Grace For The Journey
What would it be like if Jesus wrote a book on church growth? That thought occurred to me several times as I studied these last few verses of chapter 14. The ways of Jesus really run counter to the ideas embraced by so many evangelical churches today. Verse 25 says there are “great multitudes” following Jesus around. We can imagine these multitudes would be in the hundreds if not thousands. People from all over Palestine are coming out to hear Jesus and following Him along the way. Rather than celebrating this fact that multitudes of people were following Him around and hanging on His every word, He turns to them and speaks in such a way that He achieves what would really be the opposite goal of modern church growth manuals. Chapter one of the modern church growth manual says something like, “How to make your church irresistible to hundreds of people.” Yet, according to verse 25 of our passage today, if Jesus wrote a book on church growth chapter one would be titled, “How To Whittle Down The Large Number Of Your Crowd!”
Jesus is not interested in building a crowd.
He is interested in building disciples,
True Christians, true followers of Christ.
This passage runs counter to many methods of contemporary church growth, not the least of which touches on the very issue of how one even becomes a Christian. In our day, it remains very popular to ask someone to repeat a little prayer after us. A preacher preaches from somewhere or other in the Bible and after he is finished says something like, “Now if you want to go to heaven, just repeat this little prayer with me.” Or, after sharing at some large outreach event, or a wedding, or a funeral, he might say, “If you want to go to heaven, just repeat this little prayer after me.” And in many cases the preacher or the speaker has not even shared the Gospel! He may have talked about a thousand things, many of them perhaps even coming from the Bible – a story, a teaching – but no Gospel; no real teaching about who Jesus Christ is and what Jesus Christ has done and why what He has done was necessary to do. No teaching about sin, redemption, atonement, death, resurrection, conversion, or sanctification – just “repeat this little prayer after me if you want to go to heaven.”
Yet, there is nowhere in Scripture any notion that simply by asking people to “repeat a little prayer” that they have transferred from darkness to light, from separation from God to reconciliation with God, crossing over from death to life. Consequently, there are scores of people sitting in the average American church today who have been told they are okay with God when, in reality, they are not okay, they are lost.
This passage is about really following Christ. This passage is about becoming a Christian, a Christ-follower. It is not the first time we have heard Jesus speak about this in Luke’s Gospel. You will remember back in Luke 9:23-26, Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.” Does that sound like Jesus is saying, “Just pray this simple little prayer after Me?” Quite the contrary. Again in Luke 9:57-62, “Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go. And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’ Then He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.’ And another also said, ‘Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’”
Does it sound like Jesus is saying, “If you really want to go to heaven, to get into the kingdom of God, just say this little prayer with Me and you’re in?” Not at all. Jesus will go on to say in Luke 18 that salvation is something that is really impossible, something “impossible with man,” but “possible with God.” Salvation may mean the leaving behind of “house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God.” The one who does this, says Jesus, will receive “in the age to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:24-30).” Nothing there about simply, “Repeating this nice little prayer with me.”
Salvation is a radically changed life
That grows daily under the absolute
Lordship of Jesus Christ.
In last verses in Luke 14, Jesus answers the question, “What must I do to be saved” (Acts 16:30)?
In fact all of these terms and phrases in Luke’s Gospel are expressing the same thing; becoming a Christian . . .
- Salvation (Luke 7:50),
- Being a disciple (Luke 14:26),
- Entering God’s kingdom (Luke 18:24),
- Having eternal life (Luke 18:18),
- Eating bread in God’s kingdom (Luke 14:15),
- Being acknowledged before God’s angels (Luke 12:8),
- And following Jesus (Luke 14:26)
Are different ways Luke expressed the same reality.
This passage is about entering the kingdom of God, it is about salvation; it is about the conditions for discipleship. IF we find ourselves “leading someone in a prayer to receive Christ” we had better be sure that we carefully explain to him or her these conditions. We will not do them the disservice of telling them to simply “bow their heads, close their eyes, and say the magical little prayer with us,” thus giving them a false sense of assurance that their sins have been forgiven. Rather, we will carefully explain the full Gospel message and spell out the conditions of discipleship.
What are these conditions?
What Is Required If I Am To Really Follow Christ . . .
