The Cost of Being A Disciple
By Ian Hamilton, Editor
Reprinted from: The Banner of Truth Magazine August / September 2019 issue
The Bible never hides from us the cost of belonging to the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus himself, again and again, forewarned his disciples of the cost they would inevitably experience by their identification with him. As he prepared his disciples for his leaving them, he said, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). Earlier he told them, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). Hardship, suffering, ostracism, and a multitude of other pains, belong to the fabric of life of faith. The only way to avoid the cost is to distance yourself from the Saviour.
Earlier in his ministry, Jesus spoke pointedly and incisively to his disciples about the temptation they would face to deny him and avoid the cost: “whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father and the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). Jesus highlights the two principal areas of temptation that his disciples will encounter: the temptation to be ashamed of him, and the temptation to be ashamed of his words.
What does it mean to be ashamed of the Lord Jesus Christ? Consider who he is. He is the eternal Word made flesh (John 1:1,14). He is the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). He is the one through whom “all things were made” (John 1:3). He is the “Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13). This is who Jesus is, and this identity is what the world denies, hates, and will do all it can to obliterate from the consciousness of men and women. Our world has “exchanged the truth about God for a lie” and worships and serves “the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Romans 1:25).
To worship and serve Jesus Christ as the incarnate revelation of God is to bring down on your head the opprobrium of this world. Perhaps you are thinking, “I would never deny him.” If you are thinking that, you are on shaky ground. Think of the apostle Peter. Did he not say with heart conviction. “They (the other disciples) may all fall away because of you, but I will never fall away”? Only a few hours later his boastful announcement was lying in tatters as he publicly, with curses, denied his Lord and Saviour. Not one of us is as far along the way as we think we are. The devil’s methodically well-prepared schemes (Ephesians 6:11) are designed to entrap even the most blessed and privileged of believers. It is little wonder Jesus urged his disciples. “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41).
It is the uniqueness of who Jesus is that most affronts and infuriates the world. To acknowledge him as “the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth,” would be to bow down and crown him Lord of all. But the ingrained fallenness of our nature will resist and oppose this acknowledgement, unless subdued by the sovereign grace of Almighty God. In our multi-faith world, where everyone is right and on one is wrong, confessing the absolute uniqueness of our Lord and Saviour can be costly. it is only in recent years that Christians in the West have begun to taste what our brothers and sisters in Christ in other areas of the world have experienced for centuries. Perhaps in the coming days many Christians will be called to be modern-day Polycarps. In the early years of the second century, Polycarp, then 86 years old, was arrested for being a Christian. The following account highlights the resolve of Polycarp not to deny his Saviour:
As Polycarp was being taken into the arena, a voice came to him: “Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man!” When the crowd heard that Polycarp had been captured, there was a big uproar. The Proconsul tried to persuade him to apostatize, saying: “Have respect for your old age, swear by the fortune of Caesar. Repent, and say, “Down with the Atheist’s!” [The “atheists” were the Christians who would not worship Caesar.] Polycarp looked grimly at the wicked heathen multitude in the stadium, and gesturing towards them, he said, “Down with the Atheists!” “Swear,” urged the Proconsul, “reproach Christ, and I will set you free.” “Eighty-six years I have served him,” Polycarp declared, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and Saviour?”
We need to ask, What does it mean to be ashamed of Jesus’ “words”? Where are we to being! The religious world is appalled by Jesus’ insistence that unless a man is born again (from above), he cannot see or enter the kingdom of heaven (see John 3:3-5). Jesus addressed those words to Nicodemus, “the teacher of Israel” (John 3:10). Deeply religious Nicodemus needed to know that no amount of religion would make him right with God and give him entrance into God’ kingdom, These words are so offensive to many religious men and women, especially those whose religion is marked by sincerity and effort. But “facts are chiels that wanna ding. And downa be disputed” (1). Not only are Jesus’ words concerning the necessity of the new birth appalling to the thinking of this world, his insistence that God is righteous and holy and will bring every thought, word, and deed into irreversible judgment is considered extreme, narrow-minded, and lacking in moral proportion. To the modern mind the Bible’s, and especially Jesus’, teaching on eternal punishment is thought to be the relic of an uneducated, unscientific past. It takes courage to stand up and speak out for the truth of Jesus’ words when the whole course of society is shaped and styled to deny and even condemn his words. This is exacerbated by the tragedy of the visible church embracing the unbelief of the culture and it virulent opposition to Biblical Christianity.
increasingly we hear of faithful Christians being excluded from certain professions because they refuse to be ashamed of Jesus’ words. Almost five hundred years of spiritual capital flowing out of the Protestant Reformation has all but run out. We have not (yet) descended to the spiritual darkness of the days of Polycarp. But we must be prepared. Only a Spirit-wrought conviction that Jesus is the eternal Son of God, the perfect revelation of the heavenly Father, the only Saviour of sinners, “the Son of God who loved me ad gave himself for me,” will support us and enable us in the evil day not to be ashamed of the man from Nazareth, the God-Man in whom we are reconciled to God, washed clean from our sin, adopted into God’s family, and have an eternal inheritance that will never spoil nor fade away” (1 Peter 1:3-4).
(1) Old Scots, meaning “facts are fellows that cannot be disputed, and will not be overturned,” from Robert Burns’ poem, “A Dream” (1786).