Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Thursday, December 28

Count the Cost in Conversion?

This will be my last post on this question. We have been talking about John 3:16 and how the first step in mentoring a new believer is to confirm their understanding of conversion. The last issue I want to raise relative to this discussion is that of counting the costs of following Jesus.

John 3:16 does not raise this issue, so I am a bit hesitant to raise it at all. But elsewhere Jesus clearly does ask future disciples to count the cost (Lk 14:28-33).

So there are two questions here. (1) Should we, I some way, make this part of our offer of salvation? (2) How do we do it? Here is one way I have explained it.

On the one hand, salvation is totally free. Paul tells the church in Ephesus, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast” (2:8-9).

But the life of discipleship costs you everything. There is a path on the other side of the gate, and at the end of the path is eternal life. That path is the path of discipleship. Paul tells the church in Galatia that he has been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer he who lives but Christ who lives in him (2:20). He is saying that in going through the gate, he has become so united with Christ that he died to himself and he lives only for Christ. Jesus tells the disciples that if they want to follow him, they “must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). The path of discipleship is about dying to yourself and living for God.

Now don’t get nervous. Jesus never calls us to action without giving us the ability to do the work. That’s part of the beauty of the path of discipleship. But I hope you realize up front that when you walk through the gate, God changes your heart and your life is going to start to change. Over a period of time, you will look more and more like Jesus. You will want to change. There is no other way.

When I set out from my cabin to hike into the mountains, I know it will cost me. Sore feet. Tired muscles. Scrapes and bruises from the times I will most certainly slip and fall on the path. But the hike is worth the cost. The joy of the journey and the pleasure of finishing well at the top far outweigh the price I pay. Walking with Jesus, running toward heaven, is worth the scrapes and bruises along the way. As Paul writes, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

What do you think?


I'm in vocational ministry, training people in personal evangelism and discipleship. One of the things we emphasize regularly is "try to talk them out of it." In some places, especially internationally, it is sometimes "easy" to get agreement to make accent to certain truths and even agree to "pray a prayer." But we know that intellectual accent or a sinner prayer are not the golden into eternity. If someone indicates a desire to be saved and place their faith in Jesus Christ, we will often attempt to talk them out of it. What that means is making sure they understand that Jesus isn't interested in taking only their sin, he wants their entire life, that the Creator of the universe doesn't inhabit a heart a unless He will be King of that heart, etc. On numerous occasions, after a serious discussion of the "cost," many people have decided against making a decision. To us, this is a good thing. On other occasions, the person becomes all the more eager. The story of the rich young ruler is tragic story for the rich young ruler, but it is a glorious success for the Kingdom of God. Not that our tactics or "cost counting" will ultimately secure them in their salvation, but it does help to reveal true repentance and faith, and helps to set them up for a fruitful walk of discipleship. (IMHO)

Excellent treatment of the call to follow. I find this also balances in a way the issues surrounding election and/or free will. Thanks

Bill, I believe you raise a pertinent issue. (I will be teaching an adult class at my church on "What is the Gospel?" beginning in January). It seems to me that the question goes to the heart of the gospel. Unless a person understands his plight (= the bad news), he will not fully understand why he or she is turning to Christ in faith. Unless there is a recognition of sin and the need for repentance, then I don't believe that the person understands the gospel. I came to faith at a young age. Though I did not understand what it meant to be a disciple at age 7, I was conscious of my sin. Acknowledging one's sin and turning from it (repentance) to Christ by faith sets a person on the path of discipleship. Thank you too for all your years of labor and your commitment to promote the study of Greek.. In Him, Dave

Thanks for this Bill. The truth is though that some suffer a whole lot more than others when they turn to Christ. We have been mentoring a young Pakistani man from a wealthy family who became a Christian 6 years ago. He has suffered horrendously and there seems to be no let up. He is firm in his faith but is persecuted at every turn and lives a life of a hunted criminal though he has done nothing wrong. He has been separated from his young wife for 18 months of their 2 year marriage, he has never seen his 18 month old baby son. His wife has been captured by traffickers, held to ransom which he cannot pay and now she is dead and they are threatening to kill the child. He is stuck in Turkey as an illegal person. If he returns to Pakistan he is on a wanted list and no country he has tried will accept him as a refugee. This is what costly faith can entail. We know God does have a purpose for him and many people are praying for him but why? why? why? God, please open doors for this man to be able to live the life you have called him too so that Your name may be glorified. Amen

