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A Cost-Benefit Analysis

February 22, 2021

Don’t run from suffering, embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all.  Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self.  What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?” Mark 8: 34-38, The Message

As a society, we are obsessed with self-help.  We are always looking for ways to abate our loneliness, pain, and feelings of despair and self-doubt.  If you google “self-help books” you will get thousands of results.  There are no shortage of books to tell you how to improve every aspect of your life—from advice on “personal growth” to advice to improve your psyche, your relationships, your opportunities for employment advancement, and you-name-it.  Now we also have Ted talks and You Tube to teach us how to be better at countless endeavors.

In this week’s passage from Mark, Jesus reminds us that we cannot save ourselves.  It is God who provides our refuge from loneliness, pain, and feelings of despair and self-doubt.  Only God can comfort to us during our lives and offer us a life with him forever.  We must lean on Christ, our rock.  

Lent is about repentance and denial to self.  As we approach the second Sunday in Lent and reflect on Christ’s suffering for our sake, we should also reflect on Jesus’ words: “Self-help is no help at all.  Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self” (Mark 8: 35, The Message)?[1]  Or in another translation: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8: 35, New International Version). 

 Jesus is telling us here that any worldly gains that you acquire (wealth, prestige, power, pleasures) are completely useless if you have given up your soul in the process. He is suggesting that you give up transitory benefits for long-term benefits.  You might have to give up some worldly profits to gain eternal returns.  Jesus presented a cost-benefit analysis of becoming a disciple. 

Martin Luther understood this first-hand when a price was put on his head by the emperor after the Diet of Worms.  But he feared God more than the powers that be.   Heavily influenced by St. Augustine, this Roman Catholic monk’s eyes were opened by Romans 1:17: “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” Like others before him and after him, he put his life on the line because he feared God more than the stake.   

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was another man who understood the cost of discipleship.[2]  He stood up to the challenge during World War II when many other clergymen were trying to appease Hitler.  Luther and Bonhoeffer knew that they could not lean on their own understanding.  They must be guided by God’s Word.  They knew that even if they lost their lives on earth, they would gain eternal life.  It is a choice that many people around the world must still make today.  

Just before Jesus presented his cost-benefit analysis, Peter had told Jesus “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8: 29). [3] Yet “Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him”  (Mark 8: 30).  Jesus needed time to complete the work that he had been sent to do, and he needed time to prepare his disciples for what was to come.  He needed time to give them the foundation that they would need to weather the storms ahead.

And the truth is that even though Peter believed Jesus to be the Messiah, neither he nor any of the disciples knew the full extent of what that meant.  Peter wanted Jesus to be the conquering hero—the king—not the suffering servant described by Isaiah in Chapter 53.   Jesus needed time to further instruct them and to prepare them for the coming events that would change the course of history. 

And so he began.  He helped his followers understand that “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8: 31).  

The disciples didn’t know it at the time, but even the news of Jesus’ impending death was a message of hope.  As Paul explained years later, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom have gained access into this grace in which we know stand . . . we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5: 1-5).  

Being justified by faith means that we are absolved from our sins by faith in Christ’s atoning work for us on the cross.  It was one and done.  Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross is the sole reason that our sins are forgiven, opening the path to all of the benefits of belonging to the family of God including eternal life.  Everything flows from justification.  Being justified through faith is the access, the gateway to God’s grace, resulting in hope that will not disappoint us because God’s love for us is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.  

Paul is also talking about our love of God here as well. God gives us a new capacity for love by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Paul mentions the basic Christian virtues of that believers receive by God’s grace: faith, peace, hope, and love. 

True discipleship comes with a cost. Christians are in fear of their lives in many countries around the world.  Yet, even if your life is not in peril, you will go through trials as a Christian.  You may be encouraged to back away from or water down your beliefs to win approval from others or soft pedal the gospel to make it more appealing.  Don’t do it.  Speak the truth in love.  We don’t always know how God will use the trials of our lives, but if we make him the foundation of our lives, he will use our experiences to further his purposes.

And despite the suffering that you may be called to endure on account of the gospel and for other reasons, you have been reconciled through faith in Christ and will live with him always. The benefits far outweigh the costs.  It is a message of hope that we are called to pass down: “Future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn—for he has done it” (Psalm 22: 30-31). 

Self-help is no help. Turn to the power source.  Turn to the rock. Turn to God and persevere, because perseverance produces character, and character produces hope. “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5).

Prayer:  Faithful God, we praise and thank you for sending your Son to suffer on our behalf so that we can be reconciled to you through faith.  Forgive our weak attempts and failures to do your will and for yielding to self-will. When we are discouraged by our weakness, strengthen us and give us assurance of your love.  We offer up to you our Lenten prayers and sacrifices that we may continue to grow closer to you during the next few weeks.  We ask these things in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Second Sunday in Lent are Genesis 17: 1-7; Genesis 17: 15-16; Psalm 22: 23-31; Romans 5: 1-11; Mark 8: 27-38.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (1937) McMillan Publishing Co.

[3] The “Son of Man” was the name that Jesus most often called himself.  It comes from Daniel 7:13, and means the Messiah.

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