In a comment on my last post, Mark Bass referred to a passage in Luke 14. Several years ago my former pastor asked me to write an article for our church newsletter. At the time, that very passage was weighing on me (as it often still does), so I attempted to write a brief devotional meditation based on it. As a result of Mark’s comment, I decided to go ahead and republish it here:
Our pastor recently asked me to write an article on discipleship for the church newsletter. I found that to be simultaneously both very simple and very difficult–simple, because the Scripture texts are unmistakably clear; and difficult, because the same texts are uncomfortably clear. Few of us, I imagine, have fully faced (much less gladly embraced) what the Bible teaches about discipleship. Let’s look at a key passage from Jesus’ own teaching in Luke 14:25-35:
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Jesus apparently intended to dislodge from His would-be followers any sentimental misconceptions they might have had regarding the cost of discipleship. I’ve italicized a word, repeated in verses 26, 27, and 33, which pierces my own heart each time I read it–cannot. “Anyone who does not …hate his own life…carry his cross…give up everything he has,” Jesus says, “cannot be my disciple.”
Do I consider myself a disciple? Before answering, I must look again at the conditions. “Hate his own life…” “Carry his cross…” “Give up everything he has…” If we’ve thought about those demands at all, we tend to rationalize them away so we can justify a comfortable, diluted version of Christianity far removed from the early church’s joyful, reckless abandonment to Christ.
Every true Christian is a follower of Jesus, a disciple. And if I’m following Him, that means that I in some sense must go where He’s gone, do what He’s done, suffer and sacrifice as He’s suffered and sacrificed. Knowing full well what it will cost me, I must move outside the four walls of my safe, predictable Christian friendships and expend myself for Him. I must love the unlovely, knowing (like Him) that some will take advantage of me. I must give to those in need, knowing (like Him) that some will never appreciate my generosity. I must invest all that I am and all that I have in His Kingdom. His love richly deserves and rightly demands no less.
It’s so easy for me to fool myself and say that I’m a disciple, when in fact I’ve never met the costly conditions set forth in these verses. I (like everyone else) have an enormous capacity for deceiving myself (Jer. 17:9). We like to sing the old hymn I Surrender All—but have we? The answer must be an unequivocal yes if we’re ever to be anything more than mere disciple “wannabes”.
(Postscript: Just in case you’re wondering, I don’t remotely think I’ve got this down pat.)