The True Cost of Discipleship: GENESIS 12:1-9 (Sermon)


Welcome. I am pastor Rob. It is a joy and honor to share with you God’s Word. Could I have a couple of people pray for my message this morning? You can text or email me that you are praying right now. I appreciate that. Thank you in advance. 


This month is mission month. Each year we focus on missions during the month of May. Over the last seven years, we have raised roughly $700,000 for missions. 100% of that supports churches, planting churches, and training pastors and missionaries around the world. Together we further ministry in Central Asia, Japan, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, and in our backyard. I know many of you financially help missionaries and organizations outside of our joint efforts. We appreciate your generous support. Thank you for partnering with us through prayer and giving. With your help, we have done and can do more together than apart. It is with incredible gratitude that I want you to know that we have already met our budget for this last year. Thank you, and I thank God we can support the good news going from Southwest Michigan and Northwestern Indiana to the ends of the earth. 


The theme for this month is God’s glory near, far, and everywhere. Last week, Pastor Mike shared with us what it was to be a Faithful Witness for the Glory of God. I am going to be sharing about the cost of being a witness for the glory of God. Next week Pastor Jeff will share about the reason to be a witness for the Glory of God. 

  • The Faithful Witness for the Glory of God
  • The Cost of Being a Witness for the Glory of God
  • The Reason to Witness for the Glory of God

If you miss any of the messages, they will all be on Youtube. Thank you for tuning in.  


Let’s explore the cost of being a witness for the glory of God, beginning with one of the first examples in the Bible, Abram. If you could grab a bible, pen, and paper, we will be exploring Genesis 12 and other scriptures. I have asked R. to read for us. Let me encourage you to have your bibles open and follow along with pen and paper. 


Genesis 12:1–9. 

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb. 


Thank you. Let’s pray. 

Dear God, thank you for your Word. Inspire us this morning. Equip us this morning. Lead us this morning. Teach us this morning. By your Holy Spirit. AMEN. 


To understand this passage, we need to understand the context. Genesis is a book of beginnings and generations. The short book follows the generations of creation (2:4), our first ancestors, Adam and Eve (5:1), Noah (6:9), Abraham (11:27), Isaac (25:19), and Jacob (37:2). Geographically it puts humanity’s birthplace in the center of the Fertile Crescent, the Middle East. God is the main character and hero of the story connecting all generations to creation. 


Right before chapter 12, we hear Abram’s origin story. He grew up in Ur, just off the Persian Gulf. Here is a map. Ur is in red. Chapter 11 tells us that Abram, his father, and their entire household traveled 600 miles northwest to relocate to a city named Haran. Haran is in blue.  

Chapter 11 tells us that Terah, Abram’s dad, passed away in Haran. Chapter 12 begins with God calling Abram to uproot himself. 


Abram believed God and obeyed. Where was he to go? You can see it in green on the map. Look at chapter 12, verse 1. 


your country 

and your kindred 

and your father’s house 

to the land that I will show you

To understand the cost of being a witness, I think it is helpful to understand witnessing is something disciples do. And to grasp the cost of witnessing, let’s back up and ask the cost of discipleship. Following God came at a price and required trust. We don’t know how God told Abram his direction. We do know that when Abram arrived in a town of Shechem, about 400 miles southwest, God spoke to him again. He said, 

“To your offspring I will give this land.” 

Abram counted the cost and followed God. However, there were some problems. People owned this land, the Canaanites. It was like goldilocks and the three bears. Someone was sleeping in Israel’s bed. This was the land of the enemy. Abram had another problem. He didn’t have any children. Israel was not born yet. Not only that, but Abram was also seventy-five years old. People are done starting families at that age.

Nonetheless, after this, Abram built an altar to worship God. He continued to travel through this land God was promising. Going to Bethel and made another altar. He kept worshipping. Why would Abram worship God? 


Now, if he left a bad situation, it would make sense. Or if Abram traveled to a fantastic destination like the all-inclusive resort, it would make sense. But that is now what we read. He did settle down and start a family.  


Let me ask you, “Why do you do what you do?” I generally do what I think is best. I invest time, money, and energy in what I value. I trust an expert or scientist to tell me what is best when I don’t know. People do what they think is best and right in their eyes. The cost-benefit analysis is done unconsciously, and people move forward with the next right thing. I believe Abram was no different. 


