These verses caught my attention a few weeks ago:
“If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.“But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’ (Luke 14:26-30)
I think that too often we make being a Christian about saying that magic prayer. The sorry, thank you, please magic combination. And sure, there comes a point when you’ve got to make a choice to put Christ first, as he says above, before your family or yourself. But don’t begin until you count the cost.
Being a Christian isn’t meant to be easy. And the decision “to carry you own cross” isn’t one that should be made lightly. You’re going to have to leave some stuff behind, make some sacrifices, change some stuff. It’s not about saying those magic words and getting on with life. It’s a commitment, a lifelong journey that you shouldn’t embark upon until you count the cost.
It always makes me a little uneasy when we suggest to children, young folk, even adults, that all they have to do is say that prayer and they’ll be saved. We talk about Heaven and Hell, about knowing God, being Jesus’ friend, reading our Bibles and praying but what about the difficult stuff? (not that those things can’t be difficult enough to grasp). What about standing out, standing up, following Christ’s commands to love your enemies, to serve in order to lead, to give up everything you own. Don’t begin until you count the cost.
Saying that, becoming a Christian is not about having everything sorted either. Jesus didn’t have the tax collectors give back all the money and then follow him, he invited them as they sat at their desks counting their fraudulent earnings. When he stopped the woman from being stoned for adultery, he didn’t make her promise to clean up her act first, he forgave her than said “Go and sin no more”. The “immoral woman” anointed Jesus whilst still living in sin, only afterwards did he say her faith had saved her. But do we accept people in their same sinful condition, or do we look down our noses at them? Do we expect people to clean themselves up a bit before we accept them into our churches? If a homeless alcoholic was to come into our church, what would our reaction be? If someone just released from prison, for whatever reason, was to come into our church, would we accept them without judgement or keep our distance?
If we’re going to sort anything we need Christ. That means making the decision to listen and follow him comes before having anything in order. And that means we need to accept people, baggage and all. Because let’s face it, we’ve all got some.
Don’t begin until you count the cost. But don’t expect to have it sorted first either.