It is not unusual to hear Christians talk about Jesus as Lord and that this title should be acknowledged by His followers. But many otherwise well-intentioned but erring Christians believe it is possible to have Jesus as Savior without having Him as Lord and even go so far as to maintain that “lordship salvation,” as they call it, is a false Gospel. There is only one Lord Jesus Christ and anyone who believes in a Savior who is not the Lord does not believe in the true Christ. We call for commitment to the true Lord Jesus Christ and challenge the presumption of those who claim to be Christians while at the same time disregard or disobey Christ’s commands.
If we could reject all lesser views of what it means to be a Christian and produce a generation of those who are genuinely committed to Christ and obeying Him, by the power of God’s Spirit, that generation of believers could radically change the world.
Jesus’ understanding of discipleship was different from our own. If an unchurched person should come to us and indicate that he or she wanted to be a Christian and follow Jesus, most of us would be delighted. We would invite the person to give a testimony and receive him or her into our Church. But at this point in Matthew’s Gospel, we read stories in which Jesus rejected such enthusiasm and actually seems to have turned two would-be disciples away, as He did with others on other occasions. As Jesus evaluated them, the first person was too quick to promise and the second was too slow to perform. Jesus told the first that following Him meant being homeless. He told the second that loyalty to Him came before loyalty even to the closest members of one’s family. As far as we know, both turned away.
Since these stories in Matthew 8.18-22 come in the middle of a section documenting the authority of Jesus over sickness, we might ask why Matthew has included them here. Matthew wants to show that the same Jesus, who has authority over sickness, nature, and demons, also has authority over the lives of His disciples. Jesus determines what following Him will involve, not us. Therefore, if you are going to follow Jesus, it must be on His terms rather than your own.
Jesus said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Jesus did have places to sleep, of course. He had friends like Mary and Martha and their brother, Lazarus, who invited Him in and even provided meals for Him and His disciples. But He had no possessions. He never owned a home. When He was arrested and crucified, He owned nothing but the clothes on His back. Even more, His life was one long series of rejections by His own people and by the Gentiles.
Had this would-be follower seriously considered that? Or more to the point, have we? The fact that Jesus never owned a home does not mean we can never own homes. Most people do, including Christians. But it does remind us that we may be called to give up homes or any other possessions in Jesus’ service. So consider the cost before you begin to build the tower.
Still, we can miss the point if all we are thinking about are homes and other material possessions. The issue is actually discipleship and that of the most demanding sort. In days of hardship, particularly in periods of persecution, those who are in the process of becoming Christians count the cost carefully before taking up Christ’s cross, and preachers do not beguile them with false promises of an easy life or indulgence of sins. But in good times, prosperous times, the cost does not seem so high, and people take the name of Christ without undergoing the radical transformation that true conversion implies.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German churchman of the Nazi era who eventually suffered martyrdom for his opposition to Hitler’s policies, called this erroneous theology “cheap grace.” He said, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without Church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ living and incarnate.”
The contrast is “costly” grace. “Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price, to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows Him.… Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.”
Most of us live in a rather mindless environment. Life is too fast, and our contact with other persons too impersonal for much serious reflection. Even in Church we are performing oftentimes for the Church. How many sermons suggest that members of a Church may not actually be saved? How many teachers stress that a personal, self-denying, costly, and persistent following of Christ is necessary if a person is to be acknowledged by Jesus at the final day?
In the absence of such teaching, millions drift on, assuming that because they have made some verbal acknowledgment of Jesus Christ ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago and have not done anything terribly bad since, they are Christians, when actually they may be far from Christ, devoid of grace, and in danger of perishing forever. Jesus never permitted anyone to harbor such a damaging delusion. He challenged prospective followers to count the cost before deciding to join Him.