When he was on this earth, Jesus made it clear to the large crowds of people following him that a life of being a disciple is to be of highest importance to us – it is why the church exists. People are to discover what this kind of life entails, and are to come to a decision to follow Jesus in every area of life with everything they have.
Discipleship, following Jesus, requires radical obedience. Love of family must not stand in the way. Jesus said we are to ‘hate’ family and even self (Luke 14:25-27). In Western culture we typically use the terms ‘hate’ and ‘love’ as descriptions of our emotions or feelings. But in the Bible, love and hate are primarily terms of allegiance or priority. In other words Jesus was saying that our primary loyalty must clearly lie with following him over every earthly relationship. To follow Jesus means that we will not use family responsibilities to avoid obeying Christ, or use other loyalties and commitments to work or school as a reason to put our cross down. Recently, I saw a 2007 study by the Barna Group which found that seven out of ten adult Christians in America chose their earthly family over their heavenly Father when asked to choose the most important relationship to them.
Here’s the deal: What is demanded by Jesus is that in this life with all its competing loyalties, the call of Jesus to discipleship not only takes precedence, but re-defines all the other loyalties we have. This call involves some level of detachment and turning away from things in order to pursue following Jesus. All of life is to be infused with being a disciple of Jesus. If we insist on making other commitments and loyalties as high a priority as following Jesus, we will find ourselves in a pickle. Several years ago I took a trip with some other church leaders into the Canadian wilderness. We were so far out in the boonies that we needed special first aid training because if someone got hurt it would be hours before help could come. We canoed the lakes, and carried our backpacks and canoes between lakes for an entire week. Whatever we took with us, we had to carry. Some people thought they needed all kinds of clothes and other accessories. Not far into the week, they quickly began to leave things along the trail and learned, over time, to see that what they thought was important in their life wasn’t really important to what they were doing.
We must get back to basics and do what is essential as Christians and churches. And what is of most importance is following Jesus. An un-salty disciple is worthless. Making a profession of Christ without counting the cost is foolish. Discipleship was never designed to be easy; it was intended to be a public display that Jesus is my Savior and Lord in every area of my life. What this means is that we will struggle with such questions as: How do I be a faithful follower of Jesus in my family? How do I be a disciple, and do the work of discipleship at my job? How do I practice following Jesus in my neighborhood, and everywhere I go?
If we do not plan to follow Jesus at home and in the world, we won’t, because all kinds of competing loyalties will take over if we are not intentional about being disciples, and making disciples. Everything and everyone is to take a back seat to Jesus, who is to be our primary loyalty. Jesus used two examples to illustrate that we need to count the cost of discipleship (Luke 14:28-33). In the first, a builder makes a plan and should ensure that he has enough money and materials to complete the entire structure. Jesus was saying that we must take stock to finish what we have started; if we started well with Christ, we need to do whatever it takes to finish well as a disciple of Jesus.
What will we do when the going is difficult? Thomas a Kempis, in his classic work, The Imitation of Christ, said this: “Jesus has many who love his kingdom in heaven, but few who bear his cross. He has many who desire comfort, but few who desire suffering. He finds many to share his feast, but few his fasting. All desire to rejoice with him, but few are willing to suffer for his sake. Many follow Jesus to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the cup of his passion. Many admire his miracles, but few follow him in the humiliation of the cross.” Jesus said: “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27).
We will never know real joy until we give up pursuing happiness; until we discover that to live is to die, we will tend to be frustrated with our circumstances and other people. Jesus’ second illustration is of a king and war. The king makes a battle plan, and if he thinks he cannot defeat the opposing army, he wisely seeks a peace treaty. What we must understand is that no one is going to oppose God and win, so it is best to make peace with him. Rather than trying to fit Jesus into our calendar, we are to let our calendar fill out around the center of following Jesus. If we insist we are too busy for prayer; do not have time for daily reading of the Scriptures; for loving one another; for making disciples (which requires much time and effort), then we have lost our way and must listen to this call of Jesus to be his disciple.
So, what shall we do? Imagine that in our heart is a big conference room: a big table, leather chairs, coffee, bottled water, and a whiteboard. A committee sits around the table in your heart. There is the social self, the private self, the work self, the sexual self, the recreational self, the religious self, and others. The committee is arguing and debating and voting, constantly agitated and upset. Rarely can they come to a unanimous, wholehearted decision. We tell ourselves we're this way because we're so busy with many responsibilities. But the truth is that we're just divided, unfocused, hesitant, and not free. One way to deal with this situation is to invite Jesus onto the committee. Give him a vote, too. But then he becomes just one more complication. But a better way is to say to Jesus, "My life isn't working. Please come in and fire my committee, every last one of them. I hand myself over to you. I am your responsibility now. Please run my whole life for me." Being a disciple of Christ is not just adding Jesus; it is also subtracting the idols that are in my heart.
Following Jesus is not for the faint of heart; yet it is for those who humbly acknowledge that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Making disciples is the church’s mission. Let’s give Jesus his due: our very lives.