Look at verses 1-4 again. God promised him a land, a name, a people, and a blessing to the nations. That is quite a legacy and an inheritance. However, if God didn’t offer those incredible promises, would Abram have obeyed? I wager that he would, and the blessings of God were icing on the cake. Why do I say that, because he worships God. 


But let’s look at how the Bible views Abram. Turn in your Bibles to Acts chapter 7. Look at verse 2, Acts 7:2. Stephen, a church deacon, gives a speech and mentions Abram. He said, 

“The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, and said to him, ‘Go out from your land and from your kindred and go into the land that I will show you.’ Then he went out from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you are now living. Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child. (Acts 7:2–5) 

Did you hear that? Abram didn’t get a foot’s length. So why did Abram obey? 


The author Hebrews gives us an answer. He writes, 

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. ...

These [Abramhan, Sarah, Noah, and Able] all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. (Hebrews 11:8–13) 

Abraham looked forward to a future reality that exceeded his present certainty. He greeted it from afar. He had an eternal mindset, this heavenly perspective, and faith in God and a heavenly city. The true cost [and benefit] of discipleship was worth it to Abram. Thus, he obeyed. He valued God over God’s gifts. 


I had thought, if I had time, it would have been neat to randomly go up to people in the Walmart store parking lot and ask the question, “What do you value?” Then someone wisely pointed out to me; people might be afraid when a strange man wearing sunglasses and a face mask stops them, asking about their valuables. So, then I thought, what if I asked our missionaries what they value? That would be interesting. I didn’t. So let me ask you, what do you value? Take a moment to write it down on a piece of paper, or note it in your phone, or tell your neighbor. I am going to pause here to give you a moment. What did you write? 

Do you value family? 

How about your home? 

Do you value your job, friendship, food, vacation, travel, cars, education, health, exercise, savings? I am sure there are other things you value. What do you value? 


Now, what if God called you to give that to him? What if God called you to the mission field today. What if you had to say goodbye to the job you love and the community you know, would you? This happens.  


  • Ronny and Kari Silva felt a call like that and spent eight years in a foreign land with corruption, poverty, and false idols to follow God as a witness for the glory of God. 
  • We had a young couple at church teaching for several years in the Middle East. They gave up friends and family to follow God as a witness for the glory of God.  
  • Some friends who attended our church a while back, Kurt and Kim, are currently taking their retirement to learn Russian and do business in a foreign land leaving behind their comforts, home, and grandkids as witnesses for the glory of God. 
  • In times past, missionaries would carry their goods in a coffin across seas for months on end, anticipating that they would only be back in that container: dead as witnesses for the glory of God. 


What if God called you to do that? Would you? 


I remember in my senior year of High School. A substitute teacher asked everyone what we were going to do when we grew up. As I sat in that room around the double ring of desks, I heard answers like, “I am going to be a teacher, I am going to be a doctor. I am going to be an engineer. I am going to go to school.” When she got to me, I thought I would try to be a witness. She had been a nun, and I thought sympathetic to what I would say. I answered I was going to seek God, and do what he tells me. She didn’t skip a beat and said she knew some excellent food pantries I could go for food until I figured things out. I was mortified. Did she actually say that in front of my peers? I think the whole class gasped, and my face turned beet red, I barely recovered when the next student, sensing my discomfort, took her turn, and filled the audible awkwardness parrying this shock. 


The substitute probably meant well. It is good to have a plan. Perhaps I sounded like I was holier than thou. However, the true cost of discipleship and witness is you may be ridiculed for your choices. God may call you to say no to a promotion that you might spend more time leading your family spiritually. Are you willing to go wherever God leads? This true cost of discipleship goes beyond traveling. Some of you have opened your homes up to people to live with you for free at risk to your convenience and finances for the glory of God. Some of you have spent hours praying that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven for the glory of God. Some of you have given tens of thousands of dollars to missionaries forgoing what you could spend on yourselves for the glory of God. 


Genesis 12 teaches us that God is intimately and personally, working in history, establishing a people for himself from Abram for the blessing of all nations, near, far, and everywhere. That is the point of the passage. 


