25 And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, 26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? 29 Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, 30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. 33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.
34 Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned? 35 It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; but men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Luke 14:25–35)
Three times in this passage, Jesus makes the statement, “cannot be my disciple.” What is meant by “disciple”?
The word for disciple appears 269 times in the New Testament—all of them in the Gospels and Acts. It does not appear at all in the rest of the New Testament.
The word “disciple” (mathētēs) means a follower or learner. A disciple was someone who followed and learned from a teacher. We usually think of Jesus having disciples, but so did John the Baptist (Matthew 9:14), the Pharisees (Matthew 22:16), and Paul (Acts 9:25).
Jesus had many disciples who followed Him (Luke 6:17), but sometimes they stopped following Him and left (John 6:66; Luke 19:37-39). This tells us that not every disciple was a true believer in Christ. Those disciples who left, came to Jesus to learn if He was the Messiah and, finding Him not to their expectations, they left.
In our passage today, Jesus places some very strict requirements on being His disciple. As we look at His requirements, be asking yourself: is being a disciple the same as being a believer?
THE COST OF BEING A DISCIPLE
1) Hate Everyone You Love
Luke 14:25 And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, Luke 14:26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
Jesus is always pushing us in ways we don’t like to go. He commanded us to love our neighbor and to love our enemy, but to hate our family! Does He really mean this?
First, the Greek word for “hate” (miseō) means hate. Pretty much if you see the word “hate” in the New Testament, it’s this Greek word, and it means to hate or detest.
Second, we know from other scriptures that we are to love other family members. The one that comes to my mind is Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives.”
Third, we need to understand that the Bible sometimes uses strong language to make a point. Compare Genesis 29:30 with Genesis 29:31—
30 And [Jacob] went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years. (Genesis 29:30)
31 And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren. (Genesis 29:31)
Did Jacob hate Leah? No, he loved Rachel more. She was a higher priority in his life than Leah. The word “hate” here is referring to a “comparative degree of affection…so that if it comes down to a choice, there is no doubt as to which affection we will choose” (Philip Graham Ryken, Luke, Reformed Expository Commentary, 2:90).
If your family ever said, “It’s us or Jesus…you choose…then you would, if you are a Christian, leave your family.” In a Bible sense, you hate your family because you love Jesus more. Before you write that off as nonsense, remember that there are thousands of ex-muslims that have had that happen to them.
A true disciple will love Jesus more than anyone or anything else.
24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24)
2) Bear Your Cross
Luke 14:27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
What does it mean to bear a cross? The image here is from the Roman way of executing people by means of crucifixion. As part of the sentence of execution, the victim was made to carry the patibulum (the horizontal cross beam) to the site of his execution.
Then the victim was nailed to the patibulum, which was then hoisted on the vertical post already in the ground. There he was left to be exposed to the ridicule of people passing by, to the random unkind acts of birds flying overhead, and to the hot sun in the sky.
What does it mean for us to bear our cross as disciples of Jesus? Jesus is not talking about any old trial that you face in life. Not every trial is a cross to bear. Only the trials that happen to us because we follow Christ are crosses we bear.
- We must be ready to face death and persecution for the sake of Jesus. At one time, this was not a real possibility for Christians in the United States. But today, I think most of us can see this happening. Are we ready to die or be jailed for Christ, like a Chinese pastor (Wang Yi) was just recently?
- We must be ready to face rejection and humiliation for the sake of Christ. This is what the early disciples were willing to do with joy.
41 And they departed from the presence of the council [who had firmly told them not to mention Jesus anymore], rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. (Acts 5:41)
3) Count The Cost
Luke 14:28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Luke 14:29 Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Luke 14:30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
Jesus’s illustration is that of a man who goes out to build a watchtower, something that you would see in a vineyard set up to keep watch for intruders. Before he does so, he considers if he has sufficient resources to finish it. Perhaps he considers if there is enough stone on his land to build it with.
I know a man from another city who has been building his house for almost two decades. It’s still not finished—he attempted to do too much. Those who know about the situation either laugh or shake their heads.
What is Jesus saying here? Are we supposed to count the cost of being a Christian or a disciple before we become one?
It sounds very foreign to us in Western culture. When we become a Christian here, there isn’t much cost to it, at least not yet. The worst for many people is a tease from a drinking buddy, “Got religion, did ya? Well, guess we won’t see much of you at the bar.”
It’s also possible to be a Christian and fly under the radar. Don’t say much about anything, and you can get by without anyone knowing. But the implication that Jesus makes here is that if you want to be His disciple, there will be some costs.
Are you willing to accept those costs?
4) Forsake All
Jesus uses another parable to teach a slightly different point (although some commentaries view it as the same point):
Luke 14:31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Luke 14:32 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage [delegation], and desireth conditions of peace.
Just for your information, it’s not a given that an army of 10,000 cannot defeat an army of 20,000. The Romans, with their superior tactics and weapons, often defeated larger armies who were poorly equipped in weapons and smarts. There are also stories of very small groups of soldiers defeating very large enemies because of their courage.
But in this case, the king with the smaller army determines that it’s not possible for him to win against the larger army. So he sends out a peace delegation to work out conditions of surrender. That’s the implication here: there will be a surrender of something. The king with the larger army isn’t going to say, “Oh, okay, no problem, I’ll go home now.”
