Just a couple of blocks from my home is the concrete shell of an unfinished mosque. Several years ago they broke ground and quickly after poured the concrete for the foundation and the four great minarets. And then the project went dormant. For almost three years it has sat ugly and unfinished, a grey concrete husk on the edge of the city. A GoFundMe page shows they have completed phase one of the project, but have collected less than one percent of what they need to move forward with phase two. It seems to me they failed to count the cost. As Jesus said, “Which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?”
Of course Jesus was not really talking about buildings at all, much less mosques. He was talking about the cost of being one of his followers. And even today, each of us must consider what it costs to be a Christian. This is not the question of what it costs to save a Christian’s soul—Jesus would show us that through his crucifixion. It’s the question of what a person must be willing to give up to be saved. And to answer, I want to track with J.C. Ryle who provided a brilliant answer many years ago.
It costs very little to maintain the outward appearance of a Christian—just attend church on a regular basis and live by some standard of basic morality. This is cheap and easy, and demands no self-denial or self-sacrifice. But if this describes true Christianity, we’d need to alter the Bible to read “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to heaven!”
But the Bible insists there is always a high cost to being a Christian. “There are enemies to be overcome, battles to be fought, sacrifices to be made, an Egypt to be forsaken, a wilderness to be passed through, a cross to be carried, a race to be run.” The fact is, “Conversion is not putting a man in an armchair and taking him easily to heaven. It is the beginning of a mighty conflict, in which it costs much to win the victory. … A Christian should be willing to give up anything which stands between him and heaven. A religion that costs nothing is worth nothing! A cheap Christianity, without a cross, will prove in the end a useless Christianity, without a crown.”
There are at least four costs to being a Christian—costs that we do not pay once, but over the whole course of our Christian lives.
First, it costs our self-righteousness. We must be willing to give up all confidence in our own morality, respectability, spirituality, church-going, and other good deeds. Instead, we must trust only in Jesus Christ and rest all our confidence in him.
Second, it costs our sins. If we’ve truly come to Christ we cannot cling to any sin, even (or especially) a favorite pet sin. We must consider every sin—even the least one—nothing less than a deadly enemy. Whether public or private, major or minor, we must put them all to death.
Third, it costs our love of ease. We can never relax our watchfulness against the encroachment of sin or Satan. We must keep watch every hour of the day, in every situation, in every location, whether among friends or strangers, whether alone or surrounded by a crowd. We must pay attention to time, tongue, temper, thoughts, imagination, motives, and conduct. We must be certain we make use of each and every means of grace God has provided for our benefit. “There is nothing we naturally dislike so much as ‘trouble’ about our religion. We hate trouble. We secretly wish we could have a ‘vicarious’ Christianity, and could be good by proxy, and have everything done for us. Anything that requires exertion and labour is entirely against the grain of our hearts. But the soul can have ‘no gains without pains.’”
Fourth, it costs the world’s favor. We must be willing to have others think poorly of us if that is what it takes to please God. We must not be surprised if we are mocked, ridiculed, slandered, hated, or persecuted. We must be willing to have others consider us fools or fanatics, to have our words twisted and even our purest actions misrepresented. We cannot expect or even hope that we will gain the favor of God and the favor of men.
At a time and in a culture where we demand ease in all things, it may be hard to pay the cost. But Ryle offers hope: “The time is very short. A few more years of watching and praying, a few more tossings on the sea of this world, a few more deaths and changes, a few more winters and summers, and all will be over. We shall have fought our last battle and shall need to fight no more.”