The Cost of Discipleship

This is part 11 in Creekstone’s Growing in Grace series.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who was executed under Adolf Hitler in 1945. Bonhoeffer knew that following Jesus could be costly. In fact, in 1937, he published a book called The Cost of Discipleship, in which he articulated the difference between cheap grace and costly grace.

He wrote, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without repentance, baptism without church discipline, and communion without confession.” He also would include cheap grace to be a profession of faith in Jesus as Savior without practical obedience to Jesus as Lord.

Since we emphasize God’s grace as central to the Christian life, we want to be sure that we are not talking about cheap grace, but about costly grace.

FCF: This is really important for us to discuss because cheap grace not only doesn’t save us, cheap grace doesn’t change us.

There is no power in cheap grace.

Proposition. What Jesus shows us in Luke 9:22-25 is that experiencing the transforming power of costly grace depends on understanding what Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew about the cost of discipleship—the cost of being a true follower of Jesus.

So, what is the cost of discipleship?

Jesus tells us in Luke 9 when he explains the cost to his original inner circle of disciples, the apostles.

22 “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”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. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (ESV)

In order to understand the cost of discipleship, first we must understand…


The Necessity of Agreeing to Terms

If you have an iPhone then you know that every so often a software update is available… I received a notice just this week to upgrade is iOS 11.3. But to install the update, I had to agree to the updated terms that come with using the new software.

It is the same way with becoming a disciple of Jesus. There are terms, expectations, and demands which are laid out in verse 23, “And [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, [then] let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

Essentially, discipleship entails giving over total control of your life to Jesus. To deny self is to renounce ownership. To take up a cross was to die. Two ways of saying the same thing. Die to self-ownership. To self-lordship.

Jesus is given authority over my money, my marriage, my children, my job, my possessions… everything.

According to the terms, Jesus is not only to be my Savior; he must be my Lord as well. To be his disciple, I must follow him as my Sovereign King.

What we discover is that his Kingdom is utterly unlike the kingdoms of the world:

  • It is a kingdom where the King carries the biggest cross and denies himself for his subjects.
  • It is a kingdom where the strong are those who are weak. Where the mature are those who have the trust of a child. The last become first. The first become last.
  • To be a member of this Kingdom requires complete submission to the reign of the King.

Have you agreed to these terms?  Or does this sound legalistic to you? Does it feel hard? Burdensome? If it sounds legalistic, then it is possible that the grace I have received is cheap grace, not costly grace.

Remember, Jesus is the King who carries the biggest cross. We can trust that his sovereign rule is a good rule. His ways are the best ways.

What these terms do is create a dividing line between cultural Christianity and genuine discipleship. Cultural Christians would never submit to such comprehensive terms. But wouldn’t we expect the devotion showed by Jesus to us to be reciprocated to him?

What often stands in the way of our devotion and our becoming genuine disciples of Jesus is…


The Danger of Pursuing the Ring of Power

Most of us probably are aware of the character in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy named Gollum. Before he was transformed into such a ghastly creature, he had been a friendly, loveable Hobbit named Sméagol. Then he discovered Sauron’s long-lost Ring of Power at the bottom of a pond. It became his obsession—his precious. Eventually, that ring ruined him.

In verses 24-25, Jesus reveals the danger of pursuing the ring of power. “24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world [wears the ring of power] and loses or forfeits himself?”

Jesus is showing us that there is a pursuit in this world that feels like life, but results in death. Spiritual death. Emotional death. Relational death.

One of the most damaging things in my marriage is when I wear my ring of power. It is damaging in every area of my life, including being a pastor and a father.

My ring of power is the need to be right. The need to be respected. The need for people to agree with me. The need to not be corrected or challenged, whether driving my wife on a date or discussing theology over coffee.

What I have learned is that when I am wearing my ring of power, my need to be right, I am in capable of listening to others. Not just their ideas, but listening to their heart. And if I can’t listen, I can’t love. I can only win, and win by punishing my opponent—if not physically, emotionally.

Gollum couldn’t love because he was enamored with his precious. His righteousness. The same thing is true for me and being right. It is my righteousness. Like Gollum, when I feel it is being taken away or attacked, I will do anything to hang onto it. It is that “will do anything” that is so destructive and unloving.

What is your ring of power? What is your precious? It is almost always connected to your reputation, what you want people to know about you that is admirable, praiseworthy, and recognized as special. The thing in itself is not sinful; it is forging it into a ring of power—a righteousness— that makes it destructive.

The problem is that when you wear that ring of power, you can’t be real; you can’t love; you have to hide your need and hide your sin – or at least deny it, shift blame, or make excuses for it. And when I deny my sin or make excuses or minimize it, I am unable to experience the costly grace I need that will both save me and change me.

The only way to be free from a ring of power is to make the radical decision taking it off and throwing it in the fires of Mt. Doom.

Paul the apostle did this in Philippians 3:7-9 when he wrote, “7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

What will enable me to throw it into the fire?


The Power of Beholding Costly Grace

It is this costly grace to which Jesus alludes in verse 22, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

Jesus was going to throw himself into the fires of Mt. Doom. This is what would take place on the cross. It is the ultimate example of costly grace!

But why? Why did Jesus do this? To save Gollums like me.

Beholding such costly grace is what empowers us to throw our rings of power into the fire.

But know this: throwing a ring of power into the fire feels like death before it feels like life.


Aurelius Augustine, known as Augustine of Hippo (or St. Augustine), is one of the most well-known of post-apostolic church leaders. Christian History magazine simply states that after Jesus and Paul, Augustine “is the most influential figure in the history of Christianity.”[i]

After a dramatic conversion from paganism, Augustine ended up becoming a pastor and author, writing such masterpieces as Confessions, The City of God, and On Christian Doctrine.

In Confessions, which serves as his personal testimony, he describes the wrenchingly difficult process it was to throw his own ring of power into the fire.

He writes, “I was beside myself with madness that would bring me sanity. I was dying a death that would bring me life.”

For me, it is repentance that most feels like death. When I’ve bullied someone in a theological argument or snapped back at my wife for well-intentioned, constructive, helpful criticism, confessing to being wrong in motive and substance… to own my sin… feels like death.

You see, when I take off the ring, I become the sinner who needs grace… who needs Jesus. But isn’t that the BEST place to be?

Because that it is when I am able to truly behold the beauty of costly grace.

  • When we see Jesus deny himself…
  • when we see him carry his cross…
  • and die a death that would bring us life.

The life of the forgiven… a life of freedom from condemnation.

That is what empowers us to deny ourselves by throwing the ring of power into the fire.

What we discover in this process is that we don’t lose a ring, we gain a ring—a new ring, not a ring of power but of grace. A ring that not only saves us, but changes us deeply.

This is the cost of discipleship. Exchanging a ring of self-righteousness for a ring of gift-righteousness… and living as the beloved of Jesus who now calls us his precious.

And it is being precious to him that makes him precious to us as we follow him wherever he leads.




[i] Christian History, Vol. VI, No. 3, p. 2.

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