Following Jesus comes at a price
Jesus told his disciples that they could not be his disciples unless they embrace the cost. Gary Gibbs explores what it means to be a disciple.
There’s an old story told – probably not true – about a pig and a hen having a debate about how to solve the problem of global food scarcity.
In the middle of the discussion, the hen blurted out, “I know how to fix it! We can feed everyone with bacon and eggs!”
“Well that’s OK for you,” replied the pig. “You guys will just have to make an offering. For us pigs, it will require total commitment…”
Discipleship requires more than just an offering.
Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a book. Its English title is ‘The Cost of Discipleship’; in German, it was just one-word ‘Nachfolge’, meaning ‘Following’.
Bonhoeffer was distraught to see the rise of the Nazi party and so little being exhibited by the Church concerning a better way. His big concern was that people thought that because salvation was by grace, they could be Christians and carry on living lives which denied the reality of following Jesus.
Bonhoeffer wrote, “… cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, and communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”
In April 1945, because he chose to follow the way of Jesus rather than the prevailing culture of his day, Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazi regime.
In Luke 14:25 and onwards, Jesus of Nazareth was at the height of his fame. Luke records that ‘large crowds’ were following him: many thousands had jumped aboard the ‘Jesus bandwagon’. I don’t know about you, but if it were me in his shoes I would have been more than tempted to whip them up even more and keep increasing my critical mass of supporters. Jesus does the total opposite. Look at the ‘triple whammy’ he uses:
1. Hate Your Family (verse 26)
Oh, and while you’re at it, hate yourself. It’s pretty obvious what Jesus means. He uses hyperbole to emphasise his point that, if we are truly his followers, we cannot be more committed to anyone else or anything else. In the light of all that Jesus has done for us, it makes total sense that we put him at the centre of our lives. The result? We love people more than we could ever have loved them were Jesus not at the core of our commitment.
2. Die! (verse 27)
Even believers misunderstand what it means to carry their cross. We think it’s when we have recurrent flu every winter, or a job we find boring, or a particularly irritating person in our lives. But when Jesus said this, the crowds understood. It was an invitation to come and die. If the followers of Jesus saw someone carrying a cross there was only one inevitable end. I have found that over the years there have been some key moments when I have chosen to ‘die’ once again to my own way, my own opinions, my own approach to life – not least when I first said a massive ‘yes!’ to following Jesus at the tender age of 17. But there is also a sense in which every day of our lives we choose death to self so that we can live the resurrection life which the Lord has promised us. There is an inevitable pain in crucifixion, but also the glory of being free to live a new life!
3. Have the end in mind (verses 28-33)
As an evangelist, I am past the point where I want people to say a cheap prayer to get saved and then walk away unchanged. To the degree that it is possible, we need to help those coming to faith to understand that what lies ahead is a costly adventure. They are not seeking some cheap spiritual thrill that has disappeared before they even get home. Three times in this passage, Jesus tells his followers that they ‘cannot be (my) disciple(s)’ unless they embrace the cost. God’s grace is freely offered to us, but if we truly receive and experience it we will live lives surrendered to Christ.