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  • Jerry Lowe

The Cost of Discipleship

"Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple" - Luke 14:27

This memory verse (Luke 14:27) is one of the most familiar verses in scripture. It's one of those passages that you often read or hear someone quote. It sounds good. Maybe you haven't thought about it that much. Perhaps you have a general idea of what it means, but it really hasn't registered with you. Jesus spoke these words slightly different in Luke 9:23. In that passage He said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."

I believe this passage, along with the passage in Luke 9:23, provides us with a framework of what it means to be a disciple. According to Warren Wiersbe, a “disciple” is a learner, one who attaches himself or herself to a teacher in order to learn a trade or a subject.[1] To understand this passage we need to include verses 25 and 26 as well.

As I meditate upon this passage, I see at least three observations. We must 1) Make Christ our Priority, 2) Stand Strong for Christ, and 3) Walk Faithfully with Christ.

Make Christ our Priority

25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them,
26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” - Luke 14:25-26

First, we must make Christ our priority. I think it is interesting that Jesus used the word “hate” in this passage. The word “hate” seems harsh. Scripture portrays God as a God of love. Are we not commanded to love? So, what is Jesus telling us in this passage? Are we to “hate” our own family? Is that an exception to God’s rule? No.

So, how do we understand the word “hate” in this passage? The word hate means “to detest” or to have intense dislike for someone and it can lead to maliciousness. Just as in our English language, a word in New Testament Greek can have a different meaning depending on the context. Jesus is not telling us to “hate” our family. That would be a contradiction of His character.

The word “hate” as used in this passage is used in a relative or a comparative sense. What He is saying is the love you have for your family should be less than the love and devotion you have for Christ. Put another way, the love you have for God should be more than the love you have for your own family or even yourself. It’s a way of saying we should put Christ first above all else.

So, when we hate our family or even our own self, it is refusing to accept our own will over God’s will for our life. It is to put His will above our own. That means we stop making excuses as to why we can’t serve Him when called upon to do so. We must stop making excuses for why we can’t go to church (if able) and get involved with church life (Hebrews 10:25). Rather, we strive to further God’s kingdom (Matthew 6:9-10).

We will always have family matters or issues to deal with. But we don’t let those issues pull us away from our devotion to Christ. In short, we make Christ our priority above all.

Stand Strong for Christ

"Whoever does not bear his own cross …" - Luke 14:27

Second, we must stand strong for Christ. So, what does it mean "to bear his own cross". The word “bear” means to carry or to take up. In the days of Christ when a criminal was executed for his crime, he was forced carry his cross to the place of execution. It was a one-way path that led to death. After being scourged, Jesus was compelled to carry His cross or, at least, the horizontal beam to the place of execution. It was a path of suffering and persecution. He was falsely accused, laughed at, ridiculed, mocked, spit upon, and persecuted.

I believe Jesus used the phrase “bear his own cross” as a metaphor for us to daily identify with Him in His shame and sufferings. It does not mean that every Christian will suffer in the same way Jesus did. However, we may be called upon to suffer for the sake of Christ (1 Peter 4:12-16). We may be falsely accused, laughed at, ridiculed, or persecuted just as Jesus was.

Jesus told His disciples, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). He also said, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).

To “bear his own cross” means we must stand strong for Christ. When the fiery trial comes, we endure. We suffer through it. But we don’t turn away from following Jesus. Instead, we rejoice and give God the glory. We must stand strong for Christ.

Walk Faithfully with Christ

"… and come after me cannot be my disciple” - Luke 14:27

Third, we must walk faithfully with Christ. So, what does it mean to follow Christ? To follow Christ is to walk with Him daily. It is a journey. It is a path that leads to life—everlasting life (Matthew 7:13-14). It’s a path different from how the world walks. As Christians we don’t walk the way we used to walk. We don’t walk “in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (Ephesians 2:1-3). Instead, we walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16).

But the interesting thing is, we don’t have to walk this walk alone. When the Roman soldiers forced Jesus to carry His cross, at some point He became so weak that He could not carry it. They then compelled Simon of Cyrene to carry His cross. Just as Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus carry the cross, Jesus gives us the gift of the “Helper” (John 14:15-18) to help us as we walk with Him. The “Helper” is none other than the Holy Spirit Himself (John 14:26).

The word “Helper” in John 15:16 comes from the Greek word “parakletos” which means a calling to one’s side.[2] The word signifies someone who gives comfort, relief, or help in times of need, distress, or difficulty. But there is more to this word than meets the eye. It was also used in the sense of a counsel for the defense, one who pleads the cause of another or an intercessor. It is translated as “advocate” in 1 John 2:1.

The Holy Spirit helps us in our trouble or distress. None of us are perfect. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us on our behalf even when we sometimes get off track. He pleads our cause before God and helps us come back (Romans 8:26-27). We must walk faithfully with Christ, and we can do it because the Holy Spirit helps us along the way.

Finally, Jesus wants us to think about following Him. He encourages us to count the cost of being a disciple. Read Luke 14:28-33. Will you put Christ first in your life—above your family and even above yourself? Will you suffer shame and persecution if called upon to do so? Will you put away the passions of the flesh and walk in the Spirit? Yes, we will fail. But will you walk daily with Christ knowing that we have a Helper who will be with us and help us until we reach our destination?

[1] Warren W. Wiersbe. The Wiersby Bible Commentary: New Testament. 2nd ed. Colorado Springs, CO. David C. Cook, 2007. [2] W. E. Vine, M.A. An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. 17th impression. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1966.

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