Counting the cost of discipleship
Sep 08, 2014
Any worthwhile project involves planning. If a man makes a vow, he should fulfill it. Rash vows should be avoided. Do not promise things unless you have the capability and the will to deliver on those promises. The same is true of deciding to go beyond one’s status as a believer and move into the arena of discipleship.
Wisdom to Build a Tower
Luke 14:28-30 says,
28 For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.”
The first piece of wisdom in discipleship is for a person to know before starting if he is able to finish the course or the project. If we want to walk the path of discipleship, we must intend to finish. A half-built tower is of no use to anyone. We must endure to the end to receive the promised inheritance (Hebrews 10:36, 38). This is not about salvation; it is about discipleship. To be saved requires faith alone, but to be a disciple requires discipline and sacrifice.
Discipline is about learning to arrange priorities, deciding on what is most important in life. It takes wisdom to know true priorities in life, and also to know how to carry out that plan. Jesus compares the plan of discipleship to a plan to build a tower. It is better not to build a tower—or to become a disciple—until one has counted the cost.
In the larger picture, disciples are not only building personal character but also are intending to build the Kingdom of God. If they receive an assignment and are unable to complete it, resources are wasted, and the project comes into disrepute.
Wisdom in Fighting Battles
In Luke 14:31, 32 Jesus gives another example, saying,
31 Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and take counsel whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks terms of peace.
Discipleship inevitably involves learning to deal with opposition. Jesus Himself did His work in the midst of constant opposition, especially from the religious leaders. His teachings were opposed at every opportunity. In this conflict, Jesus was always outnumbered. Yet He knew that victory was assured, for even in the face of what looked like complete disaster at the cross, He could see beyond the grave into the glory of His resurrection.
All true disciples will face opposition in some way. A true disciple is not normal, nor is he or she swayed by the majority. A true disciple seeks no conflict or disagreement, but is willing to be different and thus may become extraordinary in the presence of normality. A true disciple receives his mandate, calling, and revelation from God and thus stands out among the kings of mediocrity who memorize and espouse the traditions of men. A true disciple has the discernment to hear or read what others say and test it in the fire of the Word, so that all that is of God becomes a personal revelation, while the dross is rejected.
A disciple must be correctible—that is to say, he must have humility. He must hear God’s correction and repent, and if God chooses to speak through a man, whether friend or foe, to give that word of correction, he must have the ears to hear and the knees to repent.
A disciple of men is bound to preach the creeds of men. A disciple of Christ is bound to preach the message of the Kingdom of Christ. There are Churchmen and there are Christians. Each has a standard of measure, and apart from that standard, one cannot be a disciple. Jesus said in Luke 14:27, “whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” That is Jesus’ criteria for discipleship under His leadership.
A prospective disciple of Christ must understand up front that he is not called to be a disciple of the Church nor of any man. Men and churches may certainly participate in his training, but he must recognize that he is ultimately a disciple of Jesus Christ Himself. If this is not clear, he will lose his sense of priority and may, at some point, betray Christ by obeying men who contradict the command of Christ.
There are many church disciples, much fewer of Jesus’ disciples.
Luke 14:33 concludes, saying,
33 So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.
Many have taken this to mean that they must literally give all their possessions to the poor in order to be Jesus’ disciple. For some, of course, this may be required, but the instruction is broader than that. If possessions get in the way, then a person should eliminate possessions in order to establish priorities.
This is the same lesson seen in Luke 14:26, where one must “hate” family members in order to be a disciple. One ought to be at peace with all men, including family members (and one’s church), but if these block the path as we follow Jesus Himself, the disciple must be willing to set them aside in favor of his Master.
Money is a possession. Family is a possession. One’s own will (desire) is a possession. One’s own comfort is a possession. A true disciple is one who presents his body as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), putting all on the altar, denying the old Adamic man any authority to determine the disciple’s course, being led only by the Christ within, which is the New Creation Man.
On Being Salt
Jesus closes this section by saying in Luke 14:34, 35,
34 Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? 35 It is useless either for the soil or for the manure [compost] pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
What does salt signify? What does salt have to do with discipleship? Here is where it is helpful to understand the law. Leviticus 2:13 says,
13 Every grain offering of yours, moreover, you shall season with salt, so that the salt of the covenant of your God shall not be lacking from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.
When Jesus said that His disciples are required to give up all possessions, He was setting forth the principle of “a living and holy sacrifice,” as Paul put it in Romans 12:1. Now we find that every sacrifice was to be salted. Jesus referenced the law of sacrifice in Mark 9:49, 50,
49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.
Here the context shows that “everyone” refers specifically to all the “followers of Christ” (Mark 9:41) who have to deal with hindrances. Hands, feet, and eyes are the metaphorical examples listed in that passage, which may hinder discipleship and cause people to be “cast into gehenna” (Mark 9:45, 47).
In other words, Jesus was teaching the people the right path to take, so that they could avoid divine judgment when God would cast the city into gehenna. Recall that one of the foundational problems was the nation’s refusal to submit to the rule of the beast empires, as God had decreed in the days of Jeremiah.
In that context, Jesus tells them, in effect, that they were to become living sacrifices, giving up their own desire for freedom, their own traditional messianic view, and even their own will. If they did this, then their hearts would be acceptable offerings upon God’s altar and would be “salted with fire.” The baptism of fire would come upon them, and they would also be seasoned with salt, as the law required.
But what does the presence of salt mean? Jesus gives us the answer: “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Salt is peace, or reconciliation. Salt is the preservative that preserves peace among the brethren. So also, Paul says in Colossians 4:5, 6, that “salt” is part of wisdom:
5 Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. 6 Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person.
In other words, watch what you say and “how you respond to each person.” It is about being gracious to each other in order not to break “the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). This is divine wisdom. This is one of the marks of the true disciple, especially in his dealings with the brethren.
For this reason also, God made a covenant of salt with the house of David, for we read the words of the prophet Abijah in 2 Chronicles 13:5,
5 Do you not know that the Lord God of Israel gave the rule over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt?
The Davidic covenant was a covenant of peace between God and David, so that he might in turn be at peace with the people and the tribes of Israel. Abijah showed that David’s grandson, Rehoboam, had broken that covenant of peace with God, and that this was the reason God had divided Israel from Judah. The breach between the tribes would be repaired in the end when God would regather them under the headship of Christ, as Hosea 1:11 prophesies. He alone is our peace (Ephesians 2:14), breaking down the walls and healing the breaches between men and nations. Peace between the brethren is only possible when they are at peace with God.
Further, we read of that time of reconciliation in Ezekiel 34:24, 25,
24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken. 25 And I will make a covenant of peace with them…
True peace with God comes only through faith in Jesus Christ as the Heir of the throne of David and the birthright of Joseph. Christ’s disciples are those who are at peace with Him, those who are willing to be living sacrifices “salted with fire.” There is a cost for such discipleship, and disciples must be willing to pay the price. Some may have to give up possessions, and others must go without an arm, a leg, or an eye (so to speak). Others may have to give up family, friends, or church. Reputation is usually the first to go.
But in the end, such death of the flesh and coming into agreement with Christ and the divine plan yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness.
This ends The Warning section in Luke’s gospel.
This is the eighty-second part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones