What it Costs to Follow Jesus
Following the success of the 1997 Mars Pathfinder Lander, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) planned a series of scientific missions to the planet Mars. Intending to launch at least one new mission every two years, their motto was “Faster. Better. Cheaper.” Things did not go quite the way that NASA planned, however. In December of 1999 the Mars Polar Lander failed to slow on its descent and slammed into the surface of the Red Planet, smashing into thousands of pieces.
Later it was determined that a design flaw in the 165 million dollar spacecraft had caused the braking system to shut off too soon. According to the engineers, this was a flaw that could have been detected and prevented if only they had run the right simulation on their computers. Why, then, did they fail to run the right simulation? Because NASA was trying to cut costs and decided not to purchase the necessary software. They may have done it cheaper, but they did not do it better. The Mars Lander crashed because the administration failed to count the cost for completing the mission.
This is a mistake Jesus wants to be sure that all of his disciples are careful to avoid. Therefore, he tells us in advance how much it will cost us to follow him to the very end. Even before we come to faith in Christ, he calls us to count the true cost of Christian discipleship, which demands us to love him more than anything else in the world and to carry the cross of our own sacrificial love.
Rather than increasing the number of his followers, such a confrontational statement would cause many of them to walk away. But Jesus was not looking for spectators; he was calling for recruits, and he knew that the only disciples who would go the distance with him were the ones who had counted the cost.
There is a difference between simply going along (accompany/travel - 25) and coming after/following (v27)
Note the three “cannot’s” - Three times Jesus says to this crowd … you cannot be my disciple - vv:26, 27, 33
Jesus’ Definition of Disciple
The most important factor in defining a disciple is the teachings of Jesus. He was the disciple maker; He was speaking to the disciples when the Great Commission was issued. Jesus’ definitions are head and shoulders above any other. Jesus defined a disciple, and we will consider that profile in detail in the next few pages.
We can summarize Jesus’ teaching on disciples as follows. A disciple:
Is willing to deny self, take up a cross daily, and follow Him (Luke 9:23).
Puts Christ before self, family, and possessions (Luke 14:25–35).
Is committed to Christ’s teachings (John 8:31).
Is committed to world evangelism (Matthew 9:36–38).
Loves others as Christ loves (John 13:34–35).
Abides in Christ, is obedient, bears fruit, glorifies God, has joy, and loves the brethren (John 15:7–17).
If a person is not willing to make such commitments, Jesus declares emphatically three times, “He cannot be my disciple” (see Luke 14:26–27, 33).
To draw the conclusion that Jesus made no distinction between believing in Him and commitment to Him is to ignore the facts. Jesus spoke to many about the importance of eternal life. To Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and the thief on the cross, He did not mention the rigors of discipleship. He emphasized belief and trust; “… Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). John 6:25–29 and John 11:25 also provide Jesus’ teaching on salvation as distinct from His teachings on the requirements of being His disciple. Jesus does make a distinction between the need for faith, leading to eternal life, and the need for commitment, leading to following Him and being His disciple. Therefore, I have drawn four conclusions concerning the definition of disciple.
1. Truly regenerate believers are technically disciples from the moment of spiritual birth. True believers are followers of Jesus; this does not mean that they will become mature followers of Jesus or they will make their lives count for Christ. They may live in spiritual slumber, their lives may waste God’s gifts and talents. Therefore, the command to go and make disciples does include evangelism. Introducing people to Christ is the first step to the Great Commission.
2. Jesus meant more than “make converts.” While every true believer is a disciple, Jesus meant more than just “go and do evangelism.” Believers are to be baptized, openly identified with Christ, and taught to obey all that is commanded, that is, to be trained and built into mature, reproducing disciples.
When Jesus said, “Make disciples,” by necessity, the disciples understood it to mean much more than simply getting people to believe in Jesus. They had seen hundreds come and go; had witnessed the multitudes of the needy, the takers, and the superficial scramble after the spectacular; and knew that getting people to say, “Yes, I believe,” was not enough. They had to interpret it to mean to make out of others what Jesus had made out of them. The very fact that they had to count the cost, make sacrifices, and follow Him, meant that Jesus required a long and intentional process for people to become disciples. Their task began with evangelism, but that was just the start. They needed to produce people committed to reaching the world, those through whom the gospel could be multiplied. Making disciples includes winning them, but winning them is just the first step.
