In 1849, yellow fever gripped America. Gold was discovered in them thar hills out in California. People looking to capitalize on the sale of plots of land advertised that gold was so abundant, that if you were to cover yourself in tape and roll down a hill, you would stand up covered in gold dust. Hearing this good news, people quit their jobs, left their families, and sold their homes in order that they might strike it rich by mining for gold. People living on the East coast packed up everything they had, and risked a 3,000 mile voyage across the undeveloped American frontier, all in chase of this dream.
The trip from the East coast to the West coast would not have been an easy one. Not only would there have been a lack of developed roads to make such a trip, but one would be challenged by extreme weather conditions along the way. Additionally, one would also encounter wild and dangerous animals during their journey. And if all this were not bad enough, there was the ever present threat of robbers, who preyed upon the people making this dangerous trip.
Those who left the comforts and luxuries of home would have known these difficulties awaited them. Yet, people by the bushel forsook everything they had ever known, and counted it but rubbish in comparison to what they hoped to gain. Ultimately when it comes down to it, the forty-niners knew they may lose their lives in the process of trying to obtain these riches, but, ultimately determined that such a risk was worth it.
I believe we can take this lesson from the pages of history, and apply it to the call of God, and being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, what we must give up to be a disciple is something that will come at a great personal sacrifice to us. Like the gold miners of the 1849 gold rush, we must count the cost, and decide if being a disciple of Jesus Christ is worth it. Let us consider what Jesus said:
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 carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. (Luke 14:26-33, NASB)
Jesus taught us in the above passage that being a disciple will take priority over your personal relationships. To be a disciple, you must come to the place where you hate those closest to you. If your mother and father are keeping you from following Jesus, are you willing to suffer an estranged relationship with them in order to pursue the call of Christ on your life? What about your romantic relationships? Are you willing to sacrifice that in order to pursue Christ? Are you willing to be utterly alone and to die if need be, all that you might carry out the call of the gospel in your life?
Being a disciple of Jesus Christ requires a total commitment. It will make a claim on every aspect of your life. It is not something you can just partially be. Like the gold miners of 1849, you were either in or you were out. Either you gave up everything you knew to pursue riches, or you decided such a journey wasnt worth it, and stayed home. Jesus taught if you wish to follow Him, you must die to self and take up your cross. As A. W. Tozer reminds us, You knew one thing about a man carrying a cross, you knew he wasnt ever coming back. If you ever saw a man carrying a cross in the ancient world, you knew he was marching to his own funeral. Being a disciple is an exacting and all encompassing thing.
Its a mighty cost to consider. But, Christ wants us to count the cost. He wants us to know what we are getting into when we choose to follow Him. Jesus wants us to know that though salvation is Gods free gift to us, that gift doesnt come without paying a price. Salvation is the free gift of God that will cost you everything. And in saying such, Im not saying we earn or deserve Gods salvation. Rather, in saying such we acknowledge that so long as we hold onto everything dear to our lives, we cannot take hold of Christ.
You can no more hold onto this world and Christ at the same time than somebody living in 1849 could continue to live in New York City, while simultaneously digging for gold in the hills of California. We must do as Christ said, and give up all [our] own possessions. In other words, we must let go of the things we are holding onto in this life, so that we can take hold of Him. For in reality, if we cannot let go of these things, rather than actually possessing something, we will discover things are reversed, and that the object of our affection is actually possessing us.
In the above passage, Jesus taught that you need to decide right now if you are willing to pay the price to be a disciple. He said it would be better to decide right now, than to start following Him and not finish. He compared it to a man attempting to build a building, and realizing he didnt have the funds necessary to complete his building project. Jesus also compared it to a king going to war. The king must decide ahead of time if he has the manpower to win a war. For once the battle begins, it is too late to decide if you really want to fight. What Jesus was ultimately getting at in both illustrations: the failure to decide the cost now will result in a greater personal disaster for you down the road, than if you decide to turn from following Him at this very moment.
I personally know and counseled one young man who took Jesus Christ seriously in this passage. He understood what it means to follow the Lord, and the claims of the gospel message. He wrestled with the gospel for the longest time. He was convinced the message was true, and that God was real. For a while, he had begun to follow Christ. But he also knew the thrills the world was offering him. He was excited about the prospects of a relationship with some girl, and the sexual bliss he could enjoy with her.
