Sometimes, when we talk about Christianity, we present it as a great deal. “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” Jesus says (Matthew 11:30). But other times, it sounds like Christianity is costly. Remember that Jesus also says “he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38). So which view is right? Both of them.
There’s a pair of images that Jesus gives that sheds some light on this (Matthew 13:44-46):
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
At first, these two might be expressing the same thing, but there’s actually something to be gained from each one. The first image is of a treasure buried in a field. The man who finds this treasure buries it again, and then gives up everything he has to buy the field. Notice two things. First, buying the field costs the man everything he has.
Second, it’s still a steal. The man in this parable is getting the land for cheap. What Jesus is describing isn’t even legal. If you find treasure, or oil, or gold or whatever on someone’s property, you can’t conceal that fact from them when you’re trying to buy the land. Jesus is describing Christianity as an incredible deal, so good that He’s basically saying that we’re ripping God off. Look at what we get out of the deal, and look at what He gets.
So what can we take from this? You could say that Christianity is a bargain, but it still costs everything you have. Or to put it another way, Christianity costs everything you have, but it’s still a bargain. The Christian life really does require us to be willing to give up everything that we have to follow Christ. For some of us, that might literally mean giving up:
- the promotion, because it requires you to work on Sundays or to spend too much time away from our families; or
- the boyfriend, because he’s pressuring you to do things contrary to the faith;
- the promise of having a wife and kids, because He’s calling us to the priesthood or religious life;
- the comfort of popularity, because our friends are a bad influence; or simply
- our self-centeredness, as we are daily asked to put others in front of ourselves when we really don’t want to.
And we can choose to look on it negatively. But we can also choose to look at it as the most amazing investment imaginable. Just consider. Imagine if you had a time machine, and could go back and invest in Apple or Microsoft or one of those companies when it was just starting. Chances are, you’d gladly give up all of your money, you’d struggle to make ends meet, putting every spare dollar into buying more and more stock in the company, knowing that one day, these short-term sacrifices would make you extremely wealthy. And that’s just for money, just for this life. Christianity contains the certain promise of so much more. Give up everything you have to follow Christ, and you’ll gain eternal happiness.
And what’s better is that this investment gains dividends now. It’s not that you’ll get eternal life but you have to live a terrible life now. Even if that were true, it would be worth it. Trading a few decades of unhappiness for unending billions of decades of bliss would be a great deal. But the truth, God is the author of human nature. He knows what will truly fulfill us both in eternity and here and now.
And this is what’s revealed in the second of the parables that Jesus uses. He compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a Pearl of Great Price, but more importantly, he compares you and I to “a merchant in search of fine pearls.” In other words, it’s not just that the Kingdom of Heaven is valuable in some objective sense. It’s that it’s the fulfillment of what you and I have been searching for our whole lives. The happiness that we crave, and that we do anything to gain, that’s the happiness God is promising us. That’s the pearl.
So with that, two parting words of advice:
First, It’s no good trying to do Christianity by half-measures. The price of the Kingdom of Heaven is to give up everything to follow Christ. So look at whatever is holding you back, whatever you’re not willing to part with, and ask yourself, “would I really trade eternal happiness with my Creator for this?”
Second, your heart is longing for the Pearl of Great Price. Stop trying to satisfy it with imitation pearls, no matter how shiny they are. Trust God to provide the joy that He made you for, and the joy that He promises to give you.