About 100 years ago, GK Chesterton wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” There is much wisdom in this. The Christian faith is not easy for the human mind to grasp in so many ways, and not just because we believe God became a man, and died for the sins of the world.
What is so hard to grasp is its cost. Not simply that which was paid by Christ himself, who set aside his glory to live among us, so that we might live forevermore with him. But what it requires of us—the cost of being a Christian. J. C. Ryle described this dilemma well when he wrote:
I grant freely that it costs little to be a mere outward Christian. A man has only got to attend a place of worship twice on Sunday, and to be tolerably moral during the week, and he has gone as far as thousands around him ever go in religion. All this is cheap and easy work: it entails no self-denial or self-sacrifice. If this is saving Christianity, and will take us to heaven when we die, we must alter the description of the way of life, and write, “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to heaven!”
But it does cost something to be a real Christian, according to the standards of the Bible. There are enemies to be overcome, battles to be fought, sacrifices to be made, an Egypt to be forsaken, a wilderness to be passed through, a cross to be carried, a race to be run. Conversion is not putting a man in an arm-chair and taking him easily to heaven. It is the beginning of a mighty conflict, in which it costs much to win the victory. Hence arises the unspeakable importance of “counting the cost.”1
The Christian faith will cost us something. It will require us to let go of old patterns of life, destructive behaviors, even good things that are not the best things for us. But in Christ, our self-denial and sacrifice are transformed into joy as we pursue greater things than the fleeting pleasures of the world. We all stumble in our pursuit of this joy, but may God grant us the strength to pursue still.
- As published in J.I. Packer, Faithfulness and Holiness: The Witness of J. C. Ryle, p. 174 ↵