Sadly, with tears and a broken heart, I must report this young man decided Jesus Christ was not worth it. Knowing He could not have both, he decided he did not want to give up his life and the pleasures of this world. He did not want to carry the cross. He decided having sex with some woman was more important to him than following Jesus Christ, and loving Him who gave His life for him. But, for all my sadness over what will result in the ultimate damnation of this young man one day, I must say, I respect him. He did just as the Lord taught: he counted the cost. Such is far more than many have done.
Ultimately though, from my perspective and personal experiences, I believe this young man made the wrong decision. The pleasures that this world offers are nothing in comparison with having fellowship with Jesus Christ, and spending all eternity with Him. Oh, the personal cost and sacrifice of following Jesus Christ is indeed a costly thing. But, as the apostle Paul said: the sufferings we experience now are pale in comparison with the glories that follow. (2 Corinthians 4:17) Jesus Christ is worth following, and suffering the loss of all things for.
In my own personal life, I have given up many things to follow Jesus Christ. Indeed, in order to be faithful to the call of Jesus Christ on my life to minister, and one day plant churches, I have had to suffer the pains of a broken engagement, after being in a relationship for over four years. I was once deeply in love with a woman, and hoped with all my heart to take her as my wife. But that woman ultimately decided she could not accompany me the rest of my life in my pursuit of God. A couple days after a recent Christmas, she gave me her engagement ring back.
I dont know if there could be a more painful experience for a man in this world than to be rejected by the woman he loves. There may indeed be more painful experiences, but personally speaking, Id have rather died than experience what I experienced. My heart was utterly destroyed, and for several months to follow, I sunk as low as I could sink. I was depressed. My performance at work suffered. I could not focus. I could not sleep. I could not eat. I lost weight. I was utterly destroyed. I cried day after day and night after night. My pain was unbearable.
But even after suffering through all of this, I would not change one thing. In the months to follow, the Lord who binds up the broken hearted slowly began to put me back together again. He restored me and made me new. I found in the midst of my trial that the proverb, Time heals all wounds was a lie from hell. I found time could only make me angry, bitter, and full of despair. But in the tender and loving hands of our gracious God, I found comfort, peace, and yes, even joy. He made me whole again. He lifted me out of the mire and the muck, and set my feet upon a solid rock. And here on this rock, I will stand and testify that the cost of following Jesus Christ, while costly, is ultimately a cost worth paying. He is worth it.
When I think of the great love He had for me, and the hell He suffered in my place on the cross, I find it a very small thing to give Him my life in response to His call. Again, that is not to earn or secure my salvation. Rather, I gladly surrender my life out of a loving response to Jesus Christ, for all that He means to me. Even now, as I write this essay, my heart has experienced many painful emotions as I reflect upon past events. But, when I think of what Jesus Christ has done for me, and as I experience His very presence at this very moment in time, and as I meditate on the joy I shall experience in Him for all eternity, what is that in comparison to anything this world claims it can offer me?
How can I not but lay my life down in loving response to my Lord and Savior? In light of all eternity, is it not but a small thing? Jim Elliot, a missionary who was murdered while simply trying to make contact with a savage tribe in the jungles of Ecuador, once said, He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose. When it all boils down to it, our lives are not really our own to begin with. We are fools to think we can try to keep what is not ours to keep, and in doing so, lose out on all eternity. But if we live our lives with eternity stamped upon our eyes, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we will realize what the apostle Paul did in Philippians 3:8-10, that everything is but rubbish in comparison to having an intimate and personal relationship with the Lord, and knowing Him.
So, I invite you today to decide once and for all, is Jesus Christ worth following? If He is, seek Him with total abandon. Surrender your every thought and desire, and subject it to Him. Never give up, and never let anything come between you and serving Him. But, if like my one friend, you decide Jesus Christ is not worth following, and if you decide Hes not worth surrendering your life to, let me encourage you to get everything you can in this life. Soak up the world the best you can. But realize in doing so, you will have lost your soul for all eternity. I urge you though, go with God. Be a disciple of Jesus Christ.