This is a good question to ask any new believer or prospective new believer. (Or for the believer to remind himself.) There is no cost to become a member of Jesus' family of believers, but having joined, it will cost you everything you have been, everything you own and everything you used to live for. The believer does not have to do anything but follow the Spirit's leading and He will equip you to follow the commands of Christ.

I answer with a question - What do we see in the Acts as to how the Apostles managed this? How did Philip manage with the Ethiopian??? We might also reflect on a larger question - how much of the Gospel needs to be tailored to our age/culture?? For Jews a bloody sacrifice was relevant - however, for a 21st C American - we know nothing of a bloody sacrifice - nor even especially of sin. What then is the gospel of God to be presented???? My initial answer is asking what the most fundamental of the cross actually meant. Paul answers in Phil2.... complete obedience. That is understood by all cultures throughout all ages. The forensics is likely not especially important - Noah walked with God without a knowledge of the cross as a sacrifice for his sins, etc.

When the cost of following Jesus is not clearly presented up front, salvation tends to be viewed as a completed event instead of the beginning of a process that starts a spiritual rebirth by faith and grows in both faith and cost. There is risk of the salvation invitation being viewed as bait and switch when someone who wants the assurance of salvation without the life of salvation comes to realize the cost. Jesus pointed that out in the parable of the sower. Christians who have first counted the cost tend to be those who are most effective in reproducing disciples and clearly standing out in the world. All that said, I have been studying the life of Lot, who is clearly referred to as a righteous man in both testaments, yet he had little to nothing to show for his faith, including the loss of all he owned and his family. He seems to have entered heaven singed by the smell of the fire of God's wrath. (1 Cor. 3:15.) He was saved but never seems to have counted the cost of righteousness.

I like the imagery of "bait and switch." THat is an interesting way to describe the situation. Thanks.

Yes. A thousand times yes! Churches and pulpits are full of unsaved folks who think they are saved, when there was never evidence of conviction of sin. And the counting the cost part; yes, Jesus made a point to say it for a reason. Picking green fruit aborts the work of God in a life and may even have the effect of hardening someone against the gospel because they tried to walk as a Christian and couldn`t do it because they weren`t saved in the first place. Say I offer you a free horse. You`ve wanted one all your life and this is an exciting offer. I say The horse is yours without payment, but you must know a commitment is involved. You must feed, water and exercise him every day, walk him out after you`ve had a hard ride until his breathing is normal and his body cooled, feed him good quality hay, trim his feet and give him veterinary care when he needs it, including worming him. You can`t not do these things one day because the novelty has worn off. Owning a horse is work. Mucking out his stall and carting the manure to the compost heap is heavy manual labor. Sometimes horses are a pain to catch until you train them and riding a horse isn`t the safest of activities because horses can be spooked and animals are unpredictable. But if you take good care of him, he will be your friend and carry you many miles. Are you interested? The person who immediately says yes but who has never researched horse ownership is likely focused on the reward part but not at all interested in the truth and reality part and so is not prepared at all to make an authentic commitment to becoming a horse owner. The person who considers what I have said, researches horse care, scouts out a stable with a good trainer and a local vet and a blacksmith, and a source of hay and bedding and comes back to me and says `Yes. I will accept your offer of a horse`` is ready. Not the least because I didn`t lie to him and say `oh, take this horse please. There`s nothing to it. Just throw him a hay bale once in a while and that`s all there is to it. They pretty much take care of themselves``. Yet this is what passes for presenting the claims of Christ nowadays. By all means tell people the truth and reality of what its all about. Otherwise we produce either weak, struggling believers who teeter on the fence and wind up failing and mis representing Christ or we falsely assure people who are unsaved that they are in fact, saved.