3. Making disciples of all nations is stated as a goal. The process would be to win as many as possible, to develop as many as possible, and multiply through as many as possible. “Make disciples” includes the entire disciple-making process, from conversion to trained disciple maker. Therefore, the process of disciple making is legitimate. Not only that, it is the very heart of what Christ expects of His church. Disciple making introduces people to the Savior, builds them to maturity, and trains them to reproduce and be effective for Christ. That is the work of the church and the commanded work of the pastor.
The belief that disciples are born, not made, leads one to conclude that disciple making is evangelism. The commanded work of the church, then, would be to evangelize at the expense of the general health of the church. The commanded work of the church would be to evangelize, the secondary work would be maturing the saints, if time permitted. Disciples are first born, then they are made. They are born by the Spirit of God, with the right factory-installed equipment. Then they must be built, trained, taught, and led to commitment to Jesus Christ. Therefore, Jesus commanded more than evangelism; He commanded taking all Christians to His definition of a mature disciple.
4. When Jesus commissioned the church to “make disciples,” He charged the church with the responsibility to build reproducing disciples. He speaks to the quality of the product. The quality of the product is the key to world evangelism.
Disciple making triggers multiplication. As a strategy and process, multiplication is the key to world evangelization. Disciple making is more than a product; it is a methodology required to reach the world. To the degree the church dedicates itself to disciple making it is obedient to Christ. Now the mission is in trouble because the church has stopped at the first step to disciple making. Too often the church wins and baptizes, but does not teach and train. The sad result is a lack of reproduction and multiplication. God desires that every Christian be His disciple. He wills that every Christian become spiritually reproductive.
Christ commissioned His church to make disciples to insure that two things happen: that the church will produce a healthy product (a reproducing disciple) and that world evangelization will become a reality. But only disciples reproduce and multiply; there is no other way. Therefore, disciple making must be at the heart of the local church. The pastor must install disciple making as first priority.
Hate? - I thought we were supposed to love?
So what does Jesus mean when he tells us to hate our families? According to Scottish theologian Thomas Boston, he means that “no man can be a true disciple of Christ, to whom Christ is not dearer than what is dearest to him in the world.” Here it is important to understand that the Bible sometimes uses the absolute language of hatred to express a comparative degree of affection.
This expression must doubtless be interpreted with some qualification. We must never explain any text of Scripture in such a manner as to make it contradict another. Our Lord did not mean us to understand that it is the duty of Christians to hate their relatives. This would have been to contradict the fifth commandment. He only meant that those who follow Him must love Him with a deeper love even than their nearest and dearest connections, or their own lives.—He did not mean that it is an essential part of Christianity to quarrel with our relatives and friends. But He did mean that if the claims of our relatives and the claims of Christ come into collision, the claims of relatives must give way. We must choose rather to displease those we love most upon earth, than to displease Him who died for us on the cross.
Carry a Cross …
Now, a cross, the only time you would carry a cross is if you were a convicted criminal, punished to die, a crossbeam was hoisted on to your back to carry through the town in public humiliation on the way to your death. This is repugnant to Jesus hearers. We’ve got to feel the weight of this. We wear crosses everywhere, we see crosses everywhere.
This is the equivalent of … Try to bring it in to present day. This is the equivalent of saying, my saying to you, “If you do not pick up your electric chair you cannot follow Jesus.” Doesn’t that sound repugnant, brash? Even that, though, would be insufficient because the cross involves so much more cruelty and torture than even an electric chair would. The reality is if you’re carrying a cross, you’re like a dead man walking. You have no more dreams, no more plans for your life, no more ideas for what you’re going to do in your life. Everything is over for you. You have no more pride, no more honor, nothing. You’re walking through public humiliation on the way to a place where that cross you will be hoisted on to and you will die there. You are a dead man walking and this is the picture that Jesus gives to describe what it means to follow Him. Any takers?
Geldenhuys is emphatic on this point:
The general idea that these words of Jesus about “bearing the cross” refer to passive submission to all kinds of afflictions, like disappointments, pain, sickness and grief that come upon man in this life, is totally wrong. The people to whom Jesus spoke those words fully realized that He meant thereby that whosoever desires to follow Him must be willing to hate his own life and even to be crucified by the Roman authorities for the sake of his fidelity to Him.
