Count the Cost

For which of you, desiring to build a tower,
does not first sit down and count the cost,
whether he has enough to complete it?

Luke 14:28

Planning for retirement takes discipline, but it is worth it. 

When I got my first real job with salary and benefits, I was encouraged to put a little extra aside in for retirement savings each month, above and beyond what my employer was contributing. It wasn’t much, it wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t always possible, but the discipline of saving now to have something later pays off over time.

It requires a change of focus. When something shiny and new comes up, you can’t just run out and get it. You have to balance the now and the not yet. You tell yourself, “it’s okay to go without this now, in order to save for something better, later.” You assure yourself that its okay to drive a car with 150,000 or more miles on it, to stay in for the night rather than eat out, to delight in delayed gratification. 

I think everyone would agree, sound financial stewardship is good, and the benefit in the end is worth the cost now.

Why then do we think that our life in following after Christ (Matt 16:24), storing up a treasure in heaven (Luke 12:33), of growing and training in holiness (1 Cor 9:24-27) would come without a cost?

We are called in scripture to strive after holiness, for without it no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14), but many have come to think and act as if holiness is just something that will happen to you. The pursuit of holiness, and the reward of eternal life, is of greater value than all the financial security this world can offer. Why then do we spend so little time considering the cost, and committing to it? Why are so few willing to pay the price for holiness?

Partly to blame is our mishandling of the grace of God. We hold to the teaching of God’s Word that salvation is by “grace through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9). We are assured, rightfully so, that salvation is God’s free gift in Jesus Christ, and that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s grace or merit His gift of salvation. 

Still, we should remember, salvation is God’s free gift, but it did not come without a cost. Our salvation was purchased with the precious blood of Christ. 1 Pe 1:18–19 teaches, “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” This is echoed in Titus 2:14 and 1 Cor 6:20 and 7:23. Jesus said in Mark 10:45 that he gave his life as a ransom. Salvation is the gift without price, but not without cost. Our salvation cost the life of the sinless One who stood in the place of sinners, to ransom and redeem us from the wrath of God.

This is the gift we receive freely. But holding on to this gift will mean we have to let go of everything else. There is a cost that we bear, not for our salvation, but for growing in righteousness, in building up the treasure in heaven. There is a cost to following Christ. Jesus said, 

  • Lk 9:23  And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
  • Mt 19:29  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.

J.C. Ryle, in his book, Holiness, lays out the cost analysis for the followers of Jesus. Here’s the expected cost of discipleship:

  1. It will cost you your self-righteousness. You can only go to heaven as a poor sinner. If you come claiming any part of your righteousness is the result of your own doing, you will never be admitted. All our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isa 64:6). Unless you come clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and in Christ alone, you will be sent out from the wedding feast (Matt 22:12-13).
  2. It will cost you your sins. You cannot cling to Christ and still cling to your sins. You will love the one and hate the other. Would your husband be honored if you kept pictures of previous boyfriends?  Can you claim to love Christ while still loving the very sins that led him to the cross. If you would follow Jesus, you must repent, turn your back on the old life, and take up the new, through the power of His Holy Spirit dwelling in you.
  3. It will cost you your love of ease. Christ did not come that you would have your best life now; to comfort you in your prosperity, or to make good people better. Christ came to bring the dead to life, and to give us such a vision of coming glory that we would be willing to give up everything now for the sake of what’s to come. The life of faith is a race (Hebrews 12:1), and we are called to journey on in Christ, the trailblazer of our salvation. This is a marathon, not a spring, and it requires endurance, diligence, and perseverance. 
  4. If will cost you the favor of the world. If the world hates God but loves you, what does that say about your Christian life? Do you look and sound more like the culture than you do like Christ? Jesus said, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you (John 15:20).”

Count the cost!

I leave you with this from Ryle:

I grant it costs much to be a true Christian. But what sane man or woman  can doubt that it is worth any cost to have the soul saved? When the ship is in danger of sinking, the crew think nothing of casting overboard the precious cargo. When a limb is mortified, a man will submit to any severe operation, and even to amputation, to save life. Surely a Christian should be willing to give up anything which stands between him and heaven. A religion that costs nothing is worth nothing! A cheap Christianity, without a cross, will prove in the end a useless Christianity, without a crown.


Ryle, J. C. Holiness: It’s Nature, Hinderances, Difficulties and Roots. electronic ed. based on the Evangelical Press reprinting, with new forward, 1995. Simpsonville, SC: Christian Classics Foundation, 1999. Print.

Purity and Graciousness

“You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
I Peter 1:16 (ESV)

I was asked recently if a person can smoke and still be a Christian.  My answer was rooted in Paul’s response to the Corinthians, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful.  All things are lawful to me, but I will not be enslaved by anything” (1 Cor 6:12).  Yes, it is possible to be a Christian and smoke, but does it help your Christian walk?  Are you a slave to smoking and not to Christ?

I grew up under the teaching of Ephesians 2, that we as Christians are being built together as the temple of the Lord, the dwelling place of God in the Spirit.  Therefore, I ought to keep myself pure, so that the dwelling place of God will be clean.

Now there is nothing wrong with this teaching, but it does have its trappings:

Righteousness by Cleanliness
The unfortunate side of the teaching of Christian purity is that for many it becomes the heart of their religion.  The quest for goodness and clean living replaces a faith in the grace of God and a dependence on the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  “I am a good person.  I don’t smoke, drink, or chew, and I don’t date girls who do.”  This becomes the creed of the pure.  We keep ourselves from the socially unacceptable sins, but give a wink and a nod to those little things that no one else knows about.  At a person’s death, we may know nothing of their faith in God, but if they were a “good person,” then surely God owes them entrance into heaven.

The problem is, scripture teaches us that no one is righteous, no not one.  All our righteousness acts are like filthy rags in the sight of God.  Francis Chan, in his book, Crazy Love, says that “the literal interpretation of “filthy rags” in this verse is “menstrual garments” (think used tampons… and if you’re disgusted by the idea, you get Isaiah’s point).”  Our goodness can never be good enough.

Another unfortunate aspect of the teaching of Christian purity is that too often it results in an air of self-righteousness.  We’ve learned to do what is right, to control our desires, and if and when we do sin, we know to ask forgiveness and make things right.  We’ve learned to deal with our sins, unlike those wretches who still struggle and can’t get their act together.  In short, we become the “Elder Brother” of the story of the Prodigal Son.  Rather than doing all we can to reach the lost, we complain about how lost the world around us has become.  Rather than rejoicing when the lost are found, we worry about what it cost to find them and bring them home. 

We forget that we were once the wretch, that we were once lost, and that we were once welcomed home.  We must remember that it was the same grace that claimed us, the same cross that saved us, the same Spirit that gave us life.  There is no difference in the fare.

So should we still teach our children to be pure, should we still strive for godliness in our lives?  Absolutely.  This is, I think, the purpose behind Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  Paul says that “for freedom Christ has set us free…” and then teaches that we are not slaves to the law, and neither should we be slaves to sin.  “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”  Instead, we are to bear one another’s burdens in a spirit of gentleness.

Simply because our sinfulness corrupts even our best efforts to live a life worthy of our calling does not mean that we should abandon all hope.  Rather we should still press onward, but we should do so with an abundance of grace.

A spirit of graciousness reminds us that we all in need of the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. 

A spirit of graciousness reminds us that we all will stumble and need to be picked up now and again.

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Keep watch over yourself, let you too be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:1-2).

Grace and peace be with you!