Counting the Cost
The Steps to Salvation
People familiar with the bible most often think about a predefined set of steps that are “necessary for salvation”. I would like to take the time and emphasize what I consider a step in this process that is sometimes overlooked by the more concrete ones. To begin the process one must hear the gospel. No matter how much of an example is portrayed by a Christian, unless the actual gospel is given to someone in its purity, they will never come to an understanding of Christ and be saved (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Secondly, the person who accepts the gospel is said to be a believer (they believe who Jesus is and why He came – John 8:24). Next, they confess Christ before men (Romans 10:9-10). At the same time they must repent of their sins (Acts 17:30), which involves counting the cost, and finally put Christ on in baptism (Acts 2:38). But did you know that there are some twenty plus things in the bible that are said to save man (like the Hope found in Romans 8:24)? I would venture to say that there is another step, which is often left as an afterthought on the road to converting the soul. Unfortunately, I have personally witnessed a multitude of occurrences where people became Christians only to find out the requirements of such a commitment weeks or months later and to fall away due to lack of consideration given in preparation. In this article, I would like to address the idea of counting the cost, and its importance in the salvation equation.
Jesus Emphasizes Counting
The first passage of text I’d like to deal with in this article is the passage most are familiar with when considering counting the cost. In Luke 14, we find Jesus addressing the multitude and explaining to them what it will take to be His disciple. In verse 26 he lays out the condition that one must “hate” his relations and even his own life in order to be “My disciple” (watch for this phrase, it is repeated three times in the context). The word in the Greek here for “hate” is ‘mise ’, which has the meaning of “love less”. The idea here is that Christ needs to come before all others, before our own lives, before the lives of our friends and family. This is outlined further by the next verse where Jesus says you must take up your cross and follow him or, again, you cannot be His disciple. Following this introduction to counting the cost, Jesus then explains in the next few verses why counting the cost is sensible. If you want to build a tower, don’t you count the cost to make sure you have enough to finish building? If you go to war, don’t you consider all options of war before meeting your opponent on the battlefield? The consequences of this final point are high indeed; one might lose their kingdom if they fail to estimate the value of their opponent (and probably their life also). What are the consequences if one does not count the cost of obeying the gospel, of becoming a disciple? Finally Jesus comes to the conclusion: “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (KJV). It’s not sufficient enough to love your relations less, your friends less, yourself less; everything you have and are (your will, your choices, your actions, your thoughts, your possessions) must take the back seat to God and His will. This may be all fine and dandy, but some might ask: “What does this have to do with being saved?”
In Matthew 28 we find the commonly quoted scripture of the “Great Commission”. Jesus here tells his apostles to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (KJV). The word math teu here is also translated as “to disciple” or to “become a pupil” and has the same Greek base as the word used for disciple in Luke 14. Now the question becomes, when exactly does one become a disciple? It has been argued that one becomes a disciple upon baptism, but it could also be argued that you baptize disciples (those who have clearly chosen to take Christ on as their Teacher/Master). Regardless, the correlation between the two chapters stands. The apostles were told to “make disciples” (and through principle Christians do the same), and that one can only be a disciple when they have counted the cost. Some might ask, why place so much emphasis on counting the cost, don’t the actions of obedience themselves show one to be ready for the responsibilities entailed in Christ? To some degree this is true, but are we truly preparing those who become Christians with the understanding that they may have to give up all they have, even their own life? Sometimes perhaps we are in such a hurry to get someone under the water that we do not explain to them the full gravity of the situation. When the question is posed “Would you rather go to heaven or hell?” the answer seems quite clear, but what about the questions: “Are you ready to leave your job for the sake of the gospel? Are you ready to tell your girlfriend/boyfriend, your wife/husband that you have put on Christ, knowing that they may well leave? Are you aware that your friends may ridicule you? That you will now be taking on heavy responsibilities and burdens that are not always easy to bear (it’s not called a cross for nothing)?
Why counting the cost is crucial
One of the more famous parables gives an example of not counting the cost. In this parable Jesus teaches about the seed (the word of God) that was planted in varying soils (hearts of individuals). In Matthew 13 verse 20 we pick up where Jesus describes the seed planted among soil that is rocky. These people receive the word joyfully, but alas, they do not have “root” in themselves (as some versions say) and the gospel becomes bitter (offends them) at the slightest of persecution. Unfortunately, this person can easily become the one who has fallen away and returned to their previous situation, like the dog returning to its vomit and the pig to wallowing in the mire after having been washed (2 Pet 2:22). What then is the end result? It would have
been better for them not to know at all, then to have tasted and returned to their previous ways. Jesus also warns that no one having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62). These are heavy consequences and should require the utmost consideration.
Some common arguments against
Whenever any study is conducted it is fruitful to produce arguments from all sides and test whether they hold water or not. I will attempt to produce the arguments I have heard against what has been said already and give the reader a chance to hear “both sides”. Probably the most common disagreement with counting the cost as a pre-cursor to becoming a disciple is that some feel it is impossible to know all situations that a Christian will have to endure in this physical life, and thus it is not reasonable to ask them to count the cost for events which may never occur. In Luke 14, the king who analyzes an opponent to see whether he has enough to wage battle does not necessarily know all of the facts about his opponent (this is not the possible), the enemy hopes to leave as much as possible hidden for his own advantage. A Christian also cannot know all possible circumstances/persecutions they will face in their lifetime. This does not excuse the king for being ready to undertake the consequences of his actions in regards to whichever decision he chooses though, and likewise a Christian must understand that regardless of the hardships they face in life, the only response to take is the Godly one.
Another assertion is that we must allow immature Christians “room to grow” and become a mature Christian. It is without a doubt that Christians can and must grow, but does counting the cost work the same way? It is possible, even for an immature Christian, to understand the full gravity of the cost of putting on Christ. Counting the cost is not the same as promising you will never fail. Just as the king who prepares for battle cannot guarantee his own victory in every battle (all sin – Rom 3:23), he still must realize the gravity of losing the war and make whatever preparations and decisions are necessary to succeed. Paul took this same attitude toward the gospel. In Philippians 3:7-8 he explains the value of physical things of the flesh in comparison with the “excellency of the knowledge of Christ”. It is a fruitless comparison; all is vanity and grasping for the wind. All Christians will grow in knowledge and wisdom, but we accept that we will take on the responsibility of hardships and failures long before we come to those crossroads.
Christ uses simple language to identify an important concept in the process of becoming a Christian. For those who are not Christians, I hope this article will not scare you away from accepting the gospel due to the gravity of the decision involved, but rather will encourage you to tread lightly and take serious this life-changing and eternally consequential decision. Those who are already Christians and perhaps studying with someone you wish to bring to Christ, remember the importance of stressing the cost one must pay to become and continue as a faithful servant of God’s. It is not an easy road, and Christians are guaranteed to suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). Remember to always consider your own life. Have you counted the cost? Are you prepared to pay whatever is necessary to be counted worthy of His discipleship?