So what is the application? You can apply texts in various ways. Turn in your Bibles to Galatians 3 verses 8 and 9. Paul helps us see what is going on.

And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:8–9)


Genesis 12 is God proclaiming the gospel, the good news that all nations: aka the Gentiles, will be declared right before God by faith. It wasn’t spelled out like the Bible will eventually say, but God is calling a people to himself. He is making disciples and witnesses. What does it look like to be disciples? We don’t use that word. It is to trust and obey. It is faithful obedience. Scripture has many examples for us, both positive and negative. 

  • God personally warned Cain to be careful about his anger. It was crouching at the door of his heart. Cain ignored God’s warning and killed his brother. He didn’t trust and obey God. He was not following God. 
  • God told Noah to build a massive boat with not a cloud in the sky. Those around him mocked him. For him, that was the cost of discipleship. He followed God and was a witness.  

After Cain, Noah, and Abraham, God told, 

  • Jacob to talk to his vengeful brother whom he cheated. 
  • God told Moses to go back to the land that he fled and speak to Pharaoh to free his people from slavery. 
  • God told Joshua to be strong and courageous. To not let the Bible depart from his mouth as he conquered the promised land of Abram. They all experienced the cost of being a disciple, followers, and witnesses. 

God asked young men and women throughout history to stand up, speak up, and rise up for him, often at great personal expense for the glory of God. True discipleship is about a relationship with God. It is about faith-filled obedience.  


Maybe you say, I can’t do this. Let me respond to a few objections. 

  1. Out of date

Some might think following God is out of date. This is just an Old Testament thing or Bible thing. Nope. If that were the case, we deny what the New Testament teaches that we are to make disciples of Jesus. We are to be witnesses. We pick and choose Scripture. We must embrace all of it or none of it. It is not out of date. 


  1. Out of Date
  2. Out of context 

Another objection is that this is out of context. 


Now, I love Pastor Mike’s Sunday School class. You might be thinking, “This passage doesn’t teach us about leaving and starting our nation. That is not the transformative truth of the passage. This is history. It is descriptive, not prescriptive.” Let me respond. You are right. Whew, you might say. I dodged that one. You took it out of context. I don’t have to go. I don’t have to follow. I don’t have to be a disciple. But such a reality requires us to follow up. What was the point of the text? I am glad you asked. Let me answer. Genesis 12 tells us about the generations before and himself. God is not the obscure, unseen hand and lifeforce. Remember, the point of the passage is that God is making a people for himself from Abram to the blessing of all nations. God was speaking into Abram’s life and inviting him to follow. Such an invitation doesn’t come cheap and is not just an invitation to a few chosen people. 


One day a rich young man came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus said he knew the law. Don’t murder, lie, steal, commit adultery. He said I had kept those things. Jesus responded that you have one more thing to do. Sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and follow me. The young man went away sad. God goes for our hearts. He wants us to follow him. He wants us to be disciples. He challenges what we love most. What did the young man love most, Jesus or the riches? What did Abram love most friends, home, and stability, or God? 


What do you love? What if God asked you to give it up? Honestly, that would be hard and sad. Providentially, God doesn’t usually ask us to give it all away in one fell swoop. He just asks us to take one step of faith at a time. We walk by faith and not by sight. That is the context. This call to discipleship, following, witnessing is not out of context nor out of date. 


  1. Out of Date
  2. Out of Context 
  3. Out of Time 

Another objection I think people might say is I am out of time. I am too old or too young. Look at Abram. How old was he? Verse 4 tells us he was seventy-five! You are not too old to follow God. In your retirement, you are running circles around us younger people in devotions, prayers, and service. If you have been around Sawyer and Converge, you know whom I am talking about. (Thank you, by the way.) 


The younger person might think obedience like this is outside of what God would call them to do. You hear of Abram’s age and are glad. Not so fast, friend. God used Mary to carry Jesus as a pregnant teenager. He used David as a boy to slay a giant. He used Jeremiah as a youth to stand up to a governor. You are not too old or too young to follow God and do hard things for his glory. You are not out of time. 


