“Counting the Cost”
By: Eric C. Wheeler
Email: Eric@sharingtheway.com

I have had the privilege of hearing from and conversing with Jesus on numerous occasions over the past two decades. He has taught me many things. But perhaps the biggest thing that I wasn’t expecting to learn from Him was the actual cost of knowing Him and the amount of personal suffering involved. I guess I should have known, but I didn’t. For it is written:

“For in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. Ecc. 1:18

The Scriptures warn us that we should count the cost before we begin this journey. And truth be told, I thought I had. But still, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for what lied ahead, or what was going to be required of me in order to “follow Him”. The following is a true account of what it’s like to personally come to know Him by firsthand experience.

It is written that Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and that He was despised and rejected by men (Isa. 53:3). It is also written that He was oppressed and afflicted (Isa. 53:7), abandoned and betrayed by those closest to Him, and that He was numbered with the “transgressors” – criminals (Isa. 53:12; Mark 15:27-28). Although I had long heard these things and studied them, until they had personally happened to me, I didn’t understand them. Such Scriptures like, “His disciples remembered that He had said this to them after[wards]” or Then they remembered that it was written of Him ….”, now make a whole lot better sense to me. You see we don’t really know anything nor can we relate to and identify with something until we ourselves have had to personally experience it firsthand. This is why Jesus had to come and personally live among us in the flesh so that 1) He could identify and relate to us – as our High Priest; and 2) so that we could also relate and identify with Him. This second part of His human walk is what I want to focus on in this writing – that is, RELATING to and IDENTIFYING with Jesus’ human walk in this world.

The Bible says that if we endure suffering with Him then we will also reign with Him. Or as my friend and mentor Welton Tucker used to say: “First comes the cross; then comes the crown!” Like many Christians today, I too, didn’t really fully know and understand what the cross part of that equation meant or means. In fact, to be honest with you as my reader, I think if I had known from the beginning what suffering had been involved, I don’t really know if I would have chosen to sign up then (God forgive me!). But I’m glad now. I’m glad to know what’s involved. Since childhood when I had first read how Job had said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him”, I had often wondered over the years if I could willingly lose it all for His sake because I loved Him and trusted Him that much. (And truth be told, God knows I really haven’t “lost” that much.) But be that as it may or may not be (for God alone knows), I still want to help warn those who come after me about the costs involved in truly following the Lord, of which I eagerly confess, I was ill-prepared mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.

The twentieth-century missionary-turned-martyr Jim Elliot once said: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” This same preacher and martyr also reportedly once said: “The will of God is always a bigger thing than we bargain for. But we must believe that whatever it involves, it is good, acceptable, and perfect”. Jim Elliot obviously lived and practiced what he believed. And I can think of no greater life or existence than to be faithful to your Creator and loyal to His purposes. The Bible tells us to be “living sacrifices” to God, holy, and acceptable, and true (Rom. 12:1). And yes, it is definitely harder to live for God every day, than to die for Him once. But that is why we are called to be living sacrifices, not dead ones; for it is written that “God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living, for all live before Him” (Luke 20:38).

In keeping with this theme, Jesus told us, “He who loves his life will lose it; but he who hates his life in this world will keep it unto life eternal” (John 12:25). He also said, “No man can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and mammon [material things/the things of this world]” (Matt. 6:24). This is where it gets hard. If you find yourself reading the above statements of Jesus, and immediately your heart and your flesh begin trying to find ways to justify yourself or lighten and diminish His words, then you know that you are guilty before God. You are guilty of having a foot in both camps; and trying to serve two masters. Most Christians and their pastors upon reading and hearing these words immediately try to begin attempting to lessen and to soften these hard-hitting words of Jesus by “qualifying” them or by rationalizing them, instead of literally taking them at their face value, as Jesus truly meant for them to be taken. We all do this. That is, we all do this – initially. We ALL have this same initial reaction to these words in the Bible. And truth be told, there is good reason why we all initially react this same way. We are ALL still living in the flesh – that is, we are all still living ACCORDING to the flesh. It is proof positive in us that we are all still fleshly – and that our flesh does NOT want to die! It is contrary to what our flesh WANTS to hear! That is why we all initially begin protesting in our hearts and spirits; trying to justify ourselves by smoothing-out and compromising those rough edges that serve as the boundaries between these two opposing camps and masters.

