Counting the Cost

Martyrdom of St. Matthew - Caravaggio, 1600
The Martyrdom of St. Matthew – Caravaggio, 1600

When I signed up to enlist in the army years ago, I was already a junior in college, and therefore older than most new recruits. It wasn’t an impulsive decision. Before I signed the papers, I thought through whether I would be willing to give my life in service. I went in knowing what the worst case was, and that I was prepared for that.

As Christians, we are advised to “count the cost” of following Jesus. Have you? Some of us were born into a very “comfortably Christian” culture. At least paying lip service to Christ was expected. But Christians around the world are actually persecuted for following Christ. Professing Christ in places like North Korea, China, India, and almost any Muslim country, is recognized as a serious, life-changing decision that may cost one’s physical life. If persecution came to your area, would you be prepared for the worst case? Or is suffering not what you signed up for? Voddie Baucham offers this response: “As Americans, we’re freaks of nature. We cannot comprehend Christian history, because our experience as Americans is unlike the overwhelming majority of Christian history… and the overwhelming majority of Christians today.” [1] We need to recognize there is a cost if we’re following Jesus.

When I went off to Basic Training, there was a drill where they interrupted our training to say that the Secretary of Defense had been killed on an overseas visit, that the US had moved to DefCon1, and we were being immediately shipped off to war, because everyone in the Army, no matter what MOS they signed up for, is infantry if that’s what the nation needs. We were to be on lockdown until we shipped out, and we’d be getting a crash course on marksmanship for the next couple of days. With no access to any real news of the outside world, it was entirely possible, for all we knew. What was interesting about this drill was that it very quickly revealed who had joined only for the various benefits like enlistment bonuses or student loan repayment. These were the people crying. What was even more interesting were the couple of recruits thinking they could take off running across the field and escape from the middle of a large Army base on high alert and supposedly on lockdown. They had counted the cost of enlistment about as thoroughly as they had thought through the plan to openly go AWOL in front of nearly every drill sergeant on base. This was only a drill to impress upon us the seriousness of what we signed up for (and maybe highlight who you didn’t want to trust your life to in combat), but it was still a good reality check. Have you had a wake-up call like that? Maybe there wasn’t much cost to count when you first came to Christ, but something has made you aware of what may be required of you, like reading Foxe’s Book of Martyrs [2], attending a Voice of the Martyrs conference [3], reading materials from Open Doors [4],  or listening to Francis Chan’s excellent and sobering sermon on suffering [5]. Congratulations. Now you know the truth, and as shocking as it may be, even this bit of brutal truth sets you free. For the soldier that goes into battle not having accepted the worst case is a slave to fear, panic, worry, even cowardice. However, the soldier that understands the potential costs and has accepted them is free to focus on the task at hand with unreserved commitment.

This is what God calls us to. This is the heart of being a disciple, and of making disciples as Jesus commanded [Matt 28:19-20]. “Disciple” comes from the Greek word μαθητής (mathétés). If that first part – “math” – is reminiscent of mathematics, there’s a reason. That Greek root for both can be defined as “the mental effort needed to think something through”[6]. Like learning math, being a disciple requires significant investment, and hard work, and study, and submission to learning  [2 Tim 2:15]. Are we called to repent of our sin, and accept God’s free gift of salvation? Absolutely! But that’s only the first step. If that’s all God wanted out of us, He could simply take us home the second we responded to Him. Instead, Jesus called us to be disciples, wholly committed [Luke 14:26-27], never looking back [Luke 9:61-62], pressing onward [Phil 3:13-14], come what may [Eph 6:13], willing to suffer or even die if need be [Phil 1:29, 2 Tim 3:12, 1 Pet 4:12-13, Rev 2:10].

If you come to Christianity thinking God only wants you to be happy and “blessed”, you ignore the overwhelming message of the Bible, and set yourself up with wrong expectations, wrong goals, and wrong motivations for your life. Rather, His plan is to sanctify you, to develop and mature you into all He has planned for you. But as with most development processes, that requires some stretching, some straining, some molding into the final, completed shape. So recognize that there is a real cost to being a disciple of Jesus Christ. And as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” [7] But also recognize that the cost, however high it may be for you, is worth it. The apostle Paul, of whom God said, “I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake,” [Acts 9:15-16] is the same man who would later write, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” [Phil 3:7-8] For Paul, the cost was his life just a few years after writing that, but he’d long since counted the cost, and found it a small price to pay in light of eternity. So where are you at in the process? Unaware there even is a cost? Haggling with God over the cost? Or settled like Paul? I urge you, then, to count the cost, count the worth, and settle the question now, in your own mind, once and for all.

[1] Voddie Baucham, “Apologetics, Holiness, & Suffering”, 2016-01-20, speaking at Dallas Theological Seminary’s Spring 2016 Spiritual Life Conference., accessed 2016-10-18.
[2] John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, first published in 1563, may be read for free at: The Unabridged Acts and Monuments Online or TAMO (HRI Online Publications, Sheffield, 2011), Accessed: 2016-10-17.
[3] To find a Voice of the Martyrs conference near you, check VOM’s events page at
[4] Open Doors is the ministry of Brother Andrew (aka God’s Smuggler).
[5] Francis Chan, “Is Suffering Optional?”, preached at Cornerstone Church, Simi Valley, CA on 2009-02-22.
[7] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (NYC, Touchstone, 1995), p. 59.

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