What does it mean to be a Christian? Does church attendance qualify you to be a Christian? Is it enough to own a Bible or to come from a Christian family? Although our culture would have us believe that Christianity is this cheap, Jesus both challenges us more than we expect and gives to us much more than we can even imagine. Jesus Christ demands our all. He unapologetically tells us, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me," and, "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching" (Matthew 16:24 and John 14:23). He also warns us, saying, "Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples" (Luke 14:33)."But where is grace?" you might ask. It is in God's invitation to salvation, in the sacrifice of Jesus for us, and in the gift of the Holy Spirit that empowers us to live in submission to God. The grace of God cost Him the life of His Son. Therefore, what God has bought at so precious a price we cannot treat cheaply—namely, our lives.
Jesus Christ demands our all.
Jesus calls all those He has redeemed to integrate what they believe with how they live. And that's why winsome Jesus becomes winnowing Jesus in these passages. He does not want anyone to be deceived about the true cost of discipleship. True disciples must make Jesus the unrivaled Lord of their lives.
When Christ is truly our Lord, He is supreme in our lives. That means we cannot be ashamed of His name, denying on Monday what we profess on Sunday. We cannot be Christ's disciples when we worship gold more than God. We cannot be His disciples when our pursuit of happiness is more important than our pursuit of holiness or when success is more important than surrender. We cannot be called Christ's disciples when we spend more time in front of a screen than with the Holy Book. We cannot be His disciples if we don't walk in His ways.
Christ's way is the way of the cross. It is a life of sacrificial love and service in obedience to God the Father. To take up our cross means that we love people to the very end, like Christ who washed the feet of His disciples—even Judas and Peter who would betray Him (see John 13). It means we live a life of radical forgiveness, emulating Christ on the cross (see Luke 23:34). And it means we proclaim Truth, even when it is unpopular and costs us our relationships, status, and reputation.
The grace of Jesus Christ is a costly grace. It requires that we put off the old self and "put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:24). But truly, the sacrifice is its own reward. Dietrich Bonhoeffer explained it this way:
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.
Though we will stumble in our pursuit of Christ, God has given us everything we need to yet take up our cross. His grace frees us to live as children of God. His Word assures us of His faithfulness and love. His Holy Spirit empowers us to pursue holiness and walk in newness of life as we die to self.
Through His sacrifice, Jesus secured for His disciples an unfathomable reward. Not only are we raised to new life in Christ now, but we also will reap an eternal reward that can never spoil, perish, or fade (see 1 Peter 1:3-5). For, in Christ, you are an heir of God, whether "the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God" (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).