The Cost of Discipleship!

bears.jpgFirst, GO BEARS! Great game last night, defeating the Green Bay Packers, and making this Chicagoan extremely happy! Final score: 27-20, Bears!

Second, THANK YOU to everybody who weighed in on their interpretation of the very tough Luke Passage on Discipleship (scroll down 2 posts). You guys did a great job, and are very brave.

So, now I’ll stick my neck out. Here is my interpretation of this key passage on discipleship. I’ll start by saying that, like many gospel passages, the failure to do justice to the larger context causes an INVERSION of the meaning. That is, most interpreters actually REVERSE the intended meaning! (And I don’t use exclamation marks frivolously!!!!) In my humble opinion–and you may disagree with me–this passage has been turned on its ear to place a price-tag on discipleship that neither Jesus nor Luke ever intended.

SO, WHAT IS THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP? Especially according to Luke 14:25-35?

LUKE 14:25 ¶ Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them,
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.
27 “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
towerbabel.jpeg 28 “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–
29 “lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,
30 “saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’
31 “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?
32 “Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.
33 “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.
34 “Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?
35 “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!”

I’ll summarize it point by point.

  1. Please notice the flow of the whole chapter:
    • The Pharisees are ticked off that Jesus healed on the Sabbath, vv. 1-6. This is important because the sufferer had DROPSY, which is an old term for EDEMA, which means a condition of SWOLLENNESS in the limbs and face. Jesus heals him of his swollenness, and it just might turn out that there are others who are swollen too, but don’t admit it.
    • Jesus slaps them upside the head with a parable, vv. 7-11. It’s about being sure to choose the seat of the least important at a banquet, so you don’t get shot down by the host. The punchline is: ““For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”” Luke 14:11, NKJV. Hold that in mind, because humbling yourself becomes a major theme.
    • Then Jesus thoroughly messes with their BOOKKEEPING mentality (vv. 12-14). Either you will live by a Law of Reciprocal Payments (the Pharisees), or by a Law of Grace (the disciples, hopefully). On the earth, WORTHINESS is measured in qualities like respectability, religiosity, morality, success, put-togetherness, hygiene, education–the culmination of your own efforts and pride. And we love to associate with moral, religious, and financial WINNERS. They are worthy. But in the estimation of heaven (v. 14) it is the MONUMENTALLY UNWORTHY who should qualify for a blessing, precisely because they cannot repay: ““But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.” Luke 14:13, NKJV. If they could repay you, then would not have blessed them… it would simply be an in-kind exchange. God doesn’t keep books this way. He blesses the MONUMENTALLY UNWORTHY! This is part of the wonderful IRONY of this text… an irony that is sadly lost on most interpreters.
      • The emerging theme just might be the classic struggle between those who establish their own righteousness as a basis for blessing, versus those who are blessed simply because they admit their own unworthiness.
    • Then some IDIOT blurts out a pious, self-important expression: Blessed are those who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God (v. 15)… one of those self-important kids who sat in the front of the class and always had his hand raised. A Pharisee. This triggers another parable.
    • Jesus tells a parable about a feast, vv. 16-24. Bottom line: the worthy think they’re too high and mighty for the blessing and reject the offer. They are too busy furthering their own successful ventures (real estate, business, and marriage) to come to the banquet. They are invested in creating a life for themselves (works) instead of receiving the feast that’s been prepared (grace). The WORTHY thus become DISINVITED. The UNWORTHY become the only invited: ““So that servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’” Luke 14:21, NKJV.
    • If the worthy become disinvited to the divine feast, and if only the unworthy become invited, then why do so many interpreters urge us to PRODUCE SOME FORM OF WORTHINESS? Hold that thought…
  2. We have analyzed the context that precedes our main text. Now let’s check out the context that follows our main text. Take your time with this, and read the relevant Scripture… take a couple of days if you like… it’s an awesome passage.
    • What comes after is the very famous 15th chapter of Luke. And what do we find here? A festival of unworthiness! The elevation of the unworthy, and the spanking of the worthy.
    • If our key text (vv. 14-35) were intended to promote a “costly discipleship,” and one that avoids so-called “cheap grace”, then why does Luke immediately follow it up with: “Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him.” Luke 15:1, NKJV. Huh? Hmmmmmm? I am saddened to read interpretations of the cost of discipleship that fail to account for the flow of the text and for the argument of grace that Luke has assembled here. Who becomes Jesus’ disciples? the morally fit or the morally depraved? Why then do we insist that people become morally fit? ethically fit? spiritually fit before they qualify for the discipleship tag? Isn’t it their UNFITNESS that qualifies them?
    • If the cost of discipleship is a life worthy of Jesus, paying the price, counting the cost, and signing up for voluntary servitude–if it costs us “EVERYTHING”–then why does Luke follow it with stories like the PRODIGAL SON? A loser wins (the prodigal son) and a winner loses (the elder brother). The lost get found and the found get lost.
    • You get the impression that God isn’t interested in our religious, spiritual, pharisaical or moral success as a basis for discipleship at all; not even a teeny little bit. He’s interested in the opposite: in our failures. You gotta own your failure and unworthiness. Perhaps that’s the only cost of discipleship.
    • Perhaps God doesn’t work by improving the improveable–he only works by raising the dead. “‘It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’”” Luke 15:32, NKJV.
  3. Okay, the whole flow of the context is designed to smack down the spiritually worthy into a realization of and owning of their true unworthiness. So we’re now in a position to properly interpret the oft-inverted teaching of Jesus on the cost of discipleship.