And this is exactly how we are called to this faith. Not to have blind faith but to reason with God about what we are about to proclaim. Based on what we read, we must make a conscious decision about the veracity of God's Word and then a decision of our ability to follow, knowing the path that is before us.

I come from a church where my Pastor said that salvation and discipleship are 2 different things. One could b saved and not be a disciple, ever and still be saved. Giving the impression that discipleship is optional, that's not biblical, once a person is delivered from the power of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of Christ, they have become disciples. They need to know what's lays ahead.

I think this teaching is dangerous and bifurcates the essential mesage of the gospel. I am glad you recognize it.

The difference between these two statements is important: Salvation/eternal life is Free (Rom 6:23), Discipleship is costly (Luke 14:26-33) Something can't be both free and costly. Therefore Salvation and Discipleship are not the same thing. I think you were right to raise concern about bringing up discipleship at conversion. The promise of free eternal life is separate from the offer of reward in Heaven. Reward is a payment for work done, whereas salvation is a free gift given at the moment of faith in Christ. It's my strong opinion that most of the confusion on New Testament topics comes from a conflation of salvation and discipleship. The bible makes SO MUCH more sense when there is a strong line drawn between the two. As hard as it is for some to hear, Discipleship is optional, for those who are saved. Legalists will balk at this because it doesn't seem fair. Salvation and Discipleship are two different things. I've written a book on the subject called: Salvation And Discipleship: Is There A Difference? I'd love to share a free copy with you if you'd be interested. Let me know. [email protected] Thanks for all you do! I've enjoyed your Greek class.

While I agree that salvation is free and discipleship is costly, I firmly disagree with the position you are taking. This is not the blog to enter into the discussion, but I will be interested to see how you respond to the next set of blogs that talk about the necessity of a new believer's life changing. Let's talk about the Grace/Lordship issue in those posts. Thanks.

Hi Bill, How is discipleship to happen in the context of the church? How should a man who is just baptized be discipled within the church? Are there programs, books etc that you would recommend? Thanks

I have been reading D. M. Lloyd-Jones "Studies In The Sermon on the Mount" and this topic fits in perfectly! After reading his book, which I highly recommend, and looking at the Sermon on the Mount with new eyes, I have been smitten by the depth and perfection of our Lord's sermon...extremely sobering humbling and oh so foundational. You said a lot in just a few words here, and I will use your very understandable explanation concerning 'counting the cost' in disciple-making. Thank you brother!!!

Without considering the alternative, you cannot count the true cost of conversion. If the ONLY alternative is a Christ-less eternity, in constant denial of everything good, and suffering incalculable pain, how is a surrendered life to be considered a real cost? So for a short time here on earth we enjoy so much fellowship with God as well as the bumps and bruises. Then we are delivered from complete devastation into unending glory. Hmmm.. Sorry, but I don’t get the “cost” issue as much of a cost to a believer. And every step of obedience comes with a promised reward to boot!

Bill, What a beautiful description. I close my eyes and can see the gate, myself opening the gate, walking along the path. The path leads along a the edge of a mountain through a thick forest. The forest is so thick at times, it hides the sunlight and becomes very dark and dreary. As I continue down the path, the forest cover begins to thin and I see sunlight streaking through the trees and lighting the path. I know the path is nearing its end and the light becomes brighter. I come out from underneath the forest cover, and the path leads me to a clearing near the edge of the mountain. It opens to the most glorious vista that one could ever imagine, beyond our comprehension. There are no words to describe it. Close your eyes for a moment, and see the gate, the path, and the vista, but most of all look for Jesus along the path. To all have a blessed and joyous New Year.

