In Luke 14, Jesus said a person must “count the cost” to be His disciple. What is the cost of following Jesus Christ? What does it mean to count the cost?
Imagine what it would have been like to witness the Son of God’s 3½-year ministry on earth.
Wherever He went, His spectacular miracles and life-changing teachings attracted swarming crowds of people and created a buzz of anticipation.
One would assume that, with all of the excitement Jesus Christ generated during His public ministry, He would have mobilized a following numbering in the thousands. But the number of faithful disciples who remained after His death seems to have dwindled to the hundreds (1 Corinthians 15:6; Acts 1:15).
What happened to the multitudes that followed Him? Why the disparity?
Earlier in His ministry, John explained, “Jesus did not commit Himself to them [the multitudes], because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25).
Jesus was fully aware that most people’s faith was superficial and self-centered, regardless of whatever lip service was paid to Him. He understood the human tendency to become swept up in emotion by miraculous displays. He knew that most people were only interested in what they could get.
So Jesus instructed His followers to “count the cost” of discipleship. But what does that mean? How can you count the cost of following Jesus Christ?
Count the cost by knowing what is expected
“Count the cost” (Luke 14:28) is part of Jesus’ teaching that those who follow Him must make a full commitment.
He asked the multitudes, “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—lest, after he laid the 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’?” (verses 28-30).
In other words, let’s say you would like to build a skyscraper. Do you have the money for it? Can you afford to hire the labor? Are you willing to hassle with getting the right approvals and permits? Are you willing to overcome complications and setbacks to complete the job?
Jesus was effectively asking, “Are you really committed to becoming one of My followers?”
In a world where people can change labels as often as they change socks, the concept that you can’t become a Christian just by saying that you are one can sound strange. But there are real steps that need to be taken and real expectations that come with being a Christian. Jesus’ instruction is to think deeply about those things—about what is required, according to His teachings and not man’s traditions, to be one of His followers—before deciding to commit.
Being a sincere, dedicated, zealous disciple of Jesus Christ can’t be done without recognizing and agreeing to several conditions first. Prior to instructing His followers to count the cost, Jesus mentioned several things that show some of the sacrifices that can be involved.
Count the cost by being willing to be rejected by people
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate [that is, love less by comparison] his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple,” Jesus said (verse 26).
God’s Word doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the costly price of Christianity.
The lesson is, God must come first, before anyone or anything else.
Christians should strive to “live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18)—especially their family. But, sadly, sometimes family and friends aren’t willing to accept a true Christian’s new way of life.
As a Christian, your commitment to Jesus Christ must be stronger than your commitment to any other relationship, even if it means becoming estranged from your own family. If you are going to be a true Christian, you will have to accept the possibility that certain family members or friends will disown you because of your commitment to obey Jesus Christ.
Your family might not understand or be willing to accept the decisions you make to actually obey God. For example, they might question your decision to observe the Sabbath or your decision to discontinue certain traditional holidays and instead observe God’s annual holy days. (To learn more about God’s festivals and why Christians keep them today, see our booklet From Holidays to Holy Days: God’s Plan for You.)
It’s at such crossroads that a person should remember the tragic character flaw of many of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day: “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43).
When Jesus said “count the cost,” He was affirming that being one of His true followers comes at a cost.The fear of going against the mainstream crowd and being put out of the synagogues paralyzed many of these misguided men. But Jesus indicated that anyone who follows Him may one day pay a far greater price than that.
Prophesying of this scary time, Jesus said, “Brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake” (Matthew 10:21).
“You will be hated by all”—even family—is a prophecy that will one day apply to Christians, especially as we approach the end times. To learn more about this prophecy, read our article “You Will Be Hated.”
A question to ask yourself is, “If it someday becomes necessary, am I really prepared to give up personal relationships, status and my own comfort so that I can follow Jesus Christ?”
Count the cost by learning to deny yourself
Jesus continued, “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:27).
To any first-century listener, bearing a cross meant one thing: death. Jesus’ words have several applications here:
- The readiness to be martyred for the faith.
- Having the strength to remain faithful even while dealing with the challenges and difficulties of life.
- The death of the self.
A few chapters earlier Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).
People naturally look out for themselves. They tend to think in terms of “What do I want?” or “How will this benefit me?” or “How can I get more out of this situation?” They go through life making their hopes, dreams and desires their top priority.
To deny the self means to set aside our own desires to do things that are contrary to God’s Word and instead make our highest priority what Jesus Christ, our Master and Savior, wants. We must deny the desire to get drunk, smoke, commit fornication, violate God’s Sabbath, hate our brother, reason around straightforward commands in the Bible in order to avoid quitting certain behaviors—everything that is contrary to God.
We need to surrender our entire life to God in order to obey Him wholeheartedly. Our rebellious human nature can sometimes make that task seem like a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s an order as rewarding as it is challenging.
Notice what Jesus said concerning the outcomes for those who stubbornly cling to this physical life and all the things it offers versus those who willingly surrender their lives for the sake of obeying Him: “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (verse 24).
Nothing in this fleeting, physical life—this blip of existence—compares to eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
While the future resurrection to eternal life is the ultimate reward, those who count the cost will be blessed before that as well. Jesus said those who have left possessions or relationships “for the sake of the kingdom of God” will “receive many times more in this present time” (Luke 18:29-30). Committing to Christ has benefits both in this life and the life to come (John 10:10; see our article “Life More Abundantly”).
Will you count the cost?
Jesus in no way advocated a “come as you are” policy (for more on this, see “The Problem With ‘Just as I Am’ Christianity”).
When Jesus said “count the cost,” He was affirming that being one of His true followers comes at a cost. Christianity without cost or sacrifice was never taught or practiced by Jesus, the apostles or any of the other members of the first-century Church.
When Jesus looked at the multitudes, He wanted to know who was truly willing to put Him ahead of family, friends, desires, dreams and possessions, and who would obey Him even if it meant death.
It’s no surprise that at one point during Jesus’ public ministry, “many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more” (John 6:66).
The real question to ask now is, Which group of people do you identify with? Do you relate to the crowd that turned their backs on some of Christ’s hard sayings about the kind of commitment necessary for being a true Christian? Or do you identify with the faithful few who evidently pledged their total love and loyalty to Him?
Will you count the cost and commit to following Jesus Christ?
(To study further about how to become a true Christian, see our booklet Change Your Life.)