The Christian life clearly has costs. Jesus made this very clear in various places in the Gospels. He said that for Christians in this “world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). He emphasized that a Christian must “deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24) and that anyone “who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). The costs of following Christ are high and Christians often feel this when we look at the rampant evil about us and at our own struggles with sin. The costs of following Christ seem truly high. Or are they?
Athanasius (c. 296–373 AD) was an early Christian theologian who is most remembered for having argued against the heretical Arians (those who believed that Jesus was created and thus not the eternal son of God). His early writings helped to establish the parameters of historic Christian orthodoxy, especially as represented within the Nicene Creed (325 AD). But Athanasius also wrote an influential biography of an early monk named Antony.
To contemporary evangelicals, medieval (and modern) monasticism can seem like an alien world. I have some real worries and questions about medieval and even modern monasticism. But I think Athanasius’ biography of Antony is a very interesting and encouraging look at the life of an early Christian.
Antony was born and raised in a very wealthy Christian family. When his parents died and left him their fortune, he says he was struck by the fact that the Gospels report the apostles leaving all for Christ (Matthew 19:27), and he was struck by Jesus’ words to the rich young ruler that if one would be made perfect he should sell all that he has (Matthew 19:10–22). Antony took these words to heart and sold all in order to become a poor monk.
Antony’s personal discipline and prayer life eventually became so renowned that many Christians would flock to the desert where he resided in order to learn from him. Athanasius relates some of Antony’s teachings to those who sought him out. Antony realized that the life of Christian devotion could be hard work and required diligence. And even if we are not monks, I think Antony’s words can ring true for any Christian:
[T]he whole life of man is very short, measured by the ages to come, wherefore all our time is nothing compared with eternal life. And in the world everything is sold at its price, and a man exchanges one equivalent for another; but the promise of eternal life is bought for a trifle. [Even if we live to be one hundred years old] . . . we shall reign for ever and ever. And though we fought on earth, we shall not receive our inheritance on earth (200).
Antony asks us to compare the troubles and hard work of this life to the reward that is to come for Christian believers. As he emphasizes, what we have to “pay” in this life (what is required of us in faith and obedience) is a “trifle” compared to the vast blessings we will receive in Christ. He continues:
[L]et us not think, as we look at the world, that we have renounced anything of much consequence, for the whole earth is very small compared with all the heaven. Wherefore if it even chanced that we were lords of all the earth and gave it all up, it would be nought worthy of comparison with the kingdom of heaven. For as if a man should despise a copper drachma to gain a hundred drachmas of gold; so if a man were lord of all the earth and were to renounce it, that which gives up is little, and he receives a hundredfold (200).
Antony’s comments are very similar to the Hebrew writer’s claim that “for the joy that was set before [Jesus] he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). Similarly, as with Christ and the cost that he bore for our salvation, Antony asks Christians to clearly see the comparison between the costs in following Christ now to what we will receive in Christ later. As Antony says, it is “nought worthy of comparison”!
Let us not downplay the struggles and pains that our brothers and sisters in Christ who endure various trials in our families, churches, and throughout the world. Real blood is spilled and real tears are cried for the sake of following Christ. But when we are personally tempted to despair in our Christian walk, may God give us the vision that Antony correctly lays out for us: The cost of following Christ is a pittance in comparison to “when [Jesus] appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (I John 3:2). When that day comes, those past costs of following Christ will hardly seem costs.
James McGlothlin, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Philosophy and Theology
- Pray that we each would have eternal vision to count the costs and see Christ as worth any cost or trial.
- Praise the Lord for his faithfullness and continue to pray that he would protect our students and community as we continue to teach, disciple, and build community in person.
- Pray for the Board of Trustees meeting next week as they make decisions.
- Pray that the remaining funds will be raised for the Alex Steddom International Student Fund such that Edison DSouza can join us in Fall 2021.
 Parenthetical page references are to Athanasius’ “Life of Antony” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4: Athanasius: Select Works and Letters, eds. Philip Schaff and Henry Wade (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994).