For a very brief time my freshman year, I was an economics major. One of the mantras of the economist is “there is no such thing as a free lunch”, meaning that every decision has a cost. For everything you say ‘yes’ to, you say ‘no’ to a multitude of other things. By saying ‘yes’ to a friend’s offer of buying you lunch- supposedly free- you pay the cost of not being able to eat lunch with a different friend, or not being able to finish a task, or perhaps the place you would have eaten lunch instead would have mysteriously given you $20. For economists, the costs are limitless, and the way to succeed in life is to minimize your costs. Jesus lived a lifestyle that would shake the core of everything an economist believes.
Jesus consistently called people to ignore the costs and choose him. In Matthew 19, Jesus tells a young man that to perfectly follow him, he must sell everything he owns, give the profits to the poor, and follow Jesus. Decidedly a huge cost to pay. In order to give his full ‘yes’ to Jesus, he would have had to say ‘no’ to his entire life as he knew it. And it was a good life. The Bible tells us that the young man was wealthy. He wasn’t a beggar who only had to leave behind a few spare possessions. He would have had to leave behind a life of comfort and provision to take the risk of following Jesus and trusting God to provide. Consistently we see Jesus calling people out of comfort to follow him. In Matthew 4, Jesus calls his disciples, Andrew and Peter, to follow him. Verse 20 says “they dropped their nets and left everything behind to follow Jesus.” They dropped their nets- their livelihood- on the beach, left their boat floating in the water, and followed Jesus. They left everything behind. Later Jesus encounters Jacob and John, who left behind their father to follow Jesus. In Matthew 8, we see another man eager to follow Jesus, but he says he first must care for his elderly father and make arrangement for his death. Jesus tells him “Now is the time to follow me, and let those who are dead bury their own dead.”
Now is the time to follow him. No matter the cost, following Jesus is greater. Family, a job, our lives, should all be left in the dust we create as we chase after him. More often than not, the things we are called to leave behind are far more insidious than we realize. It’s not until we’ve left them behind and followed God do we realize that those things were actually hindering us, holding us back from fulfilling the life we are called to lead.
In Luke 19, we see the story of Zacchaeus. More than just being a wee, little man, Zacchaeus was the supervisor over all the tax collectors in the city of Jericho. He would have been incredibly wealthy and successful; a man both revered and feared. And yet something within him longed for more. The Passion Translation says he was eager to see Jesus. He was so eager that he scaled a tree just for a glimpse of the man he’d heard about. Even with everything Zacchaeus had- money, a house, friends, an important position- he wasn’t satisfied. Something within him compelled him towards more- towards Jesus. And Jesus saw him in his longing, up in a tree, and called him down and out. But in order to truly accept the call Jesus placed on Zacchaeus’s life, he had to do things; the first was humble himself, and the second was say ‘no’ to his former life. Before he could do anything else, Zacchaeus had to make himself low before God. Both literally (physically), and spiritually. Zacchaeus was up in a tree when Jesus called him. He was somewhere he wouldn’t have normally been, and maybe even somewhere he shouldn’t have been. I don’t know how socially acceptable it was for grown men to climb trees in biblical times, but I do know that I would pretty embarrassed to have to climb out of a tree before the human embodiment of God. But up in the tree, Zacchaeus wasn’t able to do anything to change his circumstances. He couldn’t be a tax collector from a tree, and he certainly couldn’t follow God from a tree. He had to release his pride, admit that his circumstances were wrong, and lower himself in humility before God.
To follow God, we have to do the same. We have to lower ourselves in humility at his feet. So often pride leaves us up in our tree, unable to follow God into the life he has prepared for us. We believe that we know what is best for our lives, or we question whether it’s really so sinful to live a life of partying or sleeping with our significant other. We compartmentalize and rationalize our lives, and in our pride believe that we know best for our lives. But something drove us up in that tree. Something pushed us to look for more, and Jesus found us. The yearning that pushes us to seek out Jesus is the very thing we have to hold to to climb back down the tree and allow ourselves to be humble before Christ.
After he was out of the tree, Jesus wasn’t done with Zacchaeus. He went to his house to dine. It was there that Zacchaeus said ‘no’ to his life in order to say ‘yes’ to Jesus- fully and truly. “Zacchaeus joyously welcomed Jesus and was amazed over his gracious visit to his home. Zacchaeus stood in front of the Lord and said, ‘Half of all that I own I will give to the poor. And Lord, if I have cheated anyone, I promise to pay back four times as much as I stole.’ Jesus said to him, ‘This shows that today life has come to you and your household, for you are a true son of Abraham. The Son of Man has come to seek out and to give life to those who are lost.’” Luke 19:8-10 (The Passion Translation) Zacchaeus willingly stood before the Lord and gave up his life of comfort. Not because Jesus had asked for it, but because he was amazed and overjoyed at the graciousness he experienced in Jesus’s presence.
God won’t force us to give up things. He will love us and call us to leave behind a life of sin. We get to choose how to answer the call. But in order to follow God, it is clear that we must be willing to leave behind anything that is not given to us by Christ. For many, this looks like leaving behind lifestyles that don’t honor God. He calls us to leave behind weekends of bars and drinking so that we can live a life that is honoring to him. He doesn’t ask us to leave behind fun. For some, he asks us to leave behind an unhealthy relationship that doesn’t align with God’s will for relationships. He doesn’t call us to be unhappy and alone. And for others, he calls us to leave behind a life of comfort- maybe a successful job offer, or a really fun spring break or summer break- in order to step out of comfort zone and follow him into a ministry internship (shameless Wesley internship plug) or to a mission trip or summer camp. We cannot say ‘yes’ to God while also saying ‘yes’ to the things we’ve been called to leave behind. By saying ‘no’ to our old ways of living, we can give our biggest and best ‘yes’ to God- and he has assured us he is more than worth the cost.
Author | Sarah Savoie