Mark 8:27-38 (NRSV)
27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" 28 And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." 29 He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
Our youth group used to go to youth rallies at least once a month when I was a teenager. The speaker at these rallies was usually a former drug addict or someone who had been in trouble with the law but had turned his or her life around because of Christ.
I remember one rally in particular. It was at Whitnel United Methodist Church near Lenoir, North Carolina. The rally was conducted by a group of former drug addicts who had formed a Christian band. After an hour-and-half of testimony and music they gave an altar call. I remember my friend David Wagner standing up to pledge his life to Christ. I also remember thinking to myself that if David was going to stand, I would too.
Like Peter, James, and John and the other disciples, I decided to follow Jesus. But like the disciples, especially Peter, I didn't really understand the contract I was signing. Nothing in my life really changed after that evening. The next day at school things were back to the same.
Jesus said that we have to lose our life for His sake. That means taking up our cross and following Him. It's a willingness to make the sacrifices necessary in order to bring about His Kingdom work.
I ran cross country track for three years in High School. During my first year at Hudson High School, I was the only freshman on the team. I was determined to make my mark but usually ran in the middle of the pack. Most of the good runners graduated that year. My sophomore year promised to be the year I could shine as a runner. At our first match, I started out strong but half way through the race I gave out. I fell to the middle of the pack, the same position I run my freshman year. I was embarrassed and angry.
Our next match was two weeks away and I was determined to do better. I practiced with the team every day but then ran extra miles after the rest of the team was finished. Sometimes I would run until dark. Instead of taking the weekends off like I had done before the first race, I ran ten to fifteen miles on Saturday and Sunday.
Our next race was at Freedom High School. I started out in the middle of the pack knowing that I needed to pace myself. In the last mile I started moving up. I had the stamina I needed to run hard and fast. I started picking off runners one at a time. I sprinted the last half mile and ended up in fourth place. I was never a great runner but I learned that being a good runner takes sacrifice and practice.
Being a follower of Jesus is more that signing up for the team. It takes sacrifice and effort. Following Jesus is not always easy. Too often we want discipleship to be like the algebra student who stumbled on the right answer without struggling through the difficult, painful, equation. Discipleship doesn't work that way.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his famous book, the Cost of Discipleship, says that we cheapen grace. We treat it like cheap items that we buy at a yard sale. It's cut rate forgiveness, cut-rate comfort, and cut-rate sacrament. We treat grace like an inexhaustible pantry available for free whenever we need it. It is grace without cost. Cheap Grace, he says, is grace without discipleship, without the cross, without the incarnate Jesus.
Costly grace is the gospel that must be sought again and again. It is costly because it calls us to do discipleship; it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus. It is costly because it cost people their lives; it is costly because it gives us our lives. Bonhoeffer knew what he was talking about. He died for his believes on a German gallows a year after completing his book. Think about it.