Jesus’ Terms of Discipleship

By Ryan Shaw

In Luke 14: 25-33 we find a passage many struggle with. It is known as one of Jesus’ “difficult sayings.” He lays out His terms of discipleship while providing an answer to the question of “Why?”

In verses 26, 27 and 33 we find the surprising end of a recurring phrase, “cannot be my disciple.” In those three verses Jesus highlights three specific dimensions true disciples will embrace.

Many listening to Him that day were caught up in the swirl of hype surrounding Him. They were interested in the phenomenon of Jesus, admired His ideals and eagerly watched to see what He might do.

Some genuinely wanted to be His followers. Yet some had less than pure motives. Jesus, knowing every heart perfectly, responded with three shocking statements meant to cut through the falseness of those with selfish interest in Him. Would they rise to His requirements?

His three terms of discipleship focus on loyalty (vs. 26), dying to self (vs. 27) and forsaking all they have (vs. 33). Apart from embracing these terms, Jesus tells the crowds and us, “You cannot be My disciple.”

Jesus knew a sense of shock was running through the crowd as many undoubtedly thought, “can’t it be easier than that?” Surely they and we protest against the severity of such terms.

We can’t consider these verses without asking the question, “why” related to their seemingly impossible standard. Jesus expects this response. Verses 28-32 provide the answer through two crucial illustrations.

These verses have often been misunderstood as referring to our own “counting of the cost” of following Jesus. It is edifying to interpret them this way. Yet this is not the main teaching Jesus was getting at that day.

He is teaching us the reason why His terms of discipleship must be as they are. Instead of the cost being ours to count it is actually Jesus who is taking inventory as He looks upon the body of Christ.

It is not we who count the cost to see if we have adequate materials to complete the building, but He who does so. It is not we who are the king going to war considering the quality of the soldiers, but He seeking to know if He has what it takes in us to fight the battle and win.

Jesus seemingly never calls people to “count the cost” but to come to Him at all costs. To follow Him at the cost of earthly affections, of putting His Kingdom purposes above self and forsaking all the world holds dear.

The two illustrations highlight two broad operations encompassing what Jesus is doing in the earth. First, He is building. The illustration is of construction. Second, He is doing battle. The illustration is of preparing for war.

If a person wants to build, first he considers materials at his disposal. Not doing so will find the purpose of the building negatively affected. If a king goes to battle, first He evaluates His army to see if His soldiers are up to the task or else He negotiates a treaty.

Jesus spoke stunning words of His terms of discipleship and those listening (as we) are prone to protest. He proceeds to give the awe inspiring reason for the seemingly severe terms.

He reasons He is in the world to “build” and to “battle.” What did He mean? He is consumed with desire to manifest and build His Kingdom. In so doing He is in the midst of the greatest struggle with the kingdom of darkness.

If He will build effectively, He must consider the “materials” and count the cost of their adequacy. Second, to win the battle, He considers His army and the quality therein before setting off to war.

His standards are high because He has the highest stakes invested in us (believers) as co-heirs and co-workers with Him. He has redeemed a Bride at the highest cost of His blood for the purpose of “building” and “battling” with Him.

To “build” and “battle” He must have “resources” and “soldiers” He can absolutely trust. Following Him was more than simple “believism.” It was more than “fire insurance,” personal gain and self-centered ends.

We are called to identify with the purposes and plans of Jesus. This means we embrace His work of “building” in this age while simultaneously recognizing we are in a spiritual battle for the soul and future of people all over the earth.

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