WHAT IS THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP?

  1. Tear up your religious pedigree; God isn’t interested.
    • 14:25 ¶ Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, 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.
    • The Pharisees reveled in their Father Abraham. Jesus says, Father Shmather… to hell with your father! And your mother and brothers and sisters too.
    • And, while we’re at it, to hell with whatever life/success/worthiness you’ve created for yourself too. You have no life, and the claim that you do have one is deadly.
    • The best apostolic commentary is: “though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” Philippians 3:4-6, NKJV.
    • As long as you rely on your religious pedigree, or success, or self-made life, or worthiness, you cannot be Jesus’ disciple.
  2. Quit pretending to be alive; accept your criminal’s-death sentence (and thank God that Jesus took the hit).
    • ““And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” Luke 14:27, NKJV.
    • This is not about any kind of self-mortification. It is not about “giving up” rights to anything other than your claim to be alive (morally worthy). Morally, ethically and spiritually, you are a corpse. Admit it. And a criminal corpse at that (crucifixion). I agree with Bob who commented in the original post that the disciples would not have made the association with Jesus’ impending crucifixion. But Luke, the author, would have. And so would his readers. So what does it mean “to bear the the cross?”
    • It cannot mean to suffer for Jesus. It cannot mean to be a martyr for Jesus. It cannot mean to pay any price to Jesus whatsoever. The whole flow of the context is against these interpretations, yet these are the interpretations we are routinely (and tragically) given. You can’t pay a price because you have nothing to offer… not even your life! You’re dead! You have no life.
    • To bear the cross means to ACCEPT CHRIST’S CROSS AS BEING FOR YOU.
    • THE ONLY CROSS IN THE WHOLE BIBLE THAT MATTERS IS THE CROSS OF JESUS CHRIST.
    • Here is the bookkeeping method of God: “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.” Philippians 3:7, NKJV.
    • To bear his cross means to accept, trust in, count on your own identification in death with Jesus (“Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:4, NKJV.) (“being conformed to HIS death” Phil 3:10).
    • What is the cost of discipleship? It is to say, God, I have no life, I deserve the criminal’s death, but Jesus died it for me, and the only life I have is the one you freely give me by virtue of union with Christ.
  3. Confess your total inability.
    • ““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.’ “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.” Luke 14:28-32, NKJV.
    • Notice how Luke cleverly repeats the same underlined phrase. The question is one of ability.
    • Here is the tragedy of these verses: the insane notion that the cost of discipleship is actually a cost we are able to pay.
    • QUESTION: What is the cost of discipleship?
      • ANSWER: MORE THAN YOU CAN AFFORD!
    • Why do so many pastors, leaders, disciple-makers, and teachers send well-meaning Christians on a quest to actually pay the cost of discipleship? It is a tower we could never afford to build. It is a war we can never win. So why even try?
    • So why even try? you ask… well, now we’re getting somewhere. It is the trying that disqualifies us from grace. It is the giving up that qualifies us.
    • “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;” Philippians 3:8, 9, NKJV.
  4. Let go of your self-righteous claims on God–you’re just a pile of crap anyway [morally speaking].
    • ““So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. “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!”” Luke 14:33-35, NKJV.
    • How can we turn this passage into a “give up everything to Jesus” when we’re told in effect that we’ve got nothing to give?  Morally speaking, we’re not only a pile of crap, we’re worse than that–not even fit for the dunghill! Wow!!!!! Wowwww!!!!! Owwwww!!! to my foolish pride.
    • You, even at your best, are not even worth your weight in salt gone bad. And you never will be, and you never can be, and you can’t change it. And you can’t fix it. It’s a cost you can’t afford to pay. So GIVE UP ALREADY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    • And yet, we are urged time and again to somehow improve our own worthiness! To strive, to serve, to work, to make ourselves worthy, in effect. Aaaarrrrggghhhh (in Christian love)!
    • Religion sucks.
    • Do you see it? Do you have ears to hear? Do you see how this passage has been tragically inverted to teach that we should strive to pay the cost of discipleship, when all along that cost has been utterly out of reach?
  5. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:
  • God blesses the monumentally unworthy.
  • God gives grace to the humble, but slaps down the proud.
  • You’re dead. Admit it.
  • The only cross that matters is the one on which Jesus died… cling to that one, not your own so-called cross.
  • God doesn’t care who your dad was.
  • Your works or self-effort won’t make you alive.
  • You cannot create a life for yourself.

THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP IS MORE THAN YOU CAN AFFORD. Always has been. Always will be. Quit trying. Jesus paid the price. Believe. Receive. Rest. Enjoy. Serve. In that order.

I’m going back to bed. It’s 3:52 a.m. JESUS… THANK YOU FOR PAYING THE COST OF MY DISCIPLESHIP. If you’ve made it this far, I’m proud of you. And I appreciate you. Thank you.

  • “and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;” Philippians 3:9, NKJV.
  • “who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,” 2 Timothy 1:9, NKJV.
  • “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13, NKJV.
  • “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,” Titus 3:4, 5, NKJV.
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14 thoughts on “The Cost of Discipleship!

  1. AMEN!!!!!! Couldn’t have said it better myself! (Har! That’s why you’re the pastor/teacher and I am NOT!). Love your gifts!

    Thanks for all your thoughts and the clear discussions on faith and grace. Please keep helping us carry on!

  2. Another thought provoking post Dr.
    Your reading of this scripture is very fascinating, since in the limited reading I have done on the subject of discipleship I have yet to hear this exegesis. Your assertion led me to research different biblical scholars from a wide swath of our faith to see who might agree with your version of this text. Unfortunately, after reading through several wonderful commentaries on this passage I am still unaware of any scholar who agrees with your exegesis. Here is a list of some of the commentaries or scholars I have read thus far:

    W. Barclay; M. Henry; Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary; Geneva Study Bible; John Wesley’s: Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible; Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Cost of Discipleship; A.W. Tozer; Calvin’s Commentaries Vol. 31; Laurance Porter & F.F. Bruce: NIV Bible Commentary; David Stern: Jewish NT Commentary; Darrell Bock: IVP Commentary Luke; Dr. Walter B. Hinson; H.A. Ironside: Commentary Luke; Bruce Larson; Leon Morris: Tyndale.

    Your rendition of this text, stirring as it may be toward your perspective on the doctrine of grace, disagrees with this short list of scholars. Who has the correct interpretation of this text?

    I do have one comment to make about your post. I think it poor theology to ever assert than people, made in the image of God himself, should ever understand themselves to be “crap.” People are the crowning work of God, made in his image, his desired temple, his church, & his bride; Jesus didn’t’ die for “crap;” he died to erase the effects of sin & death. Crap lives in us, is a result of the fall, & must find restitution in the atoning sacrifice of Christ. I understand your sentiment: depravity. However, no one is crap, or should think of themselves as such; let alone a “pile.” Psalm 139, etc.

