The Price We Pay To Follow Jesus

What price do you pay to follow Jesus?

Five hundred years ago, the people of Europe whispered of a mysterious ‘Garden of Eden’ across the seas. It was a distant utopia better known as the Spice Islands, the home of cloves and nutmeg. In London and Paris, these intoxicating spices were worth their weight in gold.

Many risked life and limb to track down this tropical paradise, but to no avail. Finally, an armada led by the explorer Magellan managed the first circumnavigation of the earth, uncovering the secret origin of the spices.

“These intoxicating spices were worth their weight in gold.”

The journey was harrowing. At its launch, 270 crew set out on five ships. On return, they were reduced to 18 haggard sailors on a single vessel. But their payload of cloves and nutmeg funded the entire journey and all of its financial losses many times over.

If spices were worth such a sacrifice, how much more should we willingly pay to follow Jesus? This is the theme of Luke 9:23-25.

Then Jesus said to the crowd, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?’”

Here, Jesus confronts us with some sobering reality checks. Following him will cost us this life. But the alternative, he warns us, is far worse: rejecting him will cost us the next.

It all sounds pretty heavy until we understand Jesus’ underlying logic. It’s a simple lesson that we must learn again and again. It is a lesson I am still trying to learn. The only way we can truly gain life is to give it away.

Let’s consider these transcendent truths one at a time.

Following Jesus Will Cost Us This Life | v23

Then Jesus said to the crowd, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.’”

I have visited a mass grave at a village church in South-East Asia. Two hundred identical white headstones stand as a silent reminder of the day this Christian community was forever changed by a terrorist massacre. These saints really did ‘take up their cross’.

I cannot erase the memory of that cookie-cutter cemetery. It asks me what price I am willing to pay to follow Jesus today. In a lucky country like Australia, God forbid that we would ever pay in blood for our profession of faith. But there is a price to be paid all the same.

Following Jesus means forsaking our favourite sins. It means saving instead of spending, so we can be generous to those in need. It means saying sorry even when it hurts. It means stubbornly trusting God in the midst of our struggles, instead of surrendering to self-pity and despair. And it means many things besides.

“Would you be willing to die for Jesus?”

Every true follower of Jesus is characterised by a life of daily self-denial. Surely this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”

Would you be willing to die for Jesus? It’s a confronting question to ponder. But maybe the cost is actually far greater to live for him. That decision is not a one-time event, but a constant call to put him first, others next, and yourself last. It’s a lifetime subscription—and that’s what makes it so costly.

Rejecting Jesus Will Cost Us The Next Life | v24-25

If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it… And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?”

Beginning in the 1960s, we have conducted a massive social experiment in the West. Casting off our Christian conscience, we told ourselves and each other that the highest happiness would be found in living for yourself—so long as no one else gets hurt.

Decades on, we are now experiencing the fallout of it all. Broken families, an epidemic of sexual abuse and domestic violence, addiction on a scale never seen, and a mental health crisis that even our biggest budgets can’t afford.

“We told ourselves that the highest happiness would be found in living for yourself.”

Not all of our social ills can be traced back to selfishness, but far too many can. It is a civilisation-wide illustration of what Jesus said would happen: gain the world and lose your soul.

It’s also a shadow of things eternal. According to Jesus, the decisions we make have consequences in both this life and in eternity. So the question is, are we willing to trade unending joy for a few decades of antics down here? C. S. Lewis puts it this way:

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Jesus is absolutely committed to our joy—it’s just that we don’t always see things from his higher vantage point. In truth, the choice before us isn’t, am I willing to forsake pleasure to follow Jesus? But rather, will I forsake fleeting pleasure to enjoy the pleasures of God without end?

Life is Gained By Giving It Away | v24b

“If you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”

Don’t miss the incredible promise Jesus gives in the midst of his warnings. There is a way to find true life, he says—but it’s the opposite of what we might assume. The way to experience true, abundant, eternal life is to give our life away to him.

I love surfing, but there were a lot of counterintuitive skills I had to learn before I enjoyed it. One of those was the ‘duck dive’. Paddling out towards the break zone, you will inevitably face a wall of water, sometimes two or three metres high.

In that instant, you have a choice. Either you can back out and let the waves take you tumbling back to shore. Or you can size that wave up, power towards it and thrust yourself through. Nothing compares to the feeling of punching through the lip of a big wave into the sunlight, a second before it crashes behind you.

This is a powerful picture of the choice Jesus gives us. Our instincts tell us that if we want the good life, we should avoid difficulty, protect ourselves, and follow our momentary feelings—in a word, sin.

