When I was in seminary many years ago, there was often a critique of churches that taught “cheap grace” or “easy believism.” The claim was that some were teaching that the only thing people had to do was to make a “profession of faith,” ignoring a life of discipleship which included obedience and holiness. Although God’s grace is freely given to the one who trusts Jesus, Christians are called to respond to a life of obedience and holiness.
Is there a cost in following Jesus? Steve Lawson attempts to answer this question in his book “It Will Cost You Everything: What it Takes to Follow Jesus.” The primary focus of this book is to walk through Luke 14:25-35 which he calls a “hard saying of Christ.” In this text, Lawson wants to distinguish between true and false believers.
Lawson began this book with an analogy of his life when he received an offer of a scholarship to play college football. The scholarship would provide him with free tuition, food, and travel expenses. In return, he would commit to rigorous practice, meetings, and team conduct on how to live his life. He received everything for free, but he says it cost him everything. He says that is a picture of “salvation in Jesus Christ.” Christ paid in full for our salvation through his sinless life, death, and resurrection. Forgiveness is offered freely to those who would put their faith in him. The cost of following Christ would come at a “high price.” This would require submission, sacrifice, tribulation, persecution, and possibly martyrdom. He says that “salvation is entirely free, but receiving it will cost you everything.”
The chapters that follow in the book are around Jesus’ words in Luke 14:25-35,
25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple .34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35 It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Lawson says that Jesus talked to a diverse group of people with two different types of groups in the crowd. The first group was the committed disciples, and the second was merely curious. He then asks the reader if they are “authentic followers of Christ” or “part of the crowd.” He argues that Jesus’ invitation to salvation comes at a cost, but the exchange is worth it. What does this commitment look like?
One of the main emphases of the book is defining this commitment to Jesus as an “authentic” or “genuine” follower of Christ. He answers this question first by describing what our love should look like. “We must love Jesus more than all others. This requires a commitment of one’s entire life to him. There can be no rival affections that compete with our surpassing love for Christ. If we are to follow Christ, he must be our first priority and our foremost passion.” Secondly, he describes our commitment with a variety of phrases such as “fully surrendered,” “wholehearted commitment,” “unconditional surrender,” “yielding,” and “total-allegiance.” He says, “A disciple of Jesus Christ is one who has submitted their entire life to Christ and lives in obedience to his teaching.”
What does a genuine follower look like? In two chapters, Lawson provides twelve distinguishing marks of the one who is a true disciple of Christ:
- Follow Him preeminently
- Follow him personally
- Follow Him repentantly
- Follow Him believingly
- Follow Him wholeheartedly
- Follow Him unconditionally
- Follow Him obediently
- Follow Him openly
- Follow Him continually
- Follow Him exclusively
- Follow Him permanently
- Follow Him immediately
He summarizes by saying, “Christ offers salvation to you as a free gift. It must be received by faith alone. But true faith involves the complete surrender of your life to Christ. Saving faith is entrusting your entire being to Him.”
This book was difficult to follow because he often used hyperbole and did not define his terms. Some of his arguments have a subjective nature, such as how to measure the twelve distinguishing marks of a true disciple. I want to focus on three areas that concerned me: the nature justification, the reality that true believers are in a lifelong battle with sin, and the motivation for obedience.
First, I found a lack of clarity on the doctrine of justification. One tenet of justification is that it is by sola fide (faith alone). Lawson sounded like obedience/commitment/surrender were additional requirements for justification rather than the result of our justification. For example, he said, “Jesus demands that entrance into His kingdom requires that you submit your life to Him.” This resulted in a lack of distinction between the law and the gospel. The law is what God requires; the gospel is what God provides. Lawson pummels the believer throughout the book with the demands of the law. One example is how he used Matthew 11:28-30 to make his point: “As an ox would submit to the yoke of its master, one must come to Christ and yield to His lordship. By this gospel invitation, Jesus called for those in the crowd to exchange their heavy load of sin for His light yoke of grace. Jesus was offering true rest for their weary souls. Even so, He calls you to cease from your labors to earn salvation. Stop your tireless efforts of self-righteousness. Come and rest in His saving work on your behalf.” The way that Lawson describes lordship does not sound like rest for the soul but rather a burden of law (submit, surrender, yield, and obey). I would refer you to a three-part series from Mike Abendroth on The Heidelblog that I found helpful when using this type of language to describe salvation.
Secondly, it is hard to understand the doctrine of sanctification with how Lawson describes discipleship. He made one comment, “Those who genuinely confess Jesus to be their Lord will show the validity of their claim by their obedience. It was not the perfection of their lives, but its direction, that was distinct.” This does not seem consistent with how he describes a disciple as fully surrendered. In reality, believers are in a lifelong battle with sin, and no one can claim they are fully surrendered (unless one redefines the law to a lower standard). The Scriptures are clear that there is a war with sin in the heart of every believer (Galatians 5:16-26), and only by dependence on the Spirit is a believer able to say “no” to sin. Our lives are directed by our hearts (thoughts, desires, and will). Whatever controls our hearts will direct our lives (Proverbs 4:23), and at times believers are controlled by the flesh rather than the Spirit. Sanctification is an incomplete process; the Lord works on each individual differently. We are all at different places in our sanctification. Lawson tries to say that it is not the perfection of our lives but the direction. At the same time, he says if we are not “fully surrendered, ” we should question our salvation. It seems the only way this book deals with a person struggling with sin is that they are not an “authentic follower” of Christ.
The last area I want to address is the motivation for obedience. One of the uses of the law is to reveal sin, but the law does not have the power to help me obey. He uses the law to cause fear that one may not be a believer. It is not fear that draws us to Christ, but rather his kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). It is not fear that motivates us to obedience, but the love of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). It’s not the law that motivates us to obedience, but the grace of God in the gospel (Titus 2:11-14). I agree believers are to obey, but the motivation for obedience should not be fear but gratitude for the gospel.
As I read authors which whom I disagree, I sometimes come across statements which I could agree with. There was one in this book that is an encouragement:
“Faith trusts Him alone for the forgiveness of sin and the obtaining of His righteousness. Turn to Him for the forgiveness of your sins. Trust Him for His perfect righteousness. Look to Jesus with the eyes of faith. Rest in His perfect sacrifice for sins at the cross.”