The Cost of Being a Disciple

“Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

  Paul, Colossians 3:10

[In Luke 14] Jesus famously says one must ‘hate’ all their family members and their own life also, must take up their cross, and must forsake all they own, or he ‘cannot be my disciple.’  The entire point of this passage is that as long as one thinks anything may really be more valuable than fellowship with Jesus in the kingdom, one cannot learn from him.  People who have not gotten the basic facts about life straight will therefore not do the things that make learning from Jesus possible and will never be able to understand the basic points in the lessons to be learned.

What this passage in Luke is about is clarity.  It is about forcing a decision.  It is not about misery, or about some incredibly dreadful price that one must pay to be Jesus’ apprentice.  There is no such thing as a dreadful price for the ‘pearl’ in question.  Suffering for him is actually something we rejoice to be counted worthy of (Acts 5:41; Philippians 1:29).  The point is that unless we clearly see the superiority of what we receive as his students over every other thing that might be valued, we cannot succeed in our discipleship to him.  We will not be able to do the things required to learn his lessons and move ever deeper into a life that is his kingdom.

 Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy 

The Encounter

 25Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. 27And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 

 28“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 29For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 

 31“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. 

 34“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.
      “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Luke 14:25-34

Some Observations

I had underlined the Dallas Willard excerpt a while ago when I read it, knowing we would come to this challenging passage . . . his conclusion is eloquent and succinct.  Rather than viewing “taking up the cross” as a life of drudgery and grit-your-teeth rejection of any good gift God gives, it is a life that anchors us in something deeper and more fulfilling than any of these things could ever offer.  As Dallas alludes to, Jesus refers to those who discover the kingdom life as a man finding a pearl of great price or treasure hidden in a field; in both cases, the man sells everything he has and – with great joy – returns to purchase the pearl or the field. 

In anchoring our lives in Christ and his kingdom, our reordered priorities actually allow us to be better husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, uncles and aunts because we approach these relationships as gracious lovers and healers instead of the selfish old man/woman who is more interested in what he/she can take from the relationship, rather than give.  Similarly, any material thing or “success” that is viewed as a gift from God – as opposed to being a controlling object of our affection and desire – can be properly enjoyed and shared in gratitude, rather than worshipped or hoarded. 

Jesus paints the life of the disciple clearly.  Our allegiance is to Christ first and foremost and, through God’s grace, our lives are to be organized and ordered around Christ and his kingdom.  This must be contrasted against our default orientation – we are by nature self-seeking versus kingdom-seeking, judgmental rather than loving, prideful rather than humble, greedy rather than generous, conflict-makers rather than peacemakers, fearful rather than confident, rash rather than patient, etc.  The list of contrasts is long. 

We therefore must count the cost of being a disciple as a man does who is building a tower or a king who is going to war.  This is a long road of transformation from what we once were to becoming Christlike.  Jesus states the stark reality: “. . . any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”  Okay with this? 

We must count the cost.  Are we willing to reorder our affections, so that our preoccupation becomes following Christ into conformity to his image?  To see everything our eyes take in through the lens of Christ’s love and grace, not our own neediness or ego?  Are we willing to let the old man die to experience the new?  

If we truly see the life of discipleship and seeking God’s kingdom as a life of love, freedom, peace, joy, grace, generosity, compassion, forgiveness, healing, purpose, trust, deep relationships, etc., our response should be that of the man who discovers the pearl or the treasure in the field.  After counting the “cost,” in our joy, we should be willing to forsake everything that controls us and the miserable, dying old man we have lived with for so long for the new. 

Jesus concludes with the reference to salt – salt that has lost its saltiness is not even worthy as fertilizer, it is thrown out.  The implication is clear: confessing faith in Christ for our salvation is not a magic bullet where one is instantly transformed into a new man.  Yes, we are saved and brought into relationship with God.  Yes, Christ takes up residence in our hearts and we are filled with the Spirit.  We have a confident hope that we will spend eternity with God through his grace.  We are certainly “new” in these very important ways.  But Jesus’ vivid image of carrying our cross indicates that we face the decision each day to do so or not (this is not referring to accepting him, which we have already done, but to following him as a disciple).  Each day that we take up our cross and follow him – and by God’s grace and the work of the Spirit – we are more and more conformed to his image.  Each day that we resist doing so – and as days pile upon days – we stagnate or, worse, revert back to old patterns and our flesh . . . like salt losing it saltiness.

Thank you, Lord, for giving us ears to hear this.  Increase our faith and our desire to follow you more closely each day as we learn more about you and your priorities.  Strengthen us and give us courage to release from our hands, minds and hearts any temporal thing that keeps us from becoming your true disciples, transformed more and more into your instruments of love, grace and healing.


“A rebuke impresses a man of discernment more than a hundred lashes a fool.”

  Proverbs 17:9

A Prayer

“But as for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.  My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure.  I will come and proclaim your might acts, O Sovereign Lord; I will proclaim your righteousness, yours alone.  

Your righteousness reaches to the skies, O God, you who have done great things.  Who, O God, is like you?  Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.  

I will praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praise to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel.  My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you – I, whom you have redeemed.“

  Psalm 71:14-16, 19-24