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Discipleship—That's All About Sacrifice, Right?

In a few weeks, we have a book coming out on the economics of Jesus. It’s all about what some of you know as the “Five Capitals,” and it will deal with how to invest our time, energy and money in the things that really matter. We’ll be posting some thoughts related to the book on Mondays for the next several weeks.


At least since Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote his classic work The Cost of Discipleship, it seems we have tended to look at discipleship through the lens of sacrifice. We pay attention to what we are giving up to follow Jesus. We focus on what we are losing.

But Jesus rarely spoke this way about discipleship. Don’t get me wrong: He did call people to sacrifice. The disciples left their livelihood to follow him, and this appeared to be a standard call from Jesus (the rich young ruler comes to mind). But while he certainly did call people to sacrifice significantly to follow him, we notice that when Jesus talked about discipleship, he always spoke through the lens of investment.

He did call people to lay it all on the line to become his disciples, but he also promised that what initially looks and feels like a sacrifice will actually “pay off” in the end, which is essentially the same thing as making a good investment.

Think about these statements from Jesus through the lens of investment:

“Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matt 10:39).

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field” (Matt 13:44).

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Matt 19:29).

What’s striking about these and other passages is the promise of a return on the investment. It’s not just a call to lose your life because it’s the “right thing to do” or because it’s what God wants, it’s a promise that you’ll actually find real life if you will only let go of the old one! It’s the deal of a lifetime! A free upgrade! A very good investment.

As Dallas Willard has said, “The cost of non-discipleship is much higher than the cost of discipleship. Discipleship is a bargain.” In other words, Jesus isn’t talking about making a sacrifice because it’s the right thing to do, he’s talking about a sacrifice that actually becomes an investment that yields a return.

The man in Jesus’ parable who sold all his possessions to buy a field did so with joy because he found a treasure that was worth a lot more than the sum total of his possessions. He bought the field because it was a great deal, a bargain he couldn’t pass up. It’s the promise that there’s a treasure in the field you’re buying that far outweighs the sacrifice you’ve made to get it!

Jesus is encouraging us to think about life with God (the kingdom of God) this way. He is encouraging us to do a cost/benefit analysis on the kingdom and make a wise decision. He is encouraging us to think pragmatically and economically about it! It’s just that he is also encouraging us to think more deeply and more broadly about what is actually valuable and worth having.

Seen in this light, the kind of sacrifice Jesus calls us to is not something that leaves us with nothing, it’s a sacrifice that becomes an investment, like planting crops that eventually yield a hundredfold return. He’s calling us to invest! He tells us to sell everything and “buy” the kingdom—because it’s actually worth far more than what we currently have! As Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

This is the integrating principle of an investment strategy that actually yields what we might call “the good life.” So the stuff we sacrifice is not actually worth as much as what we gain when we go “all in” for the kingdom. “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed,” as the Apostle Paul said to the Romans.

So discipleship isn’t all about sacrifice. Initially, it feels that way, because we give up all we have to gain the kingdom, but in the end, the life we receive is worth far more than any sacrifice we made. Going “all in” for the kingdom of God is a fantastic deal. There is no need to diversify your portfolio. Discipleship to Jesus, in other words, is the best investment opportunity any human being ever gets.