In other words, cross-bearing is a particular kind of suffering: it is the suffering we endure for the very reason that we are followers of Jesus Christ. Geldenhuys goes on to explain that taking up our cross “means the acceptance of all sacrifice, suffering, persecution experienced in the wholehearted following of Jesus, and not just ordinary suffering.” Cross-bearing therefore includes any form of persecution. Whenever we are disrespected at school, or disadvantaged at work, or disowned by our families because we take a strong stand for Christ, we are bearing his cross. Whenever we face the spiritual and other hardships that come with whatever ministry we are doing in the name of Christ, we are bearing his cross. We are also bearing his cross whenever we share the sufferings of others because we love them for Jesus’ sake.
Therefore, the first question any would-be disciple needs to ask is, Am I willing to die with Jesus and for Jesus, just as he was willing to die on the cross for me? Because if I am not willing to die for Jesus, then I am not ready to live for him either—not in the way he calls me to live.
Folks this is a huge claim to Christ’s authority over you …
The First is
The Christian landscape is strewn with the wreckage of derelict, half-built towers—the ruins of those who began to build and were unable to finish. All too many people still ignore Christ’s warning and undertake to follow him without first pausing to reflect on the cost of doing so. The result is the great scandal of so-called ‘nominal Christianity’. In countries to which Christian civilization has spread, large numbers of people have covered themselves with a decent, but thin, veneer of Christianity. They have allowed themselves to become a little bit involved; enough to be respectable, but not enough to be uncomfortable. Their religion is a great, soft cushion. It protects them from the hard unpleasantness of life, while changing its place and shape to suit their convenience. No wonder cynics complain of hypocrites in the church and dismiss religion as escapism.
The message of Jesus was very different. He never lowered his standards or changed his conditions to make his call easier to accept. He asked his first disciples, and he has asked every disciple since, to give him their thoughtful and total commitment. Nothing less than this will do.
Like the parable of the unfinished tower, the parable of the two kings warns us to count the cost. Only this time what Jesus calls us to consider is not the cost of discipleship, but the cost of non-discipleship. Verse 31 encourages us to see things from the perspective of the weaker king, who is about to be invaded, and perhaps also to connect the stronger king with the person of God himself. Faced with the threat of a superior army, the weaker party should consider his resources carefully before deciding to defend himself. According to verse 32, he should also consider the consequences of inaction, and choose instead to sue for peace and settle terms with his opponent. Can we afford to follow Jesus? the first parable asks. To which the second parable offers a rejoinder: Can we afford not to?
It costs something to be a true Christian. Let that never be forgotten. To be a mere nominal Christian, and go to church, is cheap and easy work. But to hear Christ’s voice, and follow Christ, and believe in Christ, and confess Christ, requires much self-denial. It will cost us our sins, and our self-righteousness, and our ease, and our worldliness. All—all must be given up. We must fight an enemy who comes against us with twenty thousand followers. We must build a tower in troublous times. Our Lord Jesus Christ would have us thoroughly understand this. He bids us “count the cost.”
Here is how Joseph Fitzmyer translates verse 33: “Everyone one of you who does not say goodbye to all he has cannot be a disciple of mine.”
The cost of discipleship involves putting Christ first in everything, before even our relatives, our ambitions and our possessions.
The cost of discipleship involves putting Christ first in everything, before even our relatives, our ambitions and our possessions.
Worth our Salt
If we are not disciples of Jesus Christ, then we are of no spiritual use. This is the point of the miniparable that Jesus gave to close this discourse: “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 14:34–35; cf. Matt. 5:13). Jesus used this expression when he wanted people to pay attention to something important. What is important here is that unless we follow Jesus in the true way of Christian discipleship, we are worthless to the kingdom of God—as worthless as salt that isn’t even salty.
What Jesus Requires
Jesus Deserves it Because
Jesus is Supremely Loving
Jesus is Supremely Loyal
Here’s the beauty, we don’t have to worry about giving Jesus … Dying to our plans and our dreams and our desires and our hopes, because we live to His plans and His dreams and His desires and our hopes and they’re good. Our Creator knows what He is doing. Do we believe that? Because if we do then we will forsake our plans and our desires and our dreams and our hopes and say, I’ll embrace whatever you say because I trust you, I trust you and He will be faithful, He will be faithful. He’s always faithful to His people. You trade your ideas for your life in exchange for your Creator’s ideas for your life. That’s a good trade, really good trade.
Jesus sacrificed the Supreme Loss
And lest we think, well, this is just too radical. I don’t know if I can do this, the question is why would we not want to do this? C. S. Lewis, he said, “We are half-hearted creatures fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us. Like an ignorant child who goes on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.” And he says these words that pierced my heart and I hope pierce yours. He says, C. S. Lewis says, “We are far too easily pleased.”