  3. Hi Sean,
    You are quite right that we are not a “pile of crap.” Our righteousness is, however, and that is the point of my post.
    You may find this interpretation in the writings of theologian and scholar Robert Farar Capon. in fact you would thoroughly enjoy his books on the gospels: The Parables of Grace, the Parables of Judgement, the Parables of the Kingdom. I of course never agree with everything… just like you… and if there is a problem in Capon’s writings, it is a hint of incipient universalism. But his interpretation of the gospels from a perspective of grace is right on, and you will see in full harmony with mine.
    A number of the people on your list approach the gospels from a dispensational standpoint; reconciling these passages with grace by relegating them to a bygone era.
    I however, find the grace flowing all throughout.

    I do notice that you critiqued the UNIQUENESS of my interpretation without a hint of critique of the interpretation itself. So… does that mean I done good? 🙂

    Bill

  4. Sean,

    Would you agree that a) my interpretation fits the text and context? b) my interpretation fits other places in the Bible? c) there is nothing outside the bounds of biblical/theological orthodoxy?

    I’ll grant room for argument, if you grant room that I MIGHT be right on… 🙂

    Bill

  5. Bill,
    Brilliant! Now that you’ve straightened me out, may I humbly submit a paraphrase? Please note a slight departure from your analysis of vs 27…carry his cross. Let me know what you think.

    Luke 14: 25-26

    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, he cannot be my disciple.

    You cannot be my disciple if you rely on your heritage, your family, or on any other aspect of YOUR life.

    27: And whosever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

    You cannot be my disciple unless you admit you’re a death-deserving sinner, and follow me for the remedy.

    28-30: 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…..

    My disciples are those who, although they may have laid the foundation for of a true spiritual life, counted the cost of a right relationship with God, and realized they don’t have the resources to build on that foundation. My disciples recognize their spiritual poverty.

    31-33: Or what king, going to make war….does not sit down first and consider whether he is able….or, he sends…and asks conditions of peace? Likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple.

    My disciples are those who realize that they cannot win the battle on their own. They instead, consider themselves unable to win in their own strength. They reject any asset that they bring to the battle. My disciples recognize their spiritual weakness.

    34-35: Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land or the dunghill, but men throw it out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

    Salt had multiple uses… Good stuff was a food seasoning, less good stuff was sometimes mixed with manure to keep it fresh. Bad salt was not even good as a manure-preservative. My spiritual assets: my heritage, my righteousness, my spirituality, my power; may seem good, but if they are in fact useless, excess baggage, which I must discard to be a disciple. My assets aren’t even good enough to preserve manure.

  6. Bill,

    thankyou so much for continuing to teach the Grace of God!!! It has changed and continues to change my life like nothing else ever will. God is soooo good! I have recently felt extremely bogged down from the weight of striving (obviously in my own strength); and then this blog…..water from the Rock…feasting on His grace is the only way to embrace the true beauty of Christ and experience a changing heart that flows from Him.

    thanks again and again and again!!!

    Bob G….great stuff…thankyou, too.

  7. Hopefully I’ll have time to comment in length, but not today. I appreciate your insight & perspective. This is a rendering of the text I have yet to stumble upon & it stirs my heart & thoughts. It would be great for us to have a few days to sit down & dialogue with each other; blogging can be a poor medium. Your theology, heart for Jesus, passion for his church, & desire to make him known is wonderful; I have never doubted your “zeal for his house.” However, at this time, I must agree with those before mentioned scholars, & disagree with your exegesis. I hope to find time today to summarize my points.

  8. …I wonder what these words would have meant to the original audience?

    …and to the original speaker!

    It seems to me that they wouldn’t have thought “bear [your] cross and come after me,” meant, “admit you’re a death-deserving sinner.”

  9. If two thousand years later, we’re still “trying” to figure out just what Jesus meant, I can imagine the original audience was quite clueless. Even the disciples couldn’t grasp just why Christ had come. I’m sure the suffering servant wasn’t part of their thinking.

    Fortunately, today we have the Holy Spirit’s enlightening and the written Word of God in its entirety to come to some conclusions. Even then, the conclusions swing back and forth from one extreme to the other. In my lifetime, I’m so happy to see a swing back from salvation/discipleship by works and effort to the freedom of grace which allows all the effort to be placed on the Spirit within to do God’s work in us! Hallelujah!

