The Cost of Following Christ: Why You May Not Be Living Up to Your Calling


Image by Emily Brigid

Standing upon the shore line, the tide washing away the sand about Jesus’ feet, He squinted in the mid-day sun. One could see dozens of fishing boats casting their nets into the water and pulling in a harvest of watery plenty. The men fishing these waters had done so for generations. Fathers taught the trade to their sons and they to their sons, so on and so forth for generations. Fishing was a good trade, and profitable if fish were caught. It would not be unlike a father today teaching his children how to do construction, be a butcher, or some other skilled trade.

Three men stood on a particular boat that caught Jesus’ attention, an elderly father and his two sons. These sons were grown men in their twenties or thirties. Generally, this would put their father at 40 or fifty years old—a senior at the age where he would soon expect to either be unable to work or die in the years to come. In our age, this would be like a seventy year old working man. Life expectancy in the ancient world was far more young, dipping as low as the late 30’s and only reaching 70 for the extremely wealthy (and with a dash of good luck that no major illness befalls one in older age).

Jesus called out to these young men, James and John, to follow him right then and there. They dropped the nets they were tending, got out of the boat, and left their father Zebedee holding the nets all alone.

While this account is not shocking to us today, it most certainly was scandalous in ancient times.

These men were charged with the caring of their family. It is unclear whether James and John had other siblings, sisters perhaps (though married off to be sure) or whether their mother was still alive. Regardless, their father was entering a place in life when his son’s would care for his home and wellbeing. There was no social security, retirement, elderly homes, or such social services. They left their father and their family to do as best they could on their own.

Why? Why would these men leave their father to follow Jesus? Because the need and call of Jesus Christ was so much greater than any physical comfort or social responsibility. Socially, these men would not have been free to do as they pleased until their father died. But the gospel was so much more urgent and following Jesus infinitely more paramount.

If Jesus had come today in our modern world rather than in ancient Israel, he would have ministered on streets of a major city like Los Angeles. There he would have found a small “mom and pop” store run by just the father and his two sons. The father, a waning 70 years old, relied upon his sons to restock the shelves and do the major work. And if Jesus called these two men to follow him, at the expense of their social duties to their family, they would leave doom their father to a few short and difficult years alone.

Scandalous may not be strong enough a word. If such a preacher today did as Jesus had done, even the Church proper would condemn such a man.

But Jesus taught a Gospel that was urgent and which required work and sacrifice. Getting your hands dirty was part of what it meant to follow him. Jesus was radical and expected his followers to live just as sacrificially, laboriously, and radically. Anything less was not worthy of him.

It is fine time we stop taming, distilling, and controlling Christ. The Gospel demands far more than what we are naturally inclined to give or what the average church asks their attendees.

It is not okay to give a few bucks once and a while—Jesus wants every single dollar you have.

It is not okay to let a few paid staff do all the work and service at your local church—you are obligated to get involved.

It is not okay to let a few foreign missionaries do all the work of the Gospel—we are all missionaries. Jesus has made us all ambassadors of the good news.

May all our hands get dirty and our lives reflect that of the early followers of Christ.


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  • While I agree with what I take your point to be, i.e. take the call to heart and give it priority, I question the picture we often imagine from the  Gospel accounts of the calling of the disciples.   Please take a look this Rob Bell sermon (you can view the five parts on YouTube or the NOOMA video “Dust”) and let me know what you think.

    Regards, Lustus

    N.B., I am not endorsing Rob Bell or the “Emergent Church” movement.

  • Asia

    Great article, thanks!

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