There will be a surrender. He will forsake some or all of his possessions and power.
Jesus applies this parable:
Luke 14:33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh [surrender] not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.
Does this passage mean that, in order to be saved, we have to surrender all? Does it even mean that, in order to be saved, we have to be at the very least, willing to surrender all?
Think back to the day of your salvation. Think about your life since then. Can you honestly say that you have surrendered all to Jesus? I don’t think any of us can. So if Jesus is talking about salvation here—what does that mean for our own personal salvation? Do we measure up? Are we saved?
It’s at this point that we need to look at…
THE CLARIFICATION OF BEING A DISCIPLE
Let’s review. To be a disciple of Jesus, a person must:
1) Hate Everyone You Love—love Jesus more than your family and forsake them if they demand you forsake Jesus.
2) Bear Your Cross—be willing to die for Jesus.
3) Count The Cost—seriously consider whether or not you can handle the cost of following Christ.
4) Forsake All—surrender all or be willing to surrender all for the sake of following Jesus.
Is this what we need to do in order to be saved? What does the Bible say?
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
Salvation is by grace through faith. It is a gift. So, no, Jesus isn’t discussing what it takes to be saved in Luke 14:25-35. Not by a long shot.
This brings us back to the question I asked at the beginning: is being a disciple the same as being a believer? My answer is no. A believer might be a disciple and they should be a disciple, but they might not be a disciple.
A believer is someone who has trusted in Jesus Christ for their salvation.
A disciple is someone who has committed themselves to learn from and to follow Jesus Christ in their salvation.
The New Testament indicates that there are believers who never get past being a pew-warmer (if even that). They continue in sins, and look like the world around them. Jesus talks about them in Revelation 3, describing them as “lukewarm”:
16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:16)
Jesus doesn’t have a very high opinion of lukewarm Christians—or, to put in the sense of Luke 14, believers who are not disciples. Look at Luke 14 again—
Luke 14:34 Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned? Luke 14:35 It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; but men cast it out. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
Salt is a seasoning and a preservative. In ancient times, before refrigeration, salt was useful and quite vital. Imagine our world without gasoline…that’s how important salt was in the ancient world.
Salt was ancient man’s servant, just as gasoline is our servant today. What happens if you get water or sugar or dirt in a can of gasoline? You throw it out. It’s useless—you can’t put it in your lawnmower. It can no longer serve you.
There’s some question as to how exactly salt can lose its “savour,” perhaps it gets contaminated like our can of gasoline, but the point is—it becomes useless. A lukewarm Christian and a saltless Christian are the same thing in Jesus’s eyes.
Paul calls believers who are not disciples, “carnal” Christians.
1 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:1)
These Christians might think they have a good life, indulging sin and self, but they are missing out on the blessing of a close walk with the Lord and the joy of His presence in their life.
They will also miss out on the rewards given to those faithful Christians—that is, disciples—in the day of Christ. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3—
13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. 14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. (1 Corinthians 3:13–15)
Do you have to forsake all, or be willing to forsake all, to be a Christian? No.
THE CALL TO BE A DISCIPLE
So, is the New Testament saying that there are two standards of being a Christian? That you can sign in on a level one commitment or a level two commitment? Let’s see, we got the believer base package that includes eternal life and the disciple-level base package which includes great rewards in Heaven. The believer package is free, but the disciple package is costly.
My answer to that is yes and no. Yes, on the surface, it does appear that way. But no, it’s not that Lord is giving you the option. He wants all Christians to be disciples. He wants passionate Christians, not lukewarm Christians. He wants us to be spiritual, not carnal. So please don’t think that you have an option between a base model and one with leather seats. That’s not the intention.
But, because of our sinful nature, that’s what happens. People get a glimpse of Jesus, understand that they are sinners, get that Jesus died for their sin, and trust Him for their salvation. They believe, but they struggle to live their belief out. They fall prey to temptation and sin. They run with the wrong crowd. They never develop the habit of devotions or consistent church attendance.
Are they not saved? That’s impossible for us to say. Is Jesus pleased with their lifestyle? No…it’s lukewarm and He’d like to spit them out of His mouth. So, let’s not get this idea that you can sign up to Christianity at different levels. Jesus wants us to be on-fire, growing, learning, following. He wants us to be believing disciples.
Why? Why should we bother?
1) Be a disciple to receive the rewards; to hear the Lord say, “Well done” at the end. And the rewards for being a disciple make it far more than worth it, even if the reward is Jesus simply saying, “Well done.”
2) Be a disciple because it’s what our Lord wants. Do you really want to stand before Him someday and try to explain why you didn’t care about following Him?
3) Be a disciple because it’s the best testimony to the world about Jesus. Obey, for instance, His command in John 13—
34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:34–35)
4) Be a disciple to experience the joy of being used by God. The pew-warmer Christian is a bored Christian—well, bored with Christianity. But listen, God isn’t going to use the person who isn’t willing to commit to being a disciple.
Take witnessing, for instance. When you share the gospel with someone—even if they don’t respond in faith—it’s a tremendous joy. But you have to take the risks of a disciple—you might get persecuted for sharing your faith. Your family member might walk away or chase you away. But count the cost—isn’t the joy you will have in the Lord worth it?
Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is totally worth it.