“In buying property, in building houses, in furnishing rooms, in forming plans, in changing dwellings, in educating children, it is wise and prudent to look forward and consider. Many would save themselves much sorrow and trouble if they would only remember—what does it cost?
“But there is one subject on which it is specially important to ‘count the cost’. That subject is the salvation of our souls. What does it cost to be a true Christian? What does it cost to be a really holy man? This, after all, is the grand question. For want of thought about this, thousands, after seeming to begin well, turn away from the road to heaven, and are lost forever in hell.”
--J. C. Ryle, “The Cost”, Holiness p. 81.
One concept that is highly misunderstood and misapplied in modern Christianity is the cost of the cross. Salvation is free, but it is not cheap.
I’d like to give a quick overview of the fifth chapter of Holiness by the great theologian J. C. Ryle in this post, but first I must touch on how the cost of the Christian life relates to a Christian’s justification.
The answer is: it doesn’t.
As a Calvinist, and an adherent to the Biblical doctrines of grace, I believe and hold to be true that salvation is a free gift of God, apart from works, that no one should boast (See Eph. 2:8 & 9, Rom. 3 & 9, etc). Good works, whatever they may be, are an outpouring of what Christ has done for us.
The Arminian (antithesis of Calvinism) view of salvation’s main flaw is that it confuses sanctification with justification. As a former Arminian myself, I held to the view that we choose Christ. This couldn’t be more inaccurate Biblically. The justification of a believer is done by God alone. We are dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). Dead individuals cannot resurrect themselves. It takes not only an outside power, but also an all-powerful and divine outside force. We have no part in our salvation—we would have reason to boast if we did. According to the inspired Word, specifically Romans 9:16, “it does not depend on the man who wills, or the man who runs, but God who shows mercy.” Also, Romans 9:22-23: “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And he did so that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory”. We are prepared for mercy and grace before we have ever even had the ability to have decided to follow Jesus of our own accord, even before the foundation of the world.
Without a doubt, if we are truly Bible-believing Christians, salvation is of God alone. We can work, we can run, we can try to save ourselves through works—but we will never attain salvation. Positional justification in the sight of God MUST be a free gift, apart from works—or none would receive it.
Ongoing sanctification, however, is the cost of the Christian life. It is not the cost of positional justification—that is free. It is the cost of the race. “His way is narrow, and the cross comes before the crown.” Herein lies my topic of the cost of the cross.
There is a high cost to the authentic Christian life. According to J. C. Ryle, this life will cost the Christian his self-righteousness, his sins, his love of ease, and his favor of the world. The cost of self-righteousness further negates the assertion that salvation is anything but free, and accomplished by God alone. “[The Christian] must be content to go to heaven as a poor sinner saved only by free grace, and owing all to the merit and righteousness of another. He must be willing to give up all of his trust in his own morality, respectability, praying, Bible-reading, church-going, and sacrament-receiving, and to trust in nothing but Jesus Christ.”
This is part of the cost. Humility, pointing past ourselves to Jesus, and seeing our own works as filthy rags, is part of the cost of the cross.
The cross also costs a man his sins. This should go without saying. Habitual sin should be crucified. We will always struggle with sin while in this body of flesh (see Rom. 7). The man who claims perfection while in this life is a liar (I John 1:8). However, we must never stop fighting. The Christian life is a life of war.
On the same note, sanctification will cost a man his love of ease. We are not called to an easy life—rather, we are given the strength and the grace to endure a difficult one, and to become more than conquerors through Him who loved us. A life in modern-day America, with all of its ease and materialism, is one of the most dangerous within which to let down one’s guard. Extra vigilance and perseverance is necessary to live victoriously in the worldly comfort of modern America.
Finally, Ryle writes that the cross will cost a man his favor from the world. The world hates Christ—therefore, if we are true ambassadors of His, it will hate us. However, the blame of the world should mean nothing. What is mockery for a fleeting season, from a few lips of mortal man, to be compared with our ultimate reward in Christ?
The cost is great—there is no doubt. Salvation, while free, is certainly not cheap. But one should not shrink from the Christian life due to the cost. Just as Christ provides salvation, He provides the strength to endure the years that we are called to serve and sacrifice here on this fading earth.
“A single day in hell will be worse than a lifetime carrying the cross.” This statement could not be more accurate. What is ease, sin, the love of this world, and pride in the light of eternity? It is nothing. Remember that there is no cost without a profit. In accounting, a credit never occurs without a corresponding debit. We are given grace strength, and courage to endure the cross—and then, we receive the crown.
Why is it important to count the cost? A person who receives Christ without first understanding the cost has a very shallow faith—or perhaps, no faith at all. A person who is fed the “health and wealth” gospel—believing that he will receive his “best life now”—will be tremendously disappointed. He was not given true Christianity—rather, he was given a lie. Jesus illustrated this in Luke 8:6, 13. The seed that heard the word, received it with joy, and fall away. They received a false form of Christianity—they did not have root—and therefore, when the cost arrives, they are finished.
How should we apply this to our walk as Christians? The first question one should ask himself is whether or not his faith in Jesus is costing him anything. Does it cost him sin? Does he have to deny himself things that the world tantalizes him with? Does it cost him the approval of those who might live in habitual wickedness? Does it cost him his ease, as he fights against sin, and sacrifices his desires to fulfill Christ’s call on his life?
Yes, the Christian life is costly, especially when we view it with temporal eyes. But it is more valuable than any other transaction that you will make in this life. Count the cost—and win the crown.
Ryle, J. C. (1879 ed.) Holiness. Charles Nolan Publishers.
This is a review of a book I have been reading, specifically Holiness by JC Ryle. This book is as convicting as it is well-written. A great read, and highly, highly recommended.