The Divine View of Discipleship

Luke 14:25-33 is a most instructive text that provides us with our Lord’s standard of what constitues true discipleship. We will be primarily referring to this text in considering this vital theme. Many Christians today claim to be followers or disciples of Jesus Christ, yet their thoughts, beliefs and actions could not be further from the mind and will of God. Sadly, to be a Christian today often means very little as far as one’s lifestyle and priorities are concerned. While those of us who profess to be followers of Christ might not use the offensive language of the unbelievers or frequent their bars or clubs, on a day-to-day basis the way we live our lives often conforms to our own whims and desires—everything revolves around us. Is this what it means to know Jesus Christ and to be His disciple? Or, do we need to see what Jesus Himself says about what it actually means to be a true disciple and to learn from His words? Are we ready to do a self-inspection and, perhaps, to make a change in our lives, thoughts and priorities?

We must always remember that God’s perspective is different from ours, and if we are to be disciples of Christ, we must view our life and actions from His perspective rather than our own. We might think we know how to be disciples, but if our ideas differ from God’s, we will get nowhere! We need to understand that true discipleship is extremely important to our Savior—more important than a large following. Notice verse 25. Jesus’ concern was not large numbers, but faithfulness—He wanted true disciples. The same is true today. Jesus wants a close, intimate relationship with those who are willing to know Him better and faithfully follow Him. Let us take the time to briefly and concisely consider the high cost of true discipleship and the three necessary prerequisites to being a true disciple, or follower, of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Must Come First

We can only claim to be true disciples of Christ if He is our priority in life. According to today’s text, true discipleship specifically involves priority over three things—family, self and possessions. First, our relationship and obedience to God must take precedence over our own families (v. 26). The word hate in verse 26 is used in a comparative sense and means “to love less.” Nothing—including our families—should stand in our way from doing what we know to be right. Sadly, Christians are often putting “family time” and “family activities” before the things of the Lord—things such as church attendance or Bible study. Yes, Satan can use the family, as important as it is, to keep the saint from faithfully following the Savior. We must be careful not to fall prey to family idolatry. Rather, we must love God above all else.

Second, our love for God must be greater than our love of self. By nature, we are selfish, self-centered people. We want what we want, when we want it, how we want it, where we want it. And, if anything stands in our way—including God, His Word, His church or His will—woe be to that which stands in our way! Yet only when we surrender our love for ourselves can we truly be called a disciple of Jesus (Phil. 3:4-9).

Finally, if we are truly a follower of Christ, He will have priority over our possessions (v. 33). The word forsake means “to renounce” as in a comparative sense. Satan often uses things to keep us from the One who brings true joy, fulfillment and happiness. We cannot claim to be true disciples of Jesus Christ if our “things” are more important than the very One who has blessed us with them (Matt. 6:19-21, 24).

We Must Submit to His Will

In order to be a disciple of Christ, we must not only make Him our priority in all areas of life, but we must also completely submit to His will rather than our own. The words of Jesus in our text under consideration reveal the prerequisite for being His true disciple: “Whosoever doth not bear his cross … cannot be My disciple.” Those to whom the Lord was speaking readily understood the idea of “cross bearing.” It does not mean, as is often supposed, to suffer or face persecution or martyrdom. Yes, to follow Christ will bring persecution to some degree, but this is not the essence of the term “cross bearing.” In the first century, the Romans required a man condemned to death by crucifixion to carry his own cross through the streets to the place of crucifixion. This act was not intended to make the offender suffer more physically; rather, it was intended to show all who were watching that the offender was now completely subject to the will of the state rather than his own will. In the Roman Empire, crucifixion was reserved for the most serious of capital crimes—for rebels against the state or against the social order. Cross bearing served a deterrent function, an exemplary function.

Thus, to “bear our cross” means to fully submit to the authority and will of the Savior and no longer to our own will or desires. This concept of “cross bearing” is a daily, ongoing process (9:23)—we will never completely conquer the willfulness of our own flesh until we finally receive our glorified bodies. Our “inward man” must be renewed “day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). If we are truly a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, then we will daily seek His will in all things rather than our own (Jas. 4:7-8).

Obedience Must Characterize Our Walk

The natural result of making Jesus Christ the priority in our life and submitting to His will is a desire to faithfully obey His Word. Jesus’ statement “come after Me” (v. 27), or “follow Me,” could not be more clear. In the New Testament, James addresses this issue and says, “Faith without works is dead” (Jas. 2:20). We do not earn salvation through works, yet faith without the subsequent fruit of works (anything accomplished according to the will of God) is not a genuine, saving faith. If we are truly disciples of Christ, we will obey His Word. In John 10:27, Jesus tells the unbelieving religious leaders, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” The one who follows Jesus hears what He says and obeys (Jas. 1:22-25). We cannot claim to be a disciple of Christ if we are not obediently following Him.

Jesus gives two examples of true discipleship (vv. 28-33). From these, we learn that our actions have consequences—one such consequence concerns our testimony before others (vv. 28-30). We must not minimize what it means to truly be a disciple of Jesus Christ—the cost and consequences are great indeed. This entire text is summed up well in Luke 9:23. If we truly know Jesus as our Savior and discover that we are not the disciples we need to be, our response should be repentance and confession.

Never forget, faithful earthly discipleship will yield eternal gain. Yes, the present cost of discipleship is high, but it is well worth it. We will fully realize its value one day yet future (2 Cor. 4:16-18). May each of us purpose to truly count the cost and be called a genuine follower—a disciple—of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. — Matt Costella