“Jesus doesn’t just tell us what to do. He shows us.”

But the way of Jesus is counterintuitive. He calls us to do the very thing we fear most. To abandon our instinct of self-preservation. To surrender our lives entirely to him, come what may. To give up our throne and let him be King. Only then do we gain true life and the everlasting peace that comes with it.

And here’s the best part about Jesus: he doesn’t just tell us what to do. He shows us, and at great cost. Jesus gave up his own way. He literally took up his cross. Hanging on that cross, Jesus gave up his life so that we could find ours eternally.

Now he calls us to give up ours.

Why Christians Clash with the Current Culture

It’s becoming more obvious with each passing year, and just about everyone in the West will agree: to be a Christian means to walk out of step with mainstream culture. 

It’s such a fixed feature of modern life that Christians have adapted a variety of solutions to this dilemma. Some believers relish the opportunity to cause unnecessary trouble. Others run scared—and in doing so, they compromise their stand for Jesus. Both extremes do damage to the cause of Christ.

So how can we walk the middle road? The answer to this begins with properly understanding our calling as Christians. Why do we clash with the current culture?

“To be a Christian means to walk out of step with mainstream culture.”

Following in the footsteps of Jesus certainly means acting with kindness, compassion and care. But don’t forget that Jesus was also a magnet for controversy. There is simply no way to avoid this. If we follow him, we will be too.

Acts 17:1-9 paints this picture precisely.

Paul and Silas are visiting the city of Thessalonica. They make a persuasive case for the gospel, and win many hearts and minds to the way of Jesus. And without intending to, they also cause a stir.

The fact is that if we are true to our calling like the early church was, we can expect the same as them. We should aim to be convincing; we can be confident of our message; and like it or not, we will be controversial in the process.

Called to be Convincing | v1-3

“As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people. He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead. He said, ‘This Jesus I’m telling you about is the Messiah.’”

Paul reasoned, explained and proved. These shouldn’t be dirty words for Christians. Following Jesus is a heart journey, to be sure. But it also requires our brains.

Like Paul, we are called to be convincing. Our aim is to help people see that the good news of Jesus makes sense in a world starved of meaning. We don’t need to know all the answers, and we certainly can’t argue anyone into the kingdom.

“Proclaiming Jesus is a Spirit-empowered activity.”

But God has entrusted to us the most relevant, reasonable and compelling way of life the world has ever known. Christianity isn’t a ‘leap into the dark’. It’s a very sensible step into the light. So let’s make our best case for that, as the apostles did.

In the process, there’s no need to trust our own prowess or persuasiveness. If there’s anything we learn from the book of Acts, it’s that proclaiming Jesus is a Spirit-empowered activity.

Called to be Confident | v4

Consider the extraordinary outcome in Thessalonica:

“Some of the Jews who listened were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women.”

In the short time that Paul and Silas visited this city, a new church sprang up. The gospel is powerful. It transforms lives and whole communities. This is why Paul calls the gospel, “the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes.” It’s a message we can have confidence in.

“The message of Jesus has a power all of its own.”

My Dad is a very skilled gardener. I am not—but I have tried. One year when I was renting with friends, I decided to plant a vegetable patch. Dad happily shared with me with seeds and compost. I dug up the soil and planted tomatoes, carrots, beans and broccoli.

As time went on and my study commitments took over, I neglected to pull out weeds, and I watered my garden with less and less frequency. Eventually, everything I planted withered and died—if the bugs hadn’t eaten it first.

But then pumpkins started springing up everywhere, even though I had never planted them. Soon there were pumpkin vines crawling all over my garden, and even under the fence and into the carport. I deduced, of course, that there must have been pumpkin seeds in Dad’s compost.

“The gospel doesn’t depend on our faithfulness, but God’s.”

Through my little failed project, I learned that even if my gardening abilities are terrible, I can always count on compost from my Dad.

The gospel is quite the same. Like Dad’s compost, the message of Jesus has a power all of its own. Whenever and wherever it is proclaimed, God is at work by his Spirit to bring people to faith. We can have confidence, because the gospel doesn’t depend on our faithfulness, but God’s.

Called to be Controversial | v5-9

Look what happens next:

“But some of the Jews were jealous, so they gathered some troublemakers from the marketplace to form a mob and start a riot… ‘Paul and Silas have caused trouble all over the world,’ they shouted, ‘and now they are here disturbing our city, too.'”

