Not many disciples
I always find Jesus’ words about the true cost of discipleship very sobering, very troubling too. I’m sure that many, if not most, in the large crowd that followed Him that day were shocked by His words. I wonder how many turned away after that, complaining that He was asking too much of them, that the cost of discipleship was simply too high?
“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. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple… any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” NIV
Jesus mentioned there prerequisites for discipleship: (i) a disciple had to put Jesus ahead of everyone else including parents, spouse and children. No other relationship could take precedence over the relationship with Jesus. Keep in mind that Jesus was talking to a people who were steeped in the traditions of respect and honor for family so His words must have shocked them (ii) a disciple had to be willing to give up everything he had. Agendas, ambitions and dreams had to be laid aside. Wealth and all the material things that we surround ourselves with, and depend upon, had to be laid at His feet. (iii) a disciple had to be willing to carry his cross and walk behind Jesus. To the people of His day, the cross was the most gruesome and horrifying symbol of death there was. It was a terrible thing to ask of anyone but Jesus was clear that a disciple would have to be willing to surrender even his life for the cause of Christ.
We don’t hear much preaching on the cost of discipleship these days. Perhaps, congregations will thin out and preachers would get unpopular if there was straight talk about discipleship. And so the focus is mostly on the blessings of the Lord, on what the Lord can do for us rather than on what He has called us to do for Him.
Don’t get me wrong; I believe that God blesses His people and prospers them but His ways are not always our ways. Can it be that the pathway to God’s blessings sometimes goes through the gate of surrender, submission and sacrifice. What if we had to first give up everything to gain all things? What if we had to first lay down our lives in order to take hold of it?
Many of us never really bothered about these questions when we first accepted Jesus. Perhaps they were never even put to us but suddenly we find that we are confronted with these huge demands of Jesus. If we pull back we remain mere followers, part of the crowd that hung around Jesus for what they could get from Him – blessings, healing, forgiveness – but were not there when He was nailed to the cross. If we answer the call to discipleship, we become part of that small but committed group of men and women who were ready to follow Him all the way, the ones that were ready to give up everything to draw close to Him.
The word ‘disciple’ as Jesus used it, is translated ‘learner’ in some texts but really it means someone who wanted to be like Jesus. When you think of it, those prerequisites for discipleship were exactly what He modeled in obedience to the Father.
Jesus said that we need to really sit down and think about the cost of discipleship and see if we are ready to pay the price that He demands of us before we make the commitment. I guess it all depends on how much we want to be like Jesus, and what our priorities really are. It is impossible to be a disciple on our own but if we say yes to God, Holy Spirit will come and give us the strength, the wisdom and the faith to move from “follower” to “disciple” to the glory of God.