When David and I were in the process of buying a house a couple of years ago, we were required to hire a qualified appraiser to thoroughly inspect the house to determine its value so that we didn’t over-borrow. This standard process is likely familiar to most who have purchased houses as banks are unwilling to lend more than property is worth.
The appraisal process isn’t limited to real estate, though. We do it all the time. We assess the value of cars and colleges, clothing and commitments before deciding whether or not we’re willing to make the investment. Some of these are low-stakes decisions, while others have more significant ramifications. Overspending on a dress, for example, is inconsequential when compared to assuming excessive student debt without any foreseeable ability to pay it off.
Even the Bible touches on this concept. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, He warned that following Him would be costly (Luke 9:23, 57-62; 14:25-33). He urged His followers to carefully consider the weighty commitment of discipleship. But in Matthew 13:44, Jesus described His kingdom this way: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
I can’t shake the image of this parabolic man from my head. One day he stumbled upon something of such value that he joyfully sold everything he had to acquire it. The only logical reason he responded this way was because he was convinced that what was in the field was of greater value than everything he owned. Was it costly? Absolutely. Was it worth it? Apparently.
“Counting the cost” of following Jesus focuses more on what we have to lose, but the natural counterpart is appraising the value of discipleship, which is primarily concerned with what we have to gain. Both are important – essential, even – if we are to follow Him for the long haul, and both are modeled by the fictional man Jesus introduced in Matthew 13. Following Jesus might cost us comfort or popularity. It might mean giving up a position or relationship. For some, it could even result in severe persecution or death.
There are real costs associated with following Jesus, and I certainly don’t want to downplay the sacrifices many have made or will make on the path of discipleship. But it’s important to realize that following Jesus isn’t just costly – He doesn’t encourage us to make a foolish investment. Following Jesus, with all it costs, also puts us on the receiving end of lasting joy and abundant life, among innumerable other blessings.
For too long I’ve separated the cost from the value of following Jesus, and it doesn’t make much sense. Like a good appraiser strives to accurately assess property value, so counting the cost of following Jesus must also include a consideration of His worth. The apostle Paul did this well. Having sized up his family background and personal achievements, he concluded that “everything [is] loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8). It was this assessment – not some sort of burdened obligation – that fueled his faithful ministry even when it meant imprisonment, beatings, stoning, and ongoing danger (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).
Those who continue to faithfully follow Jesus – by grace, through the power of His Spirit – even when it’s painful and costly are those who really believe they’re not getting the short end of the stick. Those who are overjoyed to be “all in” because they just can’t believe they’d get to be part of something so eternally significant for such temporary sacrifice (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Those who know that Jesus hasn’t invited us to be part of a scam. He’s not out to get us, nor is He in the business of robbing our joy – as if we can even find it apart from Him.
The man in Matthew 13 goes to show us that following Jesus will never cost more than it is worth. Jesus Himself promised, “There is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life” (Luke 18:29-30). No matter what we lose as followers of Jesus, we stand to gain so much more. It’s like Scott Sauls tweeted: “If your hope is anchored in Jesus, your long-term worst case scenario is resurrection and everlasting life.”
And that outcome is just one of the many reasons Scripture says so emphatically, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame” – no matter how much it costs us along the way (Romans 10:11).
Much of my energy in recent months has been spent on adoption paperwork, which helps explain the less frequent blogging. If you’re interested in adoption updates, you can learn more here.