Messages, Writing-the-Message

The Cost of Discipleship

Message: when we have a real picture of God, we can understand why discipleship costs. Based on Luke 14:25-33.

Introduction

Today the church often seems to offer a nice, fluffy, cuddly God to people.  A sympathetic, empathetic God of unconditional love.  A God who saves us and loves us and looks after us.  Now there’s nothing wrong with that in itself, but it’s only a partial – and hence a biased and unrealistic – picture of God. It’s also an irrational picture of God. 

A Tough, Rational Picture of God

If God is so unconditionally loving then it wouldn’t matter that we were sinners, because God wouldn’t punish us anyway.  Indeed, in this portrait, God is too nice even to mention our shortcomings and selfishness.  We can just carry on doing what we’ve always done and ignore God, who will love and accept us no matter what.  So, rationally, logically, there is no need for forgiveness, no need for the cross and no need for Jesus.  If we offer people an irrational faith, parts of which contradict each other, is it any wonder that sensible people reject it?  Is it any wonder that about 70% of people in the UK believe in God but only 10% regularly come to church?

Fortunately, if anyone reads what Jesus actually said and did, He destroys that silly, childish and sentimental picture of God pretty quickly.  Jesus says tough things to people.  He talks about being disciples.  Hey, that implies discipline – following, obeying, serving – that costs!  Where’s my fluffy God gone?  Actually, Jesus does this quite a lot in all sorts of ways, but in this reading, he speaks explicitly about the cost of following Him. 

Discipleship: Responding to the Real God

So how do we put together these pictures of a loving God with the disciplinarian who demands obedience, sacrifice, service, even the surrender of our lives?  Can we resolve them into one?  Should we even try? 

First of all, I think we should.  Those people who don’t believe in God aren’t foolish (well some are, but we probably won’t reach the truly selfish ones who are only interested in what they can get[1]). Most people recognise that when they are offered something for nothing there’s a catch.  Hence our offer of a fluffy, free, gutless God turns them off: maybe that’s why Jesus never offered that picture of God?

Discipleship: An Application  

So how do we picture the true God, the real deal, a seemingly contradictory God of love and judgement?  I’ve been reading ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ by Rick Warren recently, and he offers a picture or model (there may be many more) that seems to work.

Warren’s focus is on discipleship, and underpinning the many ideas in this very rich book, is just one idea, the idea of ‘character’.  He suggests that the character, or person, we are when we die is the one we will keep throughout eternity.  So if we are full of hatred, jealousy, rage and selfish ambition[2] then we will remain so forever.  Even if we are saved and living with God, we will still be us: in essence, the same character we were on earth[3].

Therefore Warren’s conclusion (and his book is soundly Biblical) is that this life may be our only opportunity to hone and develop our character into something that we could and should be: forever.  Now, IMHO, all models of God (theology) are wrong, but some are useful, but perhaps this idea helps us makes sense of a loving God, who allows us to suffer, even after we become Christians and are saved.

Conclusion 

There is a reason that God wants us not only to be saved, but to be disciples and to change and grow in character – however painful and costly that might be – because the alternative is awful.  God requires us to live a good life of worship, service, fellowship, sacrifice, mission – discipleship – not because he is a distant, disinterested God, but because He is our Father, He is Jesus (‘God with us’), he is the Holy Spirit within us and because He loves us..


[1] Are you shocked?  Jesus said the majority of people will enter the broad gate to destruction (Matt 7:13-14).

[2] Some of the fruit of the sinful nature (Galatians 5:19).

[3] Can we still change in heaven?  Warren suggests not; CS Lewis says yes, we can change, that there is still pain in heaven.

Published by

Simon

Simon writes science fiction stories about individuals caught up in huge events, where outer conflict is reflected in their rich inner lives. As the son of an immigrant, he writes about people who don't always fit in. Twice a month, Simon volunteers at a local war veterans retirement home, where he is to be found preaching the gospel. Simon has served and worshipped in many different denominations and prefers to identify only as a Christian – a follower of Jesus. He sees no conflict between loving God and enjoying science/fiction. In his day job, Simon is an engineering consultant of many years’ experience. He has been lucky enough to speak at conferences in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia.

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