You’ve Got What It Takes But It Will Take Everything You’ve Got! A Reflection on the Cost of Discipleship
Earlier this month I went to my boxing gym’s Grand Reopening at Title Boxing Club here in Mansfield. This was a big, blowout type party and special workout. The workout was 2 hours of non-stop boxing, mixing in every trainer for 3 rounds each. I went and said I wanted to finish the whole thing, so I went to the gym a little before 9 that morning, got wrapped and was ready to go. Round 1 goes by. Then Round 2, 3, 4, 5. At this point, I am a little more than half-way through a normal workout, but I am ready to quit already.
You see my trainer and friend Jeremiah before we started the warm-up and first round challenged me to do as many pushups as possible in one minute. Never one to back down from a challenge, I dropped down and did my best: 45. But I didn’t think about the fact that once I got up from the pushups, I was just about to begin a workout that was supposed to last 24 rounds.
So here I am 30 minutes later, at the end of round 5, and I am ready to quit. I feel gassed, exhausted, and like there’s nothing left in the tank already.
But something kept me going. You see in between each 3 minute round of hard-hitting, non-stop, full-force movement around a heavy bag, you get 1 minute of “active rest.” For me, I usually “active rest” my way over to the water fountain and get a quick swig of water while waiting to start the next round. With the Grand Re-Opening, there’s new artwork and posters all over the place, and I continually move past one that has an athletic, ripped, boxer with his gloves coming together in a “c’mon and get it” posture, and over that image is a quote – you know, one of those inspirational quotes to keep you going when you feel like quitting – and it said, “You’ve got what it takes but it will take all you’ve got.”
That sentence kept me going and, two hours later, I finished the full workout.
This experience and this phrase stuck with me as I’ve been reading and meditating on what it means to be a disciple, a follower, of Jesus.
You and I, in Christ, have what it takes to follow Jesus throughout our life. But it will take all that we have.
The cost of discipleship while free isn’t cheap; it will cost us all that we have and all that we love.
The Great Commandment(s) is to Love
“But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:34-40
In Matthew 22, Jesus is answering the question of the Pharisees regarding which is the great, or greatest, commandment. Now they had their own opinions and views, and even they weren’t in complete agreement. Some would have the Law of Circumcision to be the Great Commandment, others the Law of the Sabbath, others the Law of Sacrifices. Again, the Pharisees are not interested in Jesus’ actual answer, just in trapping Him by His answer.
But Jesus cuts through their intentions and inadequate opinions and goes straight to Scripture, God’s Word in the Old Testament. He quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.— Deuteronomy 6:4-5
You must not hate your brother in your heart.
You must surely reprove your fellow citizen
so that you do not incur sin on account of him.
You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the children of your people,
but you must love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD. — Leviticus 19:17-18
The great and greatest commandment according to Jesus, which is according to Scripture (Old Testament and New Testament) is to love: God first, and also, “your neighbor as yourself.”
Why does Jesus change “might” (Dt. 6) to “mind” (Mt. 22)? First, Mark records for us that Jesus did use “might” and “mind” together:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”— Mark 12:28-31
Jesus isn’t denying the “might/strength”, or the volitional, willful aspect of our love for God and neighbor in Matthew 22; He is emphasizing the interiority of our lives. “Heart”, “soul”, and “mind” are all internal realities. These are the desires that drive us, the ambitions animate us, the thoughts that propel us. They are the things that only you can really see or feel. Others may feel the effects of them, but only you would ever really know what they are.
Jesus is emphasizing that our actions will follow after whatever we love. It’s our desires that shape and steer us to our destiny.
Question: How do you know God is working in your life?
Answer: You start to desire and want Him, not just His stuff or what He can do for you.
