Why Counting the Cost?
Over the years as I have ministered the Gospel in varied ways and in vastly different places, I have met with many objections from professing Christians. These objections run the gambit from, “You are doing it all wrong,” to “You don’t talk about God’s love enough,” and, “I never talk about God’s wrath, it scares people too much.” Sometimes I get all three from one. However, the topic that seems to upset other Christians the most is the idea of counting the cost.
In this context, I use counting the cost to refer to persecution. Specifically, the truth of persecution for those that pursue holiness. Frequently, I can be heard telling people that if they truly repent and believe they will in turn go out and preach the Gospel. Furthermore, I will follow up with some a warning that persecution will follow. All of this is done to compel my hearers to consider counting the cost.
Recently, in an ill-advised attempt to call a “local church” to repentance, I public rebuked the “pastors”. Additionally, I warned the congregation to expect persecution if they were truly born again. In an odd twist of irony, several of the men from the congregation approached me to defend their “pastor” with one man flatly stating that he would beat me up if hadn’t been wearing a camera.
Compelling Fellow Christians to Point Others Towards Counting the Cost
Therefore, I feel compelled to write this article. I want to urge you to compel others to consider counting the cost. In previous articles I have mentioned my own varied levels of persecution. I have written about persecution of the ancient and modern church. I’ve spoken about the inherit issues with quickly affirming someone as a Christian in the context of modern WCC.
Subsequently, I feel it imperative to compel you my reader(s) to be about the work of counting the cost yourselves. You should be counting the cost of what it means to Advance the Gospel into the world, and couple that with what the Gospel message really looks like. Modern evangelicals have a tenuous grip on the Gospel these days. Jesus has become an accoutrement, or a trapping if you will.
The issue has moved far beyond the problems with “asking Jesus into your heart” and ventured into a realm that has toppled all the way over into heterodoxy. I have had countless conversations with people that express that they “share the Gospel” by showing their joy in Jesus. Incidentally, this seems to be the same method by which those same people “got saved.”
With this in mind, does that sound like counting the cost to you? When the compelling and formative reason that a person comes to Jesus is for the earthly peace and joy they observe in others, they are coming under spurious conditions. This is almost exclusively a modern Western problem.
Does Jesus Point Us Towards Counting the Cost?
Indeed, I am not making this up out of whole-cloth. There is an abundance of places where we see Jesus compel people to count the cost. In Matthew 5, the Beatitudes, Jesus speaks about persecution being the norm for those who seek to follow Him. Assuredly, this isn’t just about being saved and then facing persecution. The Beatitudes are one long building towards the Advancement of the Gospel culminating in a promise of hatred.
It is almost as if counting the cost is being built into the message as a warning.
“Look!” Jesus is shouting at us, “If you hear my message and believe, you will become a peacemaker. Being a peacemaker between God and sinful men will result in persecution for the sake of My righteousness.”
Furthermore, this isn’t the only place that Jesus speaks to this. Luke 14 shows us Jesus preaching to a large crowd and explaining the truth of counting the cost. The implication is that only a fool takes on major building projects or goes out to war without first knowing the potential risk/investment. One very clear take away; you will face resistance. You will lose relationships.
Paul isn’t content to let it end there. He wants us to understand it fully. In 2 Timothy 3 he tells us that anyone who seeks to live a godly life will be persecuted. Clearly the Word reveals to us that there is a cost for following Christ.
Jesus Was About Counting the Cost We Should be Too
In a conversation a few months back, a detractor challenged me. Their insistence was that we don’t need to warn people that becoming a Christian will result in persecution. I want to err on the side of love. I believe that they have perception of Christianity that is viewed through a decidedly modern Western lens.
The last 150 to 200 years of Christianity in the West has been markedly easy living. By-and-large, the States in the West have been markedly pro-Christian. Sure, there have been pockets of enmity here and there throughout the West, think Communist Cuba and other socialistic States. Yet, broadly speaking, the West has been pro-Christian. Subsequently, it is very difficult to proclaim Christ crucified for sinners and warn them that persecution will come for them. It just isn’t the world that Western folk live in. Persecution is something that happens to people in other places. It is done to people in far off lands surrounded by a type of people that we are not surrounded by.
Sadly, we think that persecution is Chick-Fil-A being kept out of a city or people staging a die-in. However, even in that, it is still something happening to “another” or to an entity apart from the individual. Simply put, our only point of reference for persecution is the early days of the Church and The Book of Martyrs.
Counting the Cost Goes Beyond Personal Application
Yet, the same words of Christ that compelled His contemporaries to go about counting the cost of following Him, still apply to us today. However, I am speaking to a reality in which we, speaking as oracles of God, should be echoing the words of Christ.
I see compelling others towards counting the costs as incumbent upon us. As the west drifts further and further way from Christian thought and living, the more that we will see persecution increase in our contemporary age. It is in this context that we must be prepared for our own persecution. Even more, as we go about preaching the Gospel, we should be pointing people towards counting the cost.
The days of using un-biblical language to communicate the idea of the Gospel to people should be behind us. No more promising people “God has a wonderful plan for your life” if you are not also explaining that that wonderful plan may involve you losing your life for Christ. Gone should be the idea that the Gospel promises us earthly peace and joy. The only promise that comes with believing the Gospel is eternal life in the glorious presence of God and persecution for seeking to live in righteousness.
Why People Don’t Want to Compel Others Toward Counting the Cost
My contention is that we fail to speak about the promise of persecution because it makes us uncomfortable. We don’t want to do or say anything that could possibly stand in the way of seeing someone saved. In an era where most Christians believe that evangelism takes place almost exclusively in the context of deeply personal relationships, any talk of counting the cost is detrimental to seeing conversions.
The more time you pour into building a friendship in hopes of eventually “sharing the Gospel” with them, the less likely you are to want to talk about the hard truths of Scripture. As a result, just as talking about sin and God’s wrath against sinners is difficult in these situations, it becomes hard to talk about the reality of persecution. While the desire to see people come to Christ is admirable, withholding fundamental truths, such as the promise of persecution, is not an act of love.
In short, I do not believe that it is love that constrains Christians from compelling others to be about counting the cost of following Christ. I am convinced that it is an act of selfishness. People fear that telling others that they will face persecution if they convert hinders the chances that they will. These Christians, whether-or-not they will admit it, are more concerned with pointing to the “disciples” they have produced. To that end, they will shy away from anything that hinders or serves as a roadblock.
In the end, we must address two things.
What does it mean to love neighbor as self and how is that exemplified?
Loving neighbor as self ultimately means that we do not look out for our own interest but instead, look out for their interests. This is firstly manifested in the proclamation of the Gospel to the lost. The one thing that our lost neighbors need more than anything else is to understand that they are wicked rotten sinners in need of Christ’s redeeming work.
Moreover, as we call our neighbors to repent and believe the Gospel, we must not only warn them to flee from the wrath to come. We must also be about the work of pushing them towards counting the cost of following Christ. If our message warns them to flee from the coming wrath of God that is indeed truth. However, if they think that there is no persecution coming to them if they are sold-out disciples, then we have failed to be biblical.
It is no wonder that Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Church…” For generations and even centuries, the Church recognized that persecution was part and parcel of being Christian. This wasn’t built solely on anecdotal and personal experience. Instead, it was resolute acceptance of the warnings of Jesus to His disciples as He walked with them. The people of God knew and accepted that the loss of all things, even their lives, was worth it all to spread the message of Christ.
If you do not believe that today, or find it a needless roadblock to the Gospel, you need to repent…
Soli Deo Gloria!