The Cost of Discipleship (Redux)
This is the second time Luke recorded Jesus speaking on this topic. The first time was in chapter 9. Since Jesus preached it more than once, we can assume it is an important message.
We can also assume it is an important message because of the circumstance under which he delivered it. Verse 25 says “now great crowds accompanied him”. They were literally following him, as he had to turn to speak to them.
Many teachers and preachers would respond to a big crowd by saying something that would please the crowd and encourage them to come back. But Jesus did not do that.
Instead, he spoke about the difference between watching the show and being a disciple. Since the teaching is not at all crowd pleasing, we can see that he cared more for real discipleship than attracting crowds.
The church of today needs to follow the example of Jesus. Churches who do not follow his example will end up with a building full of spectators and a staff paid to entertain them.
We must remember that Jesus did not tell us to make converts. He told us to make disciples. The passage that we call the Great Commission tells us this. Jesus said “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28: 18-20)
So, what is a disciple according to Jesus?
Jesus answered this question in the negative and in three parts. First, you cannot be his disciple unless you hate your family. Second, you cannot be his disciple unless you give up your own life. Third, you cannot be his disciple unless you give up your own sense of self direction.
First, Jesus said you could not be his disciple unless you hated your own family. What did he mean by that? Since we know that the 5th commandment says “Honor your father and mother”, we would not expect Jesus to command us to hate our parents. Jesus made sure his own mother was taken care of by John.
“Hate” was sometimes used to mean to love one thing so much you could give up even what is in second place. Where I am from, we would call it a “distant second”.
Jesus was saying that you must put him above all things, even your family. By using the word “hate”, Jesus made clear that our devotion to him is way above our devotion even to our family. Thomas Boston wrote “no man can be a true disciple of Christ, to whom Christ is not dearer than what is dearest to him in the world.”
This teaching is in line with Jesus’ words in chapter 9. A man said he would follow Jesus, but wanted to wait to bury his father. In other words, he wanted to wait until his father died. But Jesus told him no, saying you go and proclaim the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:60)
That is exactly what we ask missionaries to do. They leave their home town, their church, their extended family and their friends to go and proclaim the kingdom in countries other than their own.
Second, Jesus said you must give up your own life to be his disciple. (26) He put this graphically, saying he must bear his own cross. (27) The cross was an implement of suffering and death. Jesus is saying a disciple must be willing to give up his life for him. Jesus walked in the way of the cross. His followers must do so also.
Christian history is full of those who have given up their lives. It was so common in the early church that Tertullian said the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.
Cross bearing also includes the lesser trials, any persecution or suffering that comes from following Christ.
Third, Jesus said to be a disciple, you must give up your right to self direction. We see this in his command to “come after me”. (27) Not only are we to take up our cross, but we are to take it up and follow him. We give up the right to say where we are going and we go where Jesus leads us.
Again, we see the most common example of missionaries. They give up the pursuit of career and wealth because Christ sends them to another country to preach the gospel. But all of us will find that when we commit our lives to Christ, he will lead us to places that we did not expect. We go willingly because we are disciples determined to follow after him.
Jesus believed in full disclosure, though. He did not promise that everything would be easy. In fact, he told them to count the cost of discipleship.
He gave two examples to illustrate his point. First, he said no one builds a tower without first determining how much it will cost. If he does not, he will not be able to finish it and will be mocked. (28-30)
Second, Jesus said no king goes to war without first determining if he has enough soldiers to win. If not, he will seek peace to avoid a humiliating defeat. (32)
Every time a believer gives up or falls, it is not just the believer that is mocked, it is Christ and his church. It is, therefore, worthwhile for us to tell people that there is a cost to following Christ, rather than to tell only the good things.
Jesus summed up his requirements in verse 33. He said anyone who does not renounce all he has cannot be my disciple.
We give up many things to follow Christ, but what do we lose if we do not commit to him and, instead just hang around or pay lip service to him? We lose everything. Jesus said, when salt loses its taste, it is of no value. Salt in Jesus’ time was not refined as it is now. It was dug out of salt deposits and contaminated with other elements. In fact, the salt might wash out of the material and leave it with no taste at all. At that point it was useless and fit only for the compost pile (34)
Similarly, one who says he believes but does not commit to Christ has little or no value to the kingdom. He or she will not be so Christ like that non-believers notice the difference. He will not tell others about Christ or live in a way that honors him. Thus, he has no effect and becomes worthless. In fact, he may be worse than worthless, for he may actually get in the way of the work of the kingdom.
So, we know what we lose. But what do we gain? Jesus did not go into this in this teaching. But it is worth thinking about.
eternal life (John 3:16);
adoption into God’s family (John 1:12);
forgiveness of our sin (John 1:29; Ephesians 1:7);
fellowship with the Father and the Son (John 14:23) and
the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-15).
We gain the knowledge that we only do what Jesus did. He counted the cost long ago and paid it for our salvation. He calls us to imitate him, to follow him.
The gain far outweighs the loss. But the gain comes only with absolute commitment to Christ.
Start on the path today: become a disciple!