More fascinating still is the crime these Christians were accused of: “They are all guilty of treason against Caesar, for they profess allegiance to another king, named Jesus.”

All this talk of caesars and kings can sound worlds apart from our own, but in fact it’s remarkably similar. In the Roman Empire, just like today, people were free to believe in and worship any gods they wanted to. Tolerance and diversity were the catch-cry of the day.

“We are free to follow Jesus, so long as we concede that Jesus is just one way.”

There was only one condition: whichever gods you worshipped, whatever you believed or practiced, you had to acknowledge Caesar as Lord.

It was common for Roman soldiers to march into village centres, carrying an altar with a clear demand: “Pay homage to Caesar!” One by one, under pain of death, citizens would approach the altar to sprinkle incense and solemnly declare, “Caesar is Lord.”

For refusing to make this confession in either word or deed, eleven of Jesus’ twelve disciples were killed, and countless more besides. Fortunately, the price most of us pay to follow Jesus is nothing like that. But the Christian’s clash with the current culture is just as real.

“There was only one condition: you had to acknowledge Caesar as Lord.”

As in Rome, we are free to follow Jesus, so long as we concede that Jesus is just one of many ways, and not the way, the truth and the life. In any age, when diversity and tolerance are prized as the highest virtue, it can sound like treason to declare that Jesus alone can save.

When we do—ironically—there is not much tolerance given to Christians.

Let’s be clear though: we shouldn’t go looking for trouble. Scripture says:

  • Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do.
  • Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
  • Always try to do good to each other and to all people.

But Scripture also declares that Jesus is Lord. And if that’s true, then the Caesars of our day are not. Regardless of whether they are despots or dogmas.

When we accept this and give ourselves permission to be controversial—come what may—we’re actually set free. We no longer need to struggle for the world’s acceptance where we were never promised it.

“If Jesus is Lord, then the Caesars of our day are not.”

Next time you’re faced with hostility for following Jesus, be encouraged.

Like the early believers, you’re called to be convincing. You can be confident that the message you carry will change lives. And if you are controversial as a result, rest assured that Jesus is big enough to handle it.

He’s king, remember?

Angie’s Supernatural Stomach Healing

Like most westerners, I grew up somewhat skeptical of miracles. I was raised in the church and believed in God, but supernatural events seemed oddly stuck in the ancient world.

In a past post, I’ve shared how my views on this have shifted over the years. I have experienced a growing list of undeniable ‘encounters’ that I can’t explain by science or luck. But hands down, the biggest miracle I’ve witnessed is what happened to my fiancé Angie late last year.

“Angie’s story was unpredictable and unique.”

Angie has given me permission to tell her story, knowing that it will leave a powerful impression on those who read it. I was there for much of the journey, and below I tell a faithful account of all that I saw.

One disclaimer before I proceed: I have come to realise that there is no formula for supernatural events. No one can twist God’s arm for a miracle, or craft a three-step plan for success. Angie’s story was unpredictable and unique, and the ending still surprises us today.

Angie Visits a Shaman

Three years ago, before Angie was following Jesus, she backpacked through South-East Asia with some good friends. While there, she visited a shaman made famous by a well-known book and Hollywood movie. Let’s call the shaman Dewi.

For good reason did Dewi gain Hollywood fame: on reading Angie’s palm, Dewi accurately described past relationships, heartbreaks and other major events in Angie’s life. She also had striking insight into a stomach condition that had been troubling Angie for some time.

A friend of Angie took notes as Dewi described her ailment and offered suitable remedies: be sure to cook your vegetables before eating them; drink lots of water; eat five small meals throughout the day.

Dewi even suggested that Angie had demons in her stomach, and that for an additional fee they could be cast out. At this point, Angie decided that her foray into the freaky had gone far enough.

“Angie’s condition kept growing more severe.”

Though this meeting with Dewi didn’t crowd her thoughts, Angie quietly took the advice of the elderly sage and modified her diet accordingly. Despite these changes to her diet, months later back home in the USA, Angie’s condition kept growing more severe. Even small meals could land her with serious bloating and stomach pain.

After many tests, Angie had an endoscopy that revealed a condition called gastroparesis: damaged nerves were causing a delay in the emptying of her stomach.

The doctor informed Angie that this was a disease without a cure. It could only be managed by changing her diet: drinking lots of water, eating small meals throughout the day, and being sure not to eat raw vegetables. Spooky, right?

Real Healing Begins

I met Angie long after these events—just over a year ago. She had since become a follower of Jesus, and was here in Australia deepening her faith in a Bible school.