James K.A. Smith, a philosopher and theologian at Calvin College has written extensively on the topic of how we are more than merely “brains-on-sticks”, but rather, creatures of desire; or, homo liturgicus, “human worshippers.” All of our lives are the accumulation of, and expression of, our wants, desires, aims, and ambitions – not merely at a conscious, “life-planning” level; but down at the level of our subconscious, internal drivers. We give ourselves to that which we love and desire the most. It’s because of this, Smith writes that,
“Jesus’s command to follow him is a command to align our loves and longings with his—to want what God wants, to desire what God desires, to hunger and thirst after God and crave a world where he is all in all—a vision encapsulated by the shorthand “the kingdom of God….Discipleship, we might say, is a way to curate your heart, to be attentive to and intentional about what you love.” ― James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, p. 1
Why worship is critical in our life as disciples of Jesus – both personal devotional practices and corporate gatherings like this. Smith again writes:
“Worship works from the top down, you might say. In worship we don’t just come to show God our devotion and give him our praise; we are called to worship because in this encounter God (re)makes and molds us top-down. Worship is the arena in which God recalibrates our hearts, reforms our desires, and rehabituates our loves. Worship isn’t just something we do; it is where God does something to us. Worship is the heart of discipleship because it is the gymnasium in which God retrains our hearts.” ― ― James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, p. 79
In this way, a disciple is a person under constant renovation – not only outwardly, but more so, inwardly. We are people constantly growing in our love for God (and hatred for sin). We are all works in progress.
It’s here in the context of corporate worship and Christian community that we are not only called by the grace of God, but are given the gift of relationship with God, despite our failures and even our feelings. This gift of relationship with God is also a gift of power to walk with Him through all of life. No one is perfect. Everyone is growing. And the church is simply a group of people trying to help each other take the next step. We’re one another’s spiritual spotters in the gymnasium of life and worship.
So because of God’s grace to you in Christ, you have what it takes to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and yes, with all your strength as well. Also to love your neighbor (those around you) as yourself.
But it will take everything you’ve got.
The Great Cost is our Life
“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 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? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:25-33
Jesus is here using the words “love and hate” in a much different way that we normally do. We use the words “love” and “hate” to either refer to things hyperbolically – exaggerating our feelings for certain things (i.e. “I loved that movie” or “I hate the traffic.”) – or to actually express the strong and visceral reactions of our emotions. There are some people that we genuinely love, obviously like spouses, children, and parents; and yes, hate. People who kidnap children, starve them, and train them to unleash school shootings might be one example. Sexual predators and abusers who cause such unspeakable pain and trauma not only for their victims but also everyone affected by them as well might be another.
But Jesus here is using these words in a comparative or relative sense, not in a hyperbolic, absolute or emotional sense. In Jesus Semitic culture and that of the Ancient (as well as current) Near East, it would not be unusual to use the words love and hate to describe the prioritization of things in your life: I love this, but hate that. What Jesus is driving at here in Luke 14 is that discipleship is giving one’s first loyalty. Ultimately, it gets to whether or not our lives are oriented around God or self.
We are “worshipping creatures” led by our loves. If you love yourself, then there’s no room for anyone else, let alone God. But if you love God, there’s actual room to love others and yourself too.
Modern Philosopher Charles Taylor writes about our current, secular age and uses a term to describe our understanding of our existence culturally across the board; he calls it living lives of the “buffered self.” You know what buffering is, don’t you? It’s when you’re trying to stream (watch or gather) data from the internet (cloud) on your physical device (smartphone, laptop, etc). If you don’t download it, the information comes in a constant stream, and to make sure it’s not interrupted, the information comes and loads and creates some distance before you begin to watch or see the progress of the data yourself. Taylor says that our lives are kind of like that: we set up various cushions to insulate us from any inconvenience or intrusion from the outside. In other words, “I am central, and nothing else impinges upon me.” The only things that get passed this buffered layer of protection is if we decide to let it in after we’re convinced of the “what’s in it for me” promise whatever it is, gives.
This is in stark contrast to the early church and followers of Jesus. No one decided to embrace Christ causally or easily. To follow Jesus meant ridicule, rejection, tension, isolation, persecution, and death. The call to follow Jesus while being with Him is comforting, the cost is everything we have and all that we are, which is challenging.
That’s why Jesus goes and talks about enterprises of building a tower or going to war. These are not merely casual endeavors, but costly ones. They weren’t embarked upon by merely strong emotions or shallow enthusiasm; they would cost everything to complete. What Jesus is calling His disciples too then is not mere sentiment or “shallow”/easy-beliefism, but whole-life surrender to Jesus.
It’s why Dietrich Bonhoeffer so simply and eloquently puts Jesus words of “carrying your cross” as: “When Jesus bids/calls a man, He bids Him come and die.” The cross was not a religious symbol merely worn to adorn your beliefs; it was an instrument of death. It would be like saying “sit in your electric chair” today. It was not quaint and merely a symbol of some privatized spiritual reality; it was an instrument of actual, real, holistic, and costly death.
