What Does Discipleship Cost?

“Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.” —Leo Tolstoy

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Jeremiah 18:1-11
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’” (Luke 14:29 NIV)

PRAYER FOCUS: The Cost of Discipleship

“What do you mean, there’s a cost to being a Christian? I thought God’s grace is free.”

Disciple. n. 1a. One who assists in spreading the teachings of another. b. An active adherent, as in a movement. 2. One of the original followers of Jesus. [from Latin, discipulus, pupil, and discere, to know].

Discipline. n. 1. Training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, esp. training that produces moral or mental improvement. 2. Controlled behavior resulting from disciplinary training; self-control. v.tr. To train by instruction and practice, esp. to teach self-control. 2. To teach one to accept authority.

Here in Luke Chapter 14, Jesus speaks to the large crowd that has been following him. He is brutally honest about what it means to be his disciple: God’s grace is indeed free, but the path of discipleship is challenging and costly. Jesus uses an extreme figure of speech to illustrate the order of priorities He expects from those who follow him. He challenges them to count the cost. What Jesus asks for is first place in their hearts.

Like them, we cannot follow Jesus without being prepared to walk this path. That preparation, good Christian, requires a process that has been often—and fairly—compared to basic military training. It is not only a process of strengthening and conditioning, but also one of learning to trust in our Captain, and obey him—even when obedience is costly.

Luke records two of Jesus’ illustrations. The first involves building a tower (probably a watchtower for a vineyard). Recalling what must have been sound business sense in their time, as it is in ours, Jesus points out that the project’s costs and benefits must be analyzed carefully beforehand. Because to start the project but not finish it would make the builder a laughingstock in the neighborhood. The implication for discipleship is the same: we should analyze what it will cost us to finish what we have started.

The second picture is one of a king who finds himself confronted by an invading force twice the size of his own. After calculating the cost in terms of destruction, he decides that appealing for peace is a better idea. Unlike the first case of building the tower, where the choices all lay with the builder, in this second case, the situation is forced on the king, who must choose between a war he is likely to lose and terms of surrender that are certain to be both costly and humiliating.

The point of each illustration, and the powerful metaphor that precedes them, is that Jesus must be first, ahead of everything else in our lives.

What does that mean in practical terms?

1. Our priorities must shift. We cannot hold on to the world with one hand and heaven with the other. We need to make a clear, definite decision like Joshua when he said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). We need to get past “me first” and learn what it means to pray like our Lord did in Gethsemane, “Thy will, not mine, be done”.

2. We must learn to deny ourselves those things in our lives that oppose the will of God. Holy living means no longer conforming to the “morality” of the world, but rather, following the teachings of Jesus Christ and the eternal rules that God set down in the beginning of time. This may cost us behaviors and activities that we may have formerly engaged in; it may also cost us friendships with the people we did those things with.

3. Taking up our cross. Jesus said “Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). The cross was a symbol of suffering and pain. It foreshadowed the price that Jesus would pay on our behalf. Like Him, we must be willing to suffer insult and loss. We spend time learning His Word. We draw near to Him in prayer and in praise. As we do so, we begin to see the cross as a symbol of freedom, love and unbounded joy.

Christian author Richard Foster relates this very well:

Picture a long, narrow ridge with a sheer drop-off on either side. The chasm to the right is the way of moral bankruptcy through human strivings for righteousness. Historically this has been called the heresy of moralism. The chasm to the left is moral bankruptcy through the absence of human strivings. This has been called the heresy of antinomianism. On the ridge there is a path, the Disciplines of the spiritual life. This path leads to the inner transformation and healing which we seek. We must never veer off to the right or to the left, but stay on the path. The path is fraught with severe difficulties, but also with incredible joys. As we travel on this path the blessing of God will come upon us and reconstruct us into the image of Jesus Christ…This is the path of disciplined grace” (Celebration of Discipline, p. 8).

“Follow me” is one of the most-repeated statement of Jesus in the four Gospels. It is both an invitation and a command. A disciple of Jesus Christ is a person who has counted the cost and surrenders it all in order to gain the limitless blessings that God promises in this world and in the world to come.

It’s Monday Morning. How is your Christian disciple training coming along?

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