stipulations to following Him. “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” [Mark 8:34]. “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” [Luke 14:28, 33]. “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” [Luke 9:62].
Self-denial, cross-bearing, counting the cost, no option for failure… Wow! It makes me wonder how many would follow Jesus if there was a contract with all these conditions listed. Though no such physical contract exists, the stipulations are all expressed in God’s Word. They are part of a spiritual relationship with Him. The rewards cannot be separated from the cost.
“They Forsook All”
The twelve disciples of Jesus stand as great examples as committed followers of Jesus. When Jesus called them, they “left all” or “forsook all” and followed Him immediately. What does that mean exactly? Here are just a few implications of them “forsaking all” and immediately following Jesus. By doing so, they turned their backs on:
- Family – everyday interaction; the strength and security of community; missing birthday parties and anniversary celebrations, even funeral services
- Thriving business – lucrative income, little or no debt, ability to buy needs and wants as desired, secure retirement
- Expectations – self-denial implies the sacrificing of personal expectations and the acceptance of the Lord’s expectations
- Future dreams – personal ambitions, marriage and family plans, career goals, societal prestige, political aspirations, retirement setting
- Political agendas – hatred for opposition (calling down fire), attack on betrayers (put away your sword), hatred for tyrannical rulers (healing for the centurion’s servant)
- Personal opinions – self-denial aligns all personal opinions, agendas, sense of amusement and entertainment with the express thoughts and desires of the Master
- Prejudices – long-held racial bias (interacting with Samaritans), spiritual snobbery or supremacy (associating with publicans and sinners)
- Hand-me-down beliefs and traditions – a shift away from what family and religious community have always done (an end to sacrifices, ritual feasts, and pilgrimages), acknowledging the obsolescence of previous belief systems (tearing of the Temple veil)
- Common sense – personal experience (sailing in a storm), physical impossibility (feeding five thousand people with five small loaves of bread and two fish), challenging the laws of nature (walking on water)
Turning the World Upside Down
Talk about a complete turnaround! Yet, in turning their backs on everyone and everything, they turned the world upside down with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus also assured them of the rewards of their discipleship.
There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life [Mark 10:29-30].
Encouragement to Faithfully Follow
So, the question stands before all who would follow Jesus: Have we forsaken all for the cause of Christ? If not, Jesus said we couldn’t be His disciples. Have we truly counted the cost of discipleship? Sadly, there were some disciples in Jesus’ day who forsook Him because of the cost of discipleship [John 6:60-66]. Even more shocking is knowing that as we approach the end times, professed followers of Christ will grow spiritually cold [Matthew 24:12]. Many will even “depart from the faith” [1 Timothy 4:1].
This isn’t meant to scare anyone or make people doubt their faith. It is an encouragement to be “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” because we know our service for God is not in vain [1 Corinthians 15:58]. Our motivation should be to “be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless” [2 Peter 3:14]. Our compelling drive should be “to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” [Ephesians 6:13].
Commitment to Faithfully Follow
May we consider the cost and commitment necessary, live each day with a “forsake all” mindset, and anticipate the rewards God has in store for those who serve Him faithfully. Let us follow Christ so closely that we finish the race strong and can boldly proclaim, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” [2 Timothy 4:7].
Yes, there is a cost to following Jesus and we must own that cost. But should the cost seem unbearable and the way too steep, we must consider two things. First, our Savior knows and leads the way. Secondly, His eternal rewards far outweigh the temporary cost. The rewards include eternity in the presence of God as well as the “crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” [2 Timothy 4:8].