The Cost of Discipleship
One night last winter, I attended one of TFT’s Support Groups that was meeting at a church building nearby. After the usual mix of fellowship, biscuits and witty banter, we said our goodbyes and headed home. I got in my car, switched on the engine, changed into reverse gear, started backing up, and… thud. I hadn’t noticed the car parked behind me and bumped into it. I left a note for the owner explaining what had happened and ended up paying £300 to repair the damage to their car. I remarked to the group leader that it was the most expensive Christian event I’d ever been to, and I wondered if I would have gone that night if I’d have known what it would cost me!
Jesus encourages us to count the cost of our discipleship in Luke 14:25-35. Christ uses illustrations to caution against being too hasty to follow him without fully appreciating all that the Christian life involves. The passage is refreshingly blunt, not just because the explicit instruction here breaks up a sequence of parables, but because we’re not usually told the worst things about something before committing. No-one tells you upfront that the Smart TV you want to buy can’t do Disney+ For those who are married, you probably didn’t provide your partner with a list of your bad habits when you started dating. Jesus thinks it’s important that we know what we’re letting ourselves in for if we are to be his disciples. He outlines three types of people who cannot be his disciple.
1. The Uncherishing
In Luke 14:26, Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple.” The word translated “hate” here is a Hebrew term that means “love less”. There’s an example of this towards the end of Genesis 29 where Leah is described as “hated” in verse 31, but in verse 30 we see that Jacob simply loved her less than he loved Rachel.
Matthew 22:37-38 tells us that to love God is our first and greatest commandment. Second, we are to love our neighbours. The biblical narrative is clear that we aren’t called to “hate” others in our sense of the word, quite the opposite. But Jesus comes to “set a man against his father” (Matthew 10:35). Jesus can be a source of division in our relationships. I can think of several people who have been ostracised from their families for professing faith in Christ. To be a disciple, we must be prepared to prioritise our relationship with Jesus ahead of all others.
As a Christian who experiences same-sex attraction and is committed to singleness and celibacy, this verse reminds me that God has a design for human relationships. Where our love for Christ comes first, we engage in actions that are pleasing to Him. Our loving of others, as God defines love, is to love Christ. For Christians, the Church serves as our primary community. It is a community of eternal importance; they are the people with whom I will be in the age to come. Though I face the lack of a romantic/sexual partner in following Christ, God has not left me lacking a source of community and intimacy.
2. The Unyielding
Next, Jesus says, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27). What does this mean? What does the cross represent? Our minds are likely to first go to suffering. It was on the cross that Jesus endured excruciating pain. It was a punishment reserved for the very worst offenders, people who went against what the state required of them. Some of us may encounter persecution for the beliefs we hold. It is God’s mercy if persecution is not a large part of our experience.
The cross also represents God’s will. God sent Jesus to die upon the cross. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays and asks God to remove the burden of the cross from him. He knows what is coming, and he is afraid. But the cross is God’s will, and is the journey the Father ordains for Him. We must put aside our will and be ready to follow the path that God has laid out for us.
As we carry our cross, we follow Christ. And we can find comfort knowing that He will not leave us behind. Sometimes we may fall, but we have others that can help us bear our burdens, just as Simon of Cyrene helped carry Jesus’ cross. I recently tried to carry a sofa out of my house. Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t get it out nearly as easily as I remember the delivery people got it in. Of course, the delivery people are used to carrying that sort of item. They have experience with that particular ‘burden’. I’m always encouraged by fellowship with others in TFT whose struggle is similar to mine. We can draw on one another’s experience to help navigate the way ahead.
3. The Unsurrendering
The last type of person whom Jesus tells us cannot be His disciple is the one who “does not renounce all that he has” (Luke 14:33). It’s worth noting the totality of this statement. How do we count the cost of following Christ? We have to assume it will cost everything: all our possessions, all our relationships, all our plans. When we expect our discipleship to cost everything, we should never end up overwhelmed at how much we stand to lose.
Prepare for the great banquet
These are difficult verses, but the chapter does not leave us without hope. Immediately before this passage in Luke 14, Jesus tells the ‘Parable of the Great Banquet’. The story alludes to the joyful fellowship with God that the Christian will enjoy in fullness in the coming age. It is to this place that the invitation to follow Christ leads. We must prepare ourselves to lose everything we know in order to gain more than we could possibly imagine. As Paul writes, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).
This article was originally published in the Spring 2021 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend, under the title "They cannot be my Disciple". Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the Spring 2021 edition of Ascend