I agree. There is a need for a person who decides to follow Christ to know these 2 very important information - saved by grace (by the way is relational) and following Jesus will cost that person something. One of the preachers I’ve been listening to calls the latter as the “fine print” of following Christ. Mark 8:34-35 illustrates this. But what is amazing for me is the idea that Jesus impart to his followers in verse 35 - “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Think about this: everybody dies on this earth. It’s a matter of timeliness. So whatever effort I exert to save/preserve my life, it will end at some point. But what if I live my life with Jesus in the center? It will cost me something because I will start to be Christlike. What if I live my life without Jesus in it? It will also cost me something because I will start to live to be whatever I want to be.

Using the term "conversion" seems out of place in explaining John 3:16. But apart from that I find it interesting (and informative) that you seem to admit that our Lord's message in John 3:16 does not include a call to discipleship. His clear intention both in the immediate context and in John's gospel is to offer the GIFT of eternal life to all who simply believe in Him. Thus you apparently find it necessary to read other texts outside into the passage of John to get our Lord's message in John 3 to say something He never intended. Exegesis should precede systematic theology. Biblical theology of John should precede systematic theology. By allowing your systematic theology in the area of soteriology to inform what is clearly contradicted by the Lord's message in John 3, you have denied the very message of the Lord Himself. In effect your method allows you to teach your message and use the Bible to proof text it. Eternal life is a gift, not just a good deal! Why are you so afraid that some sinners might get into heaven without deserving it like you apparently think you do?

Ths is Bill. I would be very careful at coming to conclusions as to what another person believes and why. "Believes" is "Believes into" (not "in"), and in that simple construction is discipleship. At least, that is my exegesis of the passage.

Looking forward, running the race set before us, focusing on Heaven. Faith included we really have no idea of how great Heaven will be. We compare what we see to our faith and while this is what faith is all about there is still only the hope of what we believe. Although, we do not know what to believe (good grief this sound like who is in first). The scripture has done a good job trying to compare Heavens greatness based on our capacity to understand and on things we have placed value on such as gold, pearls, no tears or pain. My point is our day to day lives are probably our greatest challenge to our faith. Some days could absolutely bite as I am terrorized by thoughts of a reckless past. My daily saving grace is Jesus, showing love, sharing love, focusing on things that are good (hmmm.... sounding like scripture pieces) . I really do not want to sound like trite religious talk it is important for me to share that the more I allow Jesus to work in my heart the more my life is affected. Resisting the devil and the unhealthy behaviors of our surroundings are a full time job, so is the pursuit of Jesus

In your response you say that "believes into" includes discipleship. Yet in the opening of your article you claim Jesus did not raise the issue of discipleship in John 3:16. More troubling is your theology doesn't allow for the believers in John 2:23 to be truly regenerate because they didn't commit themselves to Jesus. Yet the text uses "believes into" which according to you includes discipleship. As for "coming to conclusions as to what another person believes and why," let me suggest that since you are a teacher I should test the fruit from your tree, that is, your beliefs/teachings and not your works as so many "fruit inspectors" from the Lordship tree are want to do. I am not questioning your motives. I have benefited much from your website (most recently the Waltke Psalm study). I am questioning your teaching as the Lord encouraged in Matt. 7:5-20. (Note the "fruit" in context is false teaching not ungodly living!) Basically your theology (on this issue) leads to Romanism: faith plus works equals justification. Of course, that system offers the proviso that the works are produced by God in the believer. Slice it and dice it anyway you want (Lordship, New Pauline perspective, Catholicism) it still detracts from the simple message of eternal through faith alone in Christ. How do you know your commitment is really enough? Have you taken into consideration all God has given you and not the sinners in the streets? Have you really sold all you have, died to yourself completely, left your family, friends, profession? If not, maybe your faith is "temporary." Guess you will have to wait until you die to know for sure? Me, on the other hand, my level of discipleship is far short of what I could have, should have, would have done but I know for sure I am saved since my faith is (in, unto, upon--you pick) Jesus Christ and His commitment! Sorry if this seems harsh. I realize we have different theological systems in play here. My concern is that you realize your exegetical method is flawed (theogesis).

You have significantly misunderstood me. I am not Roman. I was fully regenerated when I was converted. But part of conversion is the recognition that you will change, and will need to change, and will want to change.