Truly, if a person hears these words that Jesus spoke above, and they don’t feel any alarm or immediate backpedaling in their spirit, or feel worry in their heart or in the pit of their stomach, then that person has already come to grips with this point that Jesus is making – and has already died to the world with all of its cares and concerns. Believe me, I am not there. I am not without care and concern in this world. Therefore, I still have a lot of flesh in me. But therein lies the point! I NEED to crucify my flesh with its desires, lusts, and passions more and more. I NEED to die to self more and more that the Spirit of Christ might live in me more and more each and every day! This is the point, my brothers and sisters. We have to become LIVING sacrifices, by becoming dead to self! For this is even what the Scripture says: “He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” (II Cor. 5:15).

When I first began regularly hearing from God and learning from Him, I was well on my way to becoming physically wealthy. My wife and I seemingly “had it all” – and were quickly beginning to “have it all” – materialistically speaking. We had a very large nice house, a successful and lucrative business, a beautiful office building which we owned, three wonderful healthy kids, the admiration and respect (and probably, envy) of all of our family members and friends, and at the same time, were highly-respected and “loved” by our church family and community. But all that was to be short-lived. I had a calling; a calling on my life from God, and a destiny which I needed to fulfill. A destiny, which I knew was one day going to cost me everything. And somehow, though inexplicable at the time, I knew deep down in my spirit, especially as “that subtle, yet undeniable, Voice” kept calling out to me and speaking to me, more and more each day, that somehow and in some way I was one day going to have to make a conscience choice to just walk away from it all and turn my back on it. Although I knew this meant the materialistic things in my life, I had absolutely NO IDEA at the time that it also would include my beloved family members as well.

Looking back now, I guess I should have known. After all, Jesus spoke of these things, and foretold them, saying, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26). “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Luke 12:51-53). “You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will send some of you to your death” (Luke 21:16). “Brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake” (Matt. 10:21-22). “Remember Lot’s wife… I tell you, in that night there will be two people in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left. Two will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left. Two will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left” (Luke 17:34-36). Jesus warned His followers that family separations and betrayals will occur as a result of truly following Him. But I can honestly confess, I wasn’t spiritually prepared. In one form or another, EVERYTHING that Jesus foretold in the above verses has come to pass in my life as a result of choosing to follow Him. My beautiful wife divorced me; my beloved kids were unjustly taken away from me; my parents significantly cut me out of their will; my eldest daughter had me incarcerated, and tried to have me thrown in prison; I lost my house, my business, my building, and all of my bank accounts; my credit is now shot; both the IRS and the government persecute me; and I have been made both homeless and broke; I now have a criminal record, although I never did anything wrong (I was falsely accused of kidnapping my own daughter); I am not welcome in a lot of churches, including the denomination that I grew up in – from which I have been permanently disfellowshipped and banned; and I have been betrayed by more friends, associates, and church family members than I can even count – including, yes even my beloved in-laws, as Jesus had foretold that I would be. All of this has come upon me as a result of truly trying to follow my Lord.

