Jesus never concealed the fact that his religion included a demand as well as an offer. Indeed, the demand was as total as the offer was free. His offer of salvation always brings with it the requirement that we obey him. He gave no encouragement at all to those who applied to become his disciples without thinking it through. He brought no pressure to bear on any enquirer. He sent irresponsible enthusiasts away with nothing. Luke tells us of three people who either volunteered, or were invited, to follow Jesus; but not one of them passed the Lord’s tests. There was also the rich young ruler—an individual who was good, earnest and attractive in many ways, but who wanted eternal life on his own terms. He went away sad, with his wealth intact, but possessing neither eternal life nor Christ.

On another occasion, great crowds were following Jesus. Perhaps they were shouting out slogans of allegiance and giving an impressive outward display of their loyalty. But Jesus knew how superficial it all was. So he stopped and turned to speak to them, telling them a pointed parable in the form of a question:

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

The Christian landscape is strewn with the wreckage of derelict, half-built towers—the ruins of those who began to build and were unable to finish. All too many people still ignore Christ’s warning and undertake to follow him without first pausing to reflect on the cost of doing so. The result is the great scandal of so-called ‘nominal Christianity’. In countries to which Christian civilization has spread, large numbers of people have covered themselves with a decent, but thin, veneer of Christianity. They have allowed themselves to become a little bit involved; enough to be respectable, but not enough to be uncomfortable. Their religion is a great, soft cushion. It protects them from the hard unpleasantness of life, while changing its place and shape to suit their convenience. No wonder cynics complain of hypocrites in the church and dismiss religion as escapism.

The message of Jesus was very different. He never lowered his standards or changed his conditions to make his call easier to accept. He asked his first disciples, and he has asked every disciple since, to give him their thoughtful and total commitment. Nothing less than this will do.

John Stott, Basic Christianity, New edition. (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008), 140–141.

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