Salvation, due to God’s amazing grace, is free of charge. Discipleship, however, can be expensive. Thus a believer who decides to apprentice under the tutelage of Christ would be wise to examine the price tag before making a commitment. Jesus didn’t conceal the fact the cost is steep. At one point in His ministry He’d attracted a sizeable audience that followed Him around. No doubt many of the folks tagged along because they’d heard about Him picking up the lunch tab for 5,000 and wanted to be around when and if it happened again. Gratis feedings were as popular then as they are now. Our Savior knew when it was time to thin the herd and exactly how to do it. “Now large crowds were accompanying Jesus, and turning to them he said, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple’” (Luke 14:25-27). I figure at the mere mention of crucifixion hundreds backed away and headed home. Public execution wasn’t part of what they thought they were signing up for.
Jesus continued to preach to those who stuck around: “For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t sit down first and compute the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish the tower, all who see it will begin to make fun of him. They will say, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish!’ Or what king, going out to confront another king in battle, will not sit down first and determine whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot succeed, he will send a representative while the other is still a long way off and ask for terms of peace. In the same way therefore not one of you can be my disciple if he does not renounce all his own possessions” (14:28-33). Needless to say, there’s a lot of misunderstanding and confusion regarding why Christ chose to use the shocking word hate. God doesn’t desire that His children hate anything other than sin. Keep in mind Jesus often employed over-the-top exaggerations to snag people’s attention (a camel passing through the eye of a needle, planks of wood sticking out of one’s eye socket, etc.) and that’s the case here. Dallas Willard wrote, “The entire point of this passage is that as long as one thinks anything may really be more valuable than fellowship with Jesus in His kingdom, one cannot learn from Him.” Use common sense. Our Lord didn’t hate His mother and He wasn’t advocating we hate ours, either. Context is always essential to acquiring full understanding.
Yet this raises a legitimate question. Who in their right mind would willingly accept an often thankless job that demands everything from them? What’s the upside of taking on such an all-consuming, lifelong task like that? Obviously a man or woman would have to be so enamored and impressed with Christ’s merciful majesty that no warnings or scare tactics could dissuade them from enlisting in His army of servants. Jesus described what that profound infatuation is like using two relatable illustrations. He taught that “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure, hidden in a field, that a person found and hid. Then because of joy he went and sold all that he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he found a pearl of great value, he went out and sold everything he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46). Frederick Buechner, in discussing these twin tales, remarked: “Almost always when Jesus speaks of the kingdom of Heaven, there is this note of surprise: it’s so much more wonderful than anyone could have dared hope, so much more within reach than anyone could have dreamed. And there’s the sense too that once we’ve glimpsed this kingdom, tasted this life, we understand that nothing else matters – that all other pearls, next to this one, were only pearls, that every field we ever walked before was only weariness.” Now, if you have no clue whatsoever what our Lord and Savior was getting at in these vignettes; if you’ve not encountered something or someone so mind-blowingly incredible, beautiful and exhilarating that you’d drop everything in a heartbeat to obtain more then perhaps discipleship isn’t for you. Not just yet, anyway.
Notice that in both scenarios the cost involved didn’t matter because it was inconceivable for the buyer to pass up a bargain so enriching. The option of not going “all in” was absurd. It never entered their brain. That’s the kind of motivation those who want to become a Christ disciple must own to take the plunge. They must feel no trepidation whatsoever. As Jesus said, “…No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). Through faith the dedicated disciple is convinced the benefits derived from their decision vastly outweigh any and all inconveniences or hardships it may invite. A.W. Tozer wrote, “Let any man turn to God in earnest, let him begin to exercise himself unto godliness, let him seek to develop his powers of spiritual receptivity by trust and obedience and humility, and the results will exceed anything he may have hoped in his leaner and weaker days.” The treasure they’ve gotten a partial view of is worth risking ridicule to possess. Now, non-Christians will tell them they’re ruining any chance they might have to succeed in the secular world. That to be beholden to anything other than their career, their family or their financial security is sheer insanity. They’ll roll their eyes, strongly advise that the fee for discipleship to an invisible God is simply too high and then do their level best to talk them out of it “for their own good”. You will meet with heavy resistance, that’s certain. But for those who can’t imagine not being a disciple of the Son of God – the most remarkable, extraordinarily unique person to ever trod terra firma – nothing will deter them. For, as Walter Wink once said, “If Jesus had never lived; we would not have been able to invent Him.” The impact Christ made on many of us is indelible – permanent – and we can’t fathom following anyone else.
It’s why Jesus preached discipleship isn’t to be entered into lightly, that we must “…sit down first and compute the cost” as it were. The early disciples knew their devotion could cost them everything but they nevertheless deemed their mission worth it. I love what James S. Stewart wrote: “Knowing Jesus as they now knew Him; they couldn’t conceive any lower place for Him than the throne of the whole earth. Jesus, they saw, must be Master and Lord of life. So they dedicated themselves to the magnificent, amazing adventure that was to carry the cross in less than 300 years from the ignominy of Golgotha to the throne of the Caesars. On the face of it, it seemed impossible that these few men, with no weapons to wield save one, the weapon of love, should make any impression on a world that had the weapon of force and was determined to use it. It seemed impossible that they should stand up against the vested interests of materialism and secularism, the ‘principalities and powers’ of which Paul spoke, and the entrenched selfishness of the world. When they first set out, with their unheard-of dream looking out of their eyes, the world simply laughed them to scorn. And when in spite of laughter and scorn they kept going on, marching indomitably from town to town and land to land until they were knocking at the gates of Rome, the world began to take them seriously and tried to bar their way. But by this time blazing fire and torturing rack and furious insult were all in vain. The dream prevailed, and the world was at their feet.” Oh, to be as courageous and determined as the early disciples were!