    I love it! And thank Dr. G for standing in the “minority” at this moment of time for freedom of grace!

  10. BOB… fantastic paraphrase. You hit the nail on the head.

    CHERI & JEAN… thanks for the ongoing encouragement.

    STEVE… Jesus confused the heck out of his listeners. E.g., none of them understood the parable of the soil and the seed; he had to explain it later. So your question about the original hearers is actually beside the point. The real question is about the original READERS of Luke’s gospel. And yes… they would have gotten the idea of admitting they’re death deserving sinners. After all, doesn’t the Sermon on the Mt begin with “blessed are the POOR IN SPIRIT, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus had two messages: for the self-satisfied the message of doom and gloom and woe and humbling. For the self-dissatisfied, the humbled, the lost, least, little, last, and dead… LIFE and HOPE and PEACE. Luke especially emphasizes “death” as the status of those whom God stands ready to raise: e.g., the prodigal son was dead and is alive again.

    God gives grace to the humble. Jesus had to slam down the legalists to their rightful place so that they could approach him not on the basis of their own religious performance, but could cry out, Lord, have MERCY on me, a sinner.

    And that mercy is provided GRATIS, courtesy of the crucified Savior. He must increase; we must decrease.

    If that isn’t the message of the gospels (and the rest of Scripture), then my last name isn’t Italian.

    SEAN… No need to comment at length. You’re welcome to, but why?

  11. “When Christ calls a man he bids him come & die.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) I agree, no need to comment at length; Dietrich’s “Cost of Discipleship” is lengthy enough; I encourage all to read it.

  12. I hope I’m not too late to log in a thought on this one. I sometimes wonder if we are so busy trying to find the deeper, inner, true meaning to something that means what it says? Why can’t it just mean this:
    Jesus saw the multitudes of people who were following him, and I would have to assume considering becoming disciples of Him. He decides to let them know ahead of time what following Him, and living in this world could bring about, His description is not the best job description. Why would he do this? He says why,

    “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.’

    “Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?

    It seems to me He is just letting them, and me know, that we need to consider the fact that being a disciple of Christ is to be opposite of this world, and that if we lose our saltiness before we complete the job, we become a mockery to the World, and the Gospel suffers. I’m thankful my salvation was paid for by Christ, and that it is a free gift, but I’m also thankful He was honest with me and told me following Him and living here wouldn’t be a walk in the park. I’m willing to suffer for righteousness sake, I’m willing to suffer if it means one more will hear the message of that free gift of Grace. I know he’ll give me the strength to do it, just as he did for Steven. I hope anyway?

  13. Dave,
    Nope–never too late to weigh in on a topic. Yep, we who follow Jesus are called to be willing to suffer and if need be die for him. I don’t deny that. I have two problems though with how so many Christians think. First that’s not what I think this particular passage of Scripture is saying. In fact, if you take it at face value, in my opinion, it is erecting a standard impossible to attain. Which leads to my second problem: when people ethically overload the gospel, especially when salvation is explicitly “not of works.” So I reject any gospel message that says that we much surrendur all, or that salvation “costs us everything”. I hear it all the time, and it’s just plain wrong. That is why it is so important that we take the specific WORDS of Scripture seriously and in context.
    I will grant you that sometimes we make Scripture needlessly complicated.
    But isn’t that why they pay me the big bucks? 🙂
    Thanks for weighing in.
    B

  14. You are worth every penny, Bill. I have to agree that there is something more to this passage than just what it says. Christ does not call us to “hate” people. (RED FLAG!) After wrestling with it the past few days, it is starting to make sense to me. It is going to take a “little over” a lifetime for me to realize what he did for me in His lifetime, and what really happened on that cross. I appreciate the time you have taken in your life to help us have a better understanding of Christ, His Word, and our Faith. I appreciate what you have taught NCR about Grace, and that it isn’t about works (suffering through it as I did though–I’m a “works prone guy” if you haven’t noticed.

    “…He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

    You make a great hearing aid Bill.

    Thanks,
    David

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