Counting the cost

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. -John 3:16 (NIV)

Becoming a disciple seems pretty straightforward – just believe in Jesus. And it would be simple, if it weren’t for this disappointing little nugget of truth in verse 19.

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. -John 3:19 (NIV)

Jesus knew the hearts of the crowds that followed Him, and He wanted them to examine their motives and their expectations. So He spent a lot of time explaining what belief in Him means. It's not a casual statement. Maybe some "belief" examples will help our understanding.

I can believe in gravity or not. Either way, it's a fact and my life is not going to be affected too much one way or the other by my belief or lack thereof, at least until I jump off a building expecting to fly. Or I can believe that my wife will get me a birthday present next year. Not too much of a risk - she probably will, but she might not. Either way, life will go on. I'll be older, but otherwise, my life will be essentially unchanged by that belief, whether I’m right or wrong.

Now, let's say I go in for a physical and my doctor tells me I have heart disease. My lifestyle needs to change dramatically or I won't live another year. Does it matter whether I believe him? You bet. If I do, I will make the required changes, assuming I want to live. In fact, if I fail to follow his instructions, it would probably be fair to ask whether I really believe him at all.

So there's belief that is irrelevant because the facts are the facts and they affect everyone the same. Then there's belief that is hopeful, but not life-changing. And finally, there's belief that alters not only my lifestyle, but my whole perspective on life. Guess which kind Jesus was talking about.

He didn't make it easy. Then again, hardly anything worthwhile ever is. The gospels have multiple examples where people followed Jesus for a time and thought they believed in Him, only to discover that His road was too challenging to travel.

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. -John 6:60, 66 (NIV)

Another hard teaching is recorded in the fourteenth chapter of Luke. In the last ten verses, Jesus tells the crowds exactly what it will cost to be His disciple. Only all that we have. By the way, it’s the same price He paid for His belief in us. So what do you say? Are you a believer?

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. -John 3:16 (NIV)

Scott Thompson