If we’ve carefully weighed the cost of discipleship and found it well worth going into debt over then we must investigate how to become one. The first thing to do is to get on our knees and ask God for guidance, stamina and fortitude. Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). This doesn’t mean to ask once and then sit back and wait for enlightenment to alight. On the contrary, we should convey our yearning to be a dynamic follower of Christ several times a day for the rest of our life. Dr. Larry Crabb wrote, “Approach Him [God] with an awareness of who He is that makes you both tremble and draw close. Approach Him knowing you’ve got a long way to go in becoming a really good person. Approach Him in your emptiness and desire. And that could mean saying something as simple as, ‘I really want You. I want lots of other things, but I want You most.’” Timothy Keller’s thoughts also broached the subject of discipleship. He said, “A Christian is, literally, ‘Christ’s one,’ someone who isn’t just vaguely influenced by Christian teaching, but who has switched his or her most fundamental allegiance to Jesus. Christians understand the all-or-nothing choice that’s forced upon us by the magnitude of Jesus’ claims. …If Jesus was not a lunatic, then our only alternative is to accept His claims and center our entire lives around Him. The one thing we have no right to do is to respond to Him mildly.”
It’s vital we utilize any means available to get to know Jesus more intimately, as well. And no source of truth about Him tops the Holy Bible. A disciple should consult it daily. Our Lord confirmed it when He said, “If you dwell in my word, you really are my disciples. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). To dwell in something means “to linger over it in thought or speech”, thereby allowing it to saturate an individual’s mind completely. Tozer opined, “If you would follow on to know the Lord, come at once to the open Bible expecting it to speak to you. Do not come with the notion that it’s a thing which you may push around at your convenience. It’s more than a thing; it is a voice, a word, the very Word of the living God.” And we mustn’t be only readers of the Scriptures but doers of what it tells us. In the beginning this will be difficult because the old person with their hurts, habits and hang-ups will demand equal time but we must trust that Jesus will assist us in bringing the urges of the new creation to the forefront. Willard wrote, “Where His word is, there He is. He does not leave His words to stand alone in the world. And His loveliness and strength will certainly be personally revealed to those who’ll simply make the effort to do what His words indicate.”
A Christ disciple should become familiar with various translations of the Bible in addition to the writings of gifted Christian authors who provide educational and supplemental perspectives and insights. I try not to be judgmental but I do have a problem with believers who’ve graduated from high school yet still give as a lame excuse, “I’m not a good reader”. There’s so much wisdom to be gained from respected writers; from C.S. Lewis to Ravi Zacharias, from Billy Graham to Brennan Manning (just to name a few out of the many I admire) and anybody can buy one of their engaging books for less than lunch at Applebee’s! Don’t let laziness keep you from growing and maturing as a follower of Jesus. One can’t amass too much wisdom. J.P. Moreland said, “Wisdom is the application of knowledge gained from studying both God’s written Word and His revealed truth in creation. If we’re going to be wise, spiritual people prepared to meet the crises of our age, we must be a studying, learning community that values the life of the mind.” There are also TV and YouTube sermons preached by servants of the Lord (like T.D. Jakes and Joyce Meyers) that’ll inspire and elevate your spirits on a regular basis. And, of course, there’s your local church that’s indispensable to your ongoing training in discipleship. You shouldn’t just attend, you should be involved. What I’m trying to say is this: The more of God we absorb into our life the less this crazy, mixed-up world will be able to infiltrate and corrupt our divinely-ordained purpose for taking another breath. Discipleship is a full-time job, not a hobby. But what I found in my own spiritual journey is the better I got to know Jesus the more I wanted to be one of His “fishers of people.”
But when it comes right down to it becoming a Christ disciple isn’t something that just happens to us whether we intend to be one or not. No, it requires a sober, deliberate decision be made of our own volition. God will indeed call us but He’ll never coerce us. He respects our free will explicitly and will abide by the choices we make regardless of His preferences for us. No one achieves disciple status by accident. Becoming an adherent of our Savior has to be our #1 ambition with everything and everyone else coming in a distant second. It can’t be kept a secret, either. Willard wrote, “We should apprentice ourselves to Jesus in a solemn manner, and we should let those around us know that we’ve done so.” Otherwise we’re spinning our wheels, wasting precious time pretending to be something we ain’t. Discipleship is the biggest responsibility a saved soul can take on during this mortal phase of existence. It’s the greatest honor a born again Christian can acquire. It’s worth every difficulty that comes along. As Jesus said, “Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry” (Matthew 11:29-30). Face it; everybody ends up with a yoke of some kind to shoulder throughout this earthly life. I’ve found that Christ’s is the lightest of all. So discipleship? Where do I sign up?