I. Total Adoration.
We must love the Lord Jesus Christ more than we love anything or anyone else. That is the meaning behind the words of Jesus in verse 26, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” If all we had in our entire Bibles was verse 26, we would have cause for alarm. What does this mean, hating one’s family? This verse seems to fall into the category of “hard sayings of Jesus,” the sort of question a skeptic would raise in an attempt to belittle a Christian. The great Protestant reformer Martin Luther was known for his abrupt way in answering critics. Luther was once taking questions from skeptics and one skeptic – in an attempt to trip up Luther – said, “You say God created everything, so what was God doing before He created everything?” Luther replied, “He was thinking about creating hell for people who ask stupid questions like you!” Not exactly the best pastoral reply!
But this is a real question here in verse 26. What does this mean, hating one’s father, mother, wife, brothers, sisters, and children? We must begin to answer this question with the true knowledge that God nowhere contradicts Himself. It is impossible for God to say something in one place in the Bible and contradict that Scriptural truth in another place. If God says in Exodus 20, the 5th Commandment, “Honor your father and mother,” then we know that the idea of loving and honoring our parents is not contradicted by what God says here in Luke 14. Similarly, when Paul tells husbands in Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives,” then again, the God who speaks through inspired writers never once contradicts Himself.
We need not be alarmed and immediately rush to the bookshelves for some commentary. This verse here does not mean that we are to literally “hate” our family. What we have here is a Hebrew way of speaking about a deeper love for one thing over another. It is a bit like what we read in Genesis 29:30-31, where we read of Jacob’s greater love for Rachel. Jacob’s love is described as his “hating Leah” (Genesis 29:31). The Hebrew usage does not mean “hate” as we commonly use it today. Jacob did not “hate” Leah in that sense. He clearly loved her, but His love for Rachel was greater. It was so much greater that – by comparison – his love for Leah looked like hate.
This describes a love for this thing that is so much more than my love for this that – by comparison – this love looks like hate. One more time: This love is a love for this thing that is so much more than my love for this that – by comparison – this love looks like hate.
Our love for Christ should be a far greater love than our love for anyone or anything else. It should be a deeper love, a love that will not be given to another. This is the kind of love we are to have for Jesus Christ: total adoration.
When we talk to a lost person about being a follower of Christ, we need to talk to them about the love of their lives. Jesus says in Matthew 6:21, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Let’s be sure our lost friend and family member understands that no one gets “first place” except Jesus Christ alone. This is why Jesus says the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Matthew 22:37). Total adoration.
Kent Hughes summarizes this thought when he says, “Some of us love our wives, husbands, and children more than we love God. We miss the mark when we put their development athletically, intellectually, culturally, artistically, and socially before their spiritual well-being. We fall short when we spend more time in the car in one day shuttling them to games and lessons than we do in a month in prayer for their souls. By comparison, our lives reveal that we hate God and love our children disproportionately – and that we are not Jesus’ disciples.”
Do you love God and the things of God more than anyone or anything else? A great Christian classic is the book, Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan. It is a far greater read than so much of what passes for popular Christian books today. Pilgrim’s Progress is about a man who embarks upon the journey of eternal life, having heard the Gospel from a man named Evangelist. At the beginning of the story, Bunyan writes about the man’s necessary commitment to Jesus Christ and the necessity for total adoration of Him alone. Writing of the man Bunyan says, “The man began to run (to follow after Christ). Now he had not run far from his own door when his wife and children, perceiving it, began to cry after him to return; but the man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on crying, Life! life! Eternal life! (Luke 14:26). So he looked not behind him, (Genesis 19:17), but fled (after Christ).”
Do you have a girlfriend that would keep you from your commitment to Christ? Do you have a boyfriend that would keep you from following Jesus? A job? A house? A pastime? To follow Christ means total adoration.
Secondly, to follow Christ means . . .
II. Total Allegiance.
Jesus is Lord. If we really love Him, we will follow our Lord faithfully, even unto death. Verse 27 says, “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” To “bear one’s cross” means to die to ourselves and to live for our Lord. We love our Lord so much we are willing to die for Him. Remember that the cross is a symbol of death.