I remember what Jesus asked me once when I was in the middle of being berated and falsely accused and verbally assaulted by three so-called “brothers in the Lord”. He said, “Eric, are you willing to be like Me as I AM?” He then showed me in my mind’s eye the following Scripture: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (II Cor. 8:9). He then instantly showed me another verse or two in my mind’s eye which revealed how He “laid Himself down” for us and was “humiliated” (lowered) for our sakes so that we could “step on His back” (“trample on Him” in a sense) in order to ultimately “raise us up” – lift us up – “make us rich,” – in Him, that is – at His expense. He showed me at that precise moment, how He, in an act of incredible divine humility, did not consider it robbery or cheating Himself, being equal with God, yet choosing of His own free will to empty Himself of His divine nature and Godhead and come down here, taking on the form of a humble human servant and live among us; and how He willingly chose to set aside His glorious royal light-filled robes to be clothed for a time with sinful dirty human flesh, in order to be spit upon, ridiculed, falsely accused and maligned, mistreated, and humiliated by us. And then ultimately – murdered! He did all of this for OUR sakes. So that we too might one day be made rich, and be raised up in Him, and be able to sit with Him in heavenly places, sharing in His glory and basking in the light and righteousness and radiance of God as children and fellow-heirs with Him. He showed me how He had done all of this for us, at His own expense, and then He asked me again, “Eric, are you willing to be like Me – as I AM?” Completely awestruck and blown away at all that He was showing me at that instant and profoundly offering me, I quietly nodded, and whispered, “Yes, Lord. I am willing.” He then said to me, “Eric, remember, there is no humiliation where there is no pride.” He then instructed me to graciously kiss each one of my accusers on the cheek and leave saying nothing.

One thing that I have been learning lately from the Lord is how to love. God is love. And those who love know God; and conversely, those who know God, love (I John 4:7-8). The first definition of love found in the Bible says that love suffers long (I Cor. 13:4). In other words, it endures; it hopes all things, endures all things, believes all things, and bears all things. It is endless, without limits, and unconditional. It doesn’t matter how a person treats you; love is indiscriminate of another’s behavior towards you. It keeps no record of wrong, easily forgives and pardons, and is limitless. Love doesn’t think ill of another; speaks no evil, nor gossips; and shows grace and favor where grace and favor aren’t warranted. Love doesn’t have to have its way in the here and now; for it is patient, sees a bigger picture, and is always kind and humble no matter the circumstances. Love allows itself to be taken advantage of, wronged, and defrauded. It is always the first to apologize and to be willing to humble itself, and seeks peace and reconciliation whenever it can. And when it cannot achieve peace and reconciliation on its own, it waits patiently on God; for it trusts in Him and waits on Him, knowing and believing that truth will one day win out – for God is Truth and God is Love, and Love never fails and the Truth always comes out. This is what He has been mercifully showing me and diligently teaching me through all this suffering. It is good that I suffer; for then I come to know the true riches of the Kingdom of heaven.

Suffering is chastening; and chastening is suffering. Chastening is not so much punishing, as it is disciplining (discipling); and it is not so much correction, as it is training. This is what I have been learning from the Lord as of late. “He who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin”, says the Scriptures (I Peter 4:1). And he who has suffered in the flesh is being disciplined (discipled) by God “that we may be partakers of His holiness” (Heb. 12:10). “Now no discipline seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous; nevertheless, afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11). God is making us like Jesus. That is, God is forming “Jesus” in us (Gal. 4:19; Col. 1:27). His Son Jesus is the perfect representation and expressed image and fullness of God the Father and the Father’s perfect character (Col. 1:15, 19; 2:9; Heb. 1:3; II Cor. 4:4). This is Who and What He is forming in us, so that we may be like Him as He is (I John 3:1-3). As it is written: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (II Cor. 3:18). The Apostle Paul summed it all up for us when he wrote: “And without controversy great is the mystery [the hidden truth] of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh; justified in the Spirit; seen by angels; preached among the Gentiles; believed on in the world; received up in glory” (I Tim. 3:16). And we, too, are called to do and be the same thing! That is, we are called and made to reflect the glory and image of God; be justified in the name and by the blood of Jesus Christ and by the impartation of His Holy Spirit in us; helped and guarded by angels; witnessed and displayed amongst the Gentiles; manifested and revealed to the whole world; and then taken up into the heavens where Christ Himself has prepared a place for us. This is the gospel – the Truth – the plan of God – which He had Paul call the “hidden mystery of godliness” – which He is working in us throughout the whole earth, so “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7).


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