How Angie and my paths aligned is a story all of its own, but I still remember our first conversation about her stomach. Angie told me in some detail about her gastroparesis diagnosis, the amount of discipline it took her to manage the condition, and how her body would punish her if she got lazy with her eating.

At some point, Angie also related to me her experiences in South-East Asia. I wondered out loud if she might have carried home some kind of curse after dabbling with dark powers on her travels.

She explained that since coming to faith in Jesus, she had renounced that chapter of her life and asked God to cleanse her of any of its effects. She had also received many prayers for healing, but to no avail.

“I wondered out loud if Angie might have carried home some kind of curse.”

Having talked all this out, we were both satisfied that her problems were purely medical. As Angie and I began spending time together, I modified my eating to mostly match hers. My sister who studied dietetics even helped Angie with a stricter diet that—if followed rigorously—helped her avoid those common bouts of excruciating pain.

This wasn’t a perfect solution. There were far less foods Angie could eat than those she couldn’t. Any time we were invited out for dinner, we had a range of terrible choices to make: suggesting recipes to our hosts; refusing what was served; or, most often, Angie going home in terrible pain.

A few months later though, something amazing happened.

We caught up with a friend of mine called Danny. Danny happened to have travelled to the same country Angie had visited. He told us his story.

For years, Danny had suffered with a severe skin condition that caused him to break out in an itchy rash in hot weather. Despite this, a few years ago he felt God had called him to tropical South-East Asia—so he took a step of faith and went. The day Danny arrived there, his condition disappeared, and has never returned since.

“In the days that followed, all of Angie’s symptoms disappeared.”

On hearing Danny’s story, Angie was filled with faith, confident that God could perform the same miracle for her.

And this might be hard to believe, but that’s exactly what happened. In the days that followed, all of Angie’s symptoms disappeared. She tried countless forbidden foods, full of sugar and fat, and high in fibre. No bloating, no pain.

Four days later, Angie and I went out for dinner. Without planning to, we ended up eating the cuisine of this particular South-East Asian country. Walking home, we were still rejoicing about her healing. But later that night, Angie’s stomach was afflicted again with terrible bloating.

We were confused, to say the least. Angie’s healing had been unmistakably real, but it only lasted four days. We decided to trust that it was a sign of things to come.

Our Return East

Fast forward two more months, and Angie and I set off on the same trip Danny took. Not in search of healing, but following God’s call there too. See, it was over there that I had originally met and become friends with Danny. It’s a place I have lived for several years, and Angie was eager to see it for herself.

This is going to sound bizarre, but on arriving in this part of South-East Asia, Angie’s symptoms completely disappeared once more. Her diet and disciplines were all over the place because of travel, but despite this, there was no trace of her dreaded condition.

“Angie and I set off on the same trip Danny took.”

And then, to our bitter disappointment, four days later Angie’s symptoms returned. Almost like clockwork. It was a head-scratching situation.

We chose once more to trust God that permanent healing was still up ahead.

A Total Break With The Past

Angie and I are currently in Australia. We arrived here at Christmas to spend time with family and friends, and to celebrate our wedding in a few short weeks.

Just before we came to Australia, back at Angie’s house in Wisconsin, she was packing for this trip. Looking through her memory box, she stumbled upon a scribbled sheet of paper. It was the notes that Angie’s friend wrote on their visit to Dewi!

Angie ran downstairs and showed it to me. I asked her, “You repented of all of this, right?” Angie told me that of course she had.

But just to be sure, I suggested that we take that piece of paper outside and burn it. It was a cold winter’s night, so we only went out as far as the garage, taking a big kitchen pot with us and some matches.

“Looking through her memory box, Angie stumbled upon a scribbled sheet of paper.”

Tearing the sheet up and setting it alight inside of the pot, we prayed. “God, everything represented by this piece of paper has been confessed and renounced. Now we pray that you would break any remaining power over Angie, in Jesus’ name.”

From that day until this, Angie has been 100% healed.

Over two months has gone by since that cold night in America, and Angie has tried every food she could possible crave since that time. Her gastroparesis is gone. There is only one explanation for what Angie has experienced: Jesus has completely healed her stomach.

God is real. Questions might remain, but one thing is certain: we live in a supernatural world.

As Ephesians 6:12 says, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Though this is true, we have a greater promise from Jesus himself: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Angie and my adventures are continuing in 2020. If you’d like to stay updated every once in a while by email newsletter, let me know here.