In this way, Jesus has already given us the mark we are to leave on the world: the cross. And yet this mark, this symbol and instrument of death is what actually leads us to life.
It’s as we lose our life that we find it, and surrender is greater than obedience. Obedience is momentary; surrender is ongoing. It’s when we are given over to Another who shapes and directs our lives that we actually come to experience, enjoy, and express true, satisfying, and meaningful life.
The question is not whether this is really what Jesus asks and demands of us; the question is whether we are willing to give Him our everything.
Jesus did it.
Jesus wasn’t exempt or immune from this cost. In the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-50) on the night before Jesus was crucified, He goes to prayer and keenly aware of what was about to happen, He pleads with His Heavenly Father, “If it be your will, let this cup pass from me.” There was a part of Him that didn’t want to go to the cross. He knew the cost – it was going to be His very life. More than that, it was the existential and real separation from His Heavenly Father – something He never had to go without from eternity past. Jesus was undergoing such trauma that He started to sweat drops of blood – something that can and does happen when the experience of stress, fear, and anxiety are so traumatic to the person, blood vessels around your sweat glands in a constrict under the pressure of great stress. Then, as the anxiety passes, the blood vessels dilate to the point of rupture and goes into the sweat glands. The sweat glands push the blood to the surface, which comes out as droplets of blood mixed with sweat. Jesus experienced this. He wasn’t immune.
And yet, Jesus concludes His prayer with, “Nevertheless, not my will, but Your will be done.”
Jesus surrendered all. He surrendered Himself to His Heavenly Father, the One who “judges justly” he would say throughout his life and ministry. In a very real way, Jesus lived every moment of his life on this earth by faith – faith that if He laid His life down for those who He loved, His Father would raise it up again. This faith was tested and pressed deep down into the inner psyche and literal blood vessels and sweat glands of the second person of the Trinity, the incarnate Son, the Word become flesh for us, Jesus.
Jesus traded his life of eternal ease, joy, and delight for the full life that awaited Him beyond the cross.
Hebrews 12:2 says that God’s people are to look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, “who for the joy before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame.” What was the joy set before Jesus on the other side of the cross?
My college roommate and I debated this one night. We were reading this verse, and having just read a book by author John Piper called Desiring God, my friend was convinced that it was the joy of being reunited with the Father; the cross was the pathway to glorifying God by being with Him and enjoying Him forever. But that didn’t do it for me. The simple reason: Jesus had that without the cross, without the incarnation. If being with His Heavenly Father, in His presence, was the joy set before Him, then that explains a lot, but it doesn’t explain the whole plan and progress of redemption – God sending His Son to redeem, restore, and renew His creation and His people who reject, rebel, and rage against Him continually.
No, you see, the joy set before Jesus on the other side of the cross wasn’t just renewed and restored fellowship with His Father; it was bringing you and me into that relationship as well.
Jesus had what it takes to bring us out of our sin, shame, and misery and into life as it was meant to be lived with God the Father, in Christ the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. But it took everything He had.
And he calls us to the same, with Him.
In Christ, you and I have what it takes to follow Jesus and help others do the same. But it will take everything we have.
What could God do through us if we surrendered everything to Him?
How might He bless Mansfield, Midlothian, Burleson, Dallas/Fort Worth, if we actually trusted Him with everything we are and everything we have?
What might God do in you, for you, and through you if you laid everything down before Him and loved Him more than you love anything else?
Specific Application: Uncover Sin and Recover Glory; for you, your neighbor, and the world.
- Where in your life do you need to surrender to the LORD?
- Do I yield to Jesus every area of my life: possessions, positions, status/standing with others; family, friends; own life – my thoughts, desires, ambitions, aims, and exertions of will?
- Do I actually trust Him to care for me?
- How can I lay my life down for the sake of others this week? Who around me can I bless in some real, practical, tangible, and spiritual way?
Chris Gensheer is the Lead Pastor of Christ Church Mansfield which exists to equip and empower everyone to live a more meaningful life in Christ; a life of worship, community, and mission. Use the blue button in the bottom corner of this page to subscribe to our email newsletter and never miss an update on life and ministry at Christ Church, a community of faith, hope, and love in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.