We may forget that because crosses have become popular jewelry today. I like the cross in jewelry, by the way. I always try to comment when I see someone wearing a cross because I also think it is a good conversation piece to talk about Jesus Christ. But because the cross is so popular even in our jewelry, we may forget that the cross is a symbol of death. In Jesus’ day, wearing a cross in a necklace would be seen very differently than today. It would be a bit like wearing today a pendant in the form of an electric chair. That may sound kind of odd, wearing an electric chair on your necklace, but the symbol conveys death by execution and such was the Roman cross. Think of that every time you see a cross. It is a reminder of what Jesus did for us – He died – and it is a reminder that we are called to die as well, dying to ourselves, and being ready to die for our Lord.
That is what it means to “bear one’s cross.” I am not sure we should really be joking about these silly ways we claim to bear our crosses. We speak of “a cross to bear” as some trivial suffering like putting up with an ill-tempered mother-in-law: “She’s my ‘cross to bear.’” No. That is missing it, really.
Bearing one’s cross is a call to total allegiance.
We live for the One who died for us.
It is a life we live by dying – dying to ourselves and being ready to die for our faith.
This is not something we just jump right into. We do not just make a hasty decision to become a Christian. We think long and hard about what it really means to follow Christ. That is what Jesus intends to teach with these two illustrations in verses 28 through 30, “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’” You do not just decide one day to build a tower. You really think about it. What will it cost to build the tower? What will it require? How long will it take? Jesus says this is the same way we should think long and hard about whether to follow Him. What will it cost me? What will it require of me? How long will it take?
Another illustration follows in verses 31 and 32, “Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.” The decision to follow Christ is not something we hastily enter into like a king going to battle against another king without being prepared. We must think about these things: What will it cost me? What will it require of me? How long will it take?
Do you see, then, how we must do some careful, critical thinking about the Gospel before we just “fill out a card” or “bow and pray a simple prayer?” The very term “Gospel,” meaning “Good News,” cannot be understood rightly apart from the “Bad News,” that tells of our condition apart from Christ. We are sinners, lost and undone, separated from God. He is holy and we are not. God comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ. He lived a life we could not live – perfection – and dies a death we deserved, as punishment for our sin. He is raised on the third day, raised from the grave, so that we may be declared righteous and justified. By God’s grace we repent, turning from ourselves and our sin, and turning to Christ – which means – we will now live for Him. He will be number one in our lives; total adoration, total allegiance.
But that is not all. There is one more condition we must meet if we are to be a follower of Christ.
Thirdly . . .
III. Total Abandonment.
Verse 33 says, “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” The word “forsake” here is translated elsewhere as, “Bid farewell.” One translation of verse 33 says “Similarly, then, every one of you who does not say goodbye to all he has cannot be a disciple of mine.” Jesus speaks of total abandonment. We must be willing to “say goodbye to all we have.” That does not mean, of course, that our salvation means that we are to rush home and get rid of everything we own. It does mean, however, that if called to do so we will not hesitate. We will not hesitate because we believe in total adoration of our Lord and total allegiance to our Lord. If God leads us to give away our car, we will give away our car. If God calls us to leave the comfort of western society to do missional work in eastern society we will.
Then Jesus adds this picturesque reminder that following Christ is something we do for the long haul. We persevere in our faith. Verses 34 and 35 tell us, “Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” True Christians, like true salt, never lose their zeal and influence. True Christians remain faithful to their Lord, not becoming corrupted by the impurities of the world and losing their influence, much like the salt around the Dead Sea, but true Christians remain faithful to Christ, faithful to the end.
True Christians are known for their love of Christ. They are known total adoration of Christ, total allegiance to Christ, and total abandonment for Christ.
Before leaving for the mission field, a short trip that would end tragically in his own death at the hands of the very natives he was trying to reach, Jim Elliot, while still a student at Wheaton College, one day wrote down these words: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” We have talked about counting the cost of following Christ. However great the cost may seem, consider also the cost of not following Christ . . . Because the cost of not following Christ is far greater: eternal hell to pay for our sins.
Truth is none of us can meet these three conditions perfectly. Thankfully, we are saved on the basis of who we know and what He has done for us. Jesus meets all the righteous requirements of the Bible and takes our punishment upon Himself. But if we receive Him as Lord, receiving God’s grace to believe the Gospel and the grace to repent, turning from our sins; our hearts devoted to Christ – adoration, allegiance, and abandonment – we will receive eternal life.
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”