The Low Cost of High-Cost Discipleship


Dr. Roger Fankhauser

Burleson Bible Church


We often hear in free grace circles that “salvation is free, but discipleship is costly.” I agree wholeheartedly. Following Jesus means making decisions that could cost me something – even if the cost is as small as choosing to use my time to pursue kingdom purposes rather than personal interests. It could cost minor persecution, severe persecution, or maybe even death. It could cost money and other possessions. It could cost loss of relationships with friends or family. The cost is indeed high, and we do need to count the cost (Luke 14:25-33).


Discipleship is costly, but I believe in the bigger picture it costs less to follow Jesus than to not follow Him. Here’s why. Discipleship is costly in the absolute sense only if we look at the costs in this life. In this life, the costs are, in fact, high. Sometimes very high. But when I look at the whole story, the benefits of following Jesus far outweighs the cost. No matter how high the cost.


Think of making a financial investment. Let’s say I put $500 per month into an IRA for my retirement. Does it cost me something? Absolutely! I have $500 per month less for going out to dinner, buying fishing tackle, making a car payment, or anything else. But you won’t hear me saying “my retirement is so costly,” even though it is. The obvious reason is that I am expecting the payoff down the road to significantly exceed the $500 per month I’ve placed in the IRA.


I think we should look at discipleship the same way. The return on my investment far outweighs the cost I pay to follow Jesus. Even Jesus viewed obedience this way. Read carefully the words in Hebrews 12:2,


“looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (NKJV)


The short term cost: “Endured the cross, despising the shame”


The long term return: “For the joy set before Him…. Has sat down at the right hand”


The cost to Jesus was more than I think I’ll ever understand. The cost was high – torture, death, bearing the weight of my sin. But the reward outweighed the pain.


What benefits result from our obedience? Bringing glory to God might be the greatest benefit. If He gave me nothing else, and somehow my obedience brings Him glory, the benefit still far outweighs the cost. But God gives us even more!


Every believer must face the Bema seat, as Paul writes:


For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (2 Cor. 5:10, NKJV)


We receive something positive for what we have done “good” in this life; and we receive something for what we have done “bad”. I don’t pretend to know what this negative side actually looks like, but it seems clear we receive a return on our investment for what we have done in this life, even some sort of loss for disobedience. By the way, lest anyone wonder, the “loss” is not speaking of our eternal salvation. We receive eternal life freely by faith alone in Christ alone. Our final destiny is by grace; our reward, on the other hand, is based on “what we have done”.


Positive reward for what is good; negative “reward” for what is bad. It seems the truly high cost of discipleship happens when we fail to faithfully follow here and now, no matter the short term cost. In the long run, I lose more than I gain by not following faithfully. I might well avoid some short term cost, but I lose any positive “return on my investment”.


To avoid turning this post into a book, let me simply list some of the other passages (in no particular order) that give benefits from faithful discipleship:


  • Reward: 1 Cor. 9:24-27
  • Freedom: John 8:31-32
  • Glorifying God: John 21:18-19, Acts 5:40, Acts 21:11-14, 1 Pet. 4:16
  • Pleasing God: Phil. 4:17-18
  • Building character: James 1:2-4
  • Experiencing abundant life / eternal life: Gal. 6:8
  • “Greater riches”: Hebrews 11:13, 24-26
  • Ministry opportunities: Acts 4:1ff, Acts 16:19ff


Is discipleship costly? Absolutely – here and now. But, when we look at the entire picture, the return on our faithfulness is so high, the truly high cost position happens when I fail to live as a disciple. When we talk of the cost of discipleship, let’s be sure to point out the benefits. In the long run, the real cost of high-cost discipleship is low!


“You see, the cost of following Jesus Christ is everything. But the rewards! Ah, the rewards are heavenly…. I want you to consider me not as an evangelist but as an investment counselor showing you how to make the ultimate investment, one that qualifies you to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.” (Mark Bailey, To Follow Him: The Seven Marks of a Disciple (p. 125))