  1. Out of Date
  2. Out of Context 
  3. Out of Time 
  4. Out of My League

Some might object that obedience is for the professionals. The cost and call are out of my league. They might appeal to Jesus’ commands and say those commands are for the disciples. They are just for the professionals. We pay people to do that. 


No. We are all apprentices of the King of kings and Lord of lords. God’s Word teaches the priesthood of all believers. There is one class of people, and we are it. We certainly have a variety of gifts and roles, but that does not exclude us from the call to participate in sharing our faith. To obey these commands to reach the nations, we need to work together. We are not out of the league, time, context, or the date. 

  1. Out of Date
  2. Out of Context 
  3. Out of Time 
  4. Out of My League

We all are different. We have different barriers to obedience. The cost can seem hard for various reasons. Let me level with you and give you five more that I struggle with, and maybe you can relate. They are in no particular order. 


Desire. I find resident in me a selfishness that runs counter to obedience. It plays interference. I don’t want to think about what it truly means to follow God. I want to close my eyes and plug ears to the voice and invitation of God. That is sin. 


Busyness. Obedience like this is hard. And I am too busy doing my thing to do God’s. Busyness is not godliness. I am doing what I want, neglecting God’s desires and plans. This, too, is sin.  


Fear. Another reason I might balk at obedience is fear. I am afraid of what it will cost me. Here I love the gift more than the giver. Do I not believe that God is a loving God? If I give in to this fear, I deny the reality of who God is. The giver is greater than the gift. 


Apathy. Another barrier to obedience is apathy. I might think, “It is not that big of a deal.” This denies the authority and wisdom of God. 


Procrastination. A final challenge to obedience for me is procrastination. I might think, “I will follow later.” This, like the others, puts my timing above God’s. All of these excuses are sin. 

How do you and I overcome these barriers? 


First, we need to know what God is calling us to. What is the call? What is true discipleship? What does a relationship with the living God look like? The Bible calls us into a relationship and not to keep it to ourselves, but to share it with the entire world for his glory. And we are not done sharing.  


  • Right now, two billion people have never had a chance to hear of Jesus. 
  • Less than 1% of missionaries go to these people.
  • Over 70,000 people die every day in the unreached world without Jesus.  


Hear me. I am not saying we all need to move to Yemen. But we all must die. WHAT? The true cost of discipleship is something far more dangerous than calling a realtor and putting a house on the market. What is the cost of Jesus’s perspective? He taught,  

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. (John 12:24–26)

Now, remind me, where was Jesus going when he said that? He was going to his death. We must follow him. How? Listen to another teaching of Jesus from Luke 9, 

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:23–25)

Friends, everything you have is a gift. It is all on loan. God has a way of unraveling us and breaking us to cling to him and his love alone. He wants our hearts. Where is your heart? Do you hold the gifts God gives with open hands or tight fists? 


In my youth ministry days, I ran across a story that people can catch some monkeys by putting a piece of fruit in a jar and attaching it to a fixed object like a tree. The monkey grabs the banana and, with a closed fist, can’t get it out. He fights and fights and won’t let go. The trap secures the monkey, and all the monkey has to do is let go. God loves us and wants us to let go from time to time, and it is for our good. 


Our Heavenly Father likely won’t ask you to sell everything you have and give it to the poor. But he will ask you to take up your cross and follow him for his glory. Will you? 


Friends, we are blessed because Abram followed God. He worshipped God. He obeyed God. He believed in God. How do we? The reality is that none of us can do this perfectly; that is why Jesus died. We celebrate that reality in communion. And that reality motivates our obedience. 


So what does it look like? What is the true cost? Here is a small example. The other day my neighbor and I were talking about the road getting fixed. Out of the blue, he brought up God. So, I risked making the conversation uncomfortable and shared about how I agree that we are not on the earth by random chance and that there is a God. I took it further and shared about Jesus with him. He may not believe the gospel, but he knows it. Will you be ready to share when the moment arrives? Will you follow God down the stairs, out the door, and across the street? Will you be a disciple at any cost? 

Perhaps you still object to being a witness. You are not convinced that being a disciple is worth it. Come back next week. Pastor Jeff is going to talk about the reason for witnessing to the glory of God. 

Let’s pray and see what God does. 

*All rights reserve. Use by permission. 


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