Studies continue to show that – at least in my country – taking advanced education in a marketable discipline is significantly beneficial to one’s lifetime earnings potential1. (This doesn’t have to be a conventional 4-year degree, though. I have suggested to my children that they consider studying the craft of welding as an honorable, profitable, and nearly recession-proof career. However, I also appreciate that mechanical trades aren’t for everyone, especially clumsy people like me.)
Still, someone who chooses to study for an extended period of time, in order to secure a job in his or her preferred discipline, makes sacrifices. Even for those who work while in school, an education requires suspension of certain career development and earning opportunities for a period of time.
On a related subject, there are those who value their health and bodily fitness (although the same could be said for mental and spiritual fitness). The time required to exercise our bodies means that other activities must be curtailed to make room in one’s schedule. Getting the benefits from eating healthy food means cutting back on consumption of Mountain Dew and Pop-Tarts (which I may have referred to – in earlier years of my life – as the “breakfast of champions”).
We may be familiar with the account of the “rich young man” in Matthew 19:16-26. Have a look at a couple of pivotal verses, below:
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.
Matthew 19:21-22 NASB
The rich young man found it more difficult to surrender, not because the overall benefits of following Jesus would necessarily be any less for him (compared to someone who was poor), but because he had much to give up. If the man had owned only the clothes on his back, and had to work daily for food, following Jesus – and perhaps receiving food from those who supported Jesus as a rabbi, if not from miraculous multiplication of meals – would have been pretty straightforward.
But, in reality, what does it mean to give up a life of sin? The “salary” we earn in exchange for sin is death (see Romans 6:23). That doesn’t seem like a bad thing to give up, does it? The outcomes of sinning are also typically harmful to our relationships, our body, our reputation, and our general well-being. Just ask someone who has to keep track of all of the lies that they have told, or who wakes up with a splitting hangover every Monday.
Still, there are those who hang onto a life of sin. The short-term, “feel-good” benefits may seem attractive for a time, or ongoing habits may seem like they will put off the inevitable crash indefinitely. One of the most difficult things to give up is our pride, where we would have to become humble and admit that we need help from Someone else. As a result, I think that we all feel the pull of wanting to stay in a sub-optimal situation, because we get to feel like we’re in charge.
Or, for those who are called to leave a life of legalism or a belief in merit-based salvation, what do they give up? In the false belief that we can ever be good enough to merit a relationship with a perfectly holy God on our own, this lifestyle is taxing, both physically and mentally. Those who [incorrectly] think that they have to be “good enough” to find their way back to God must always be looking over their shoulders – always wondering if they are going to make the cut. (I’ve been there.) Trading that fear for a completely free gift from God, in exchange for the privilege of obeying Him (as an act of gratitude) and showing our love to Him, seems like a pretty good deal (and it is).
On the other hand, to follow Jesus means to admit that no amount of effort on our own part can pay for our sins. It may mean trading the credit that we would receive, in exchange for giving the glory to God (for His work through us). Again, if our pride is too strong, we might actually prefer to keep the focus on ourselves as long as possible, even if we are destined to fail in the end (unless we turn to God).
Yes, in His plan for your life, God may call you to give up things that aren’t helpful to achieving a greater goal. One of these things will probably be your belief that you are all that you need to get back into God’s favor. Still, when we consider the far greater benefits of leaving a life of sin, and entering into a life of grace, it’s really not that difficult of a decision, if we can be humble enough to see the facts.
- Yes, some people (including my kids) can point out exceptions, like the developer of an Internet site who dropped out of school and still made millions, or students with college degrees who can’t find a job in their field. I am also careful to paint the scope of “advanced education” widely: in addition to college, it could include a trade school, an apprenticeship, studying skills online, or even practicing on one’s own. Still, I think that the point holds: in order to accomplish important goals, we typically have to give up lesser things. ↩