By Randall Caselman, Gospel Tracts International, Bella Vista, Arizona
Summary: Genuine discipleship, Christianity with a cross, demands we die to this world and place everything, everything under the lordship of Jesus. It all boils down to who is on the throne and who is on the cross.
It is a logical, natural assumption that if you follow Jesus, you will have good health, money, and great success. Jesus, however, tells us that Christianity comes with a cross. No doubt there are joys--guilt-free through the forgiveness of sins; peace that passes human understanding; confidence that all things work out to our benefit; and hope of heaven. He also taught that there would be suffering, struggles and troubles to be endured.
Jesus taught a balanced gospel. He wanted us to understand the genuine joys of Christianity with a cross, and yet at the same time understand that there must be a personal commitment and a cost of discipleship. During His ministry, people followed Him for various reasons: Some out of curiosity, some for the loaves and the fishes, some to catch Him in false teachings, some because they understood Him to be the Messiah of an earthly kingdom. Detecting their incorrect motives, Jesus said, Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me, cannot be my disciple. What do these strange words of Jesus say to those of us who want to follow Him? What does it mean to take up the cross and follow Jesus? Just what is the cost of discipleship?
An instrument of death
The Romans didn’t put a man on a cross to discipline, punish, or rehabilitate. The cross was an instrument of execution. Many have mistaken ideas of what it means to take up the cross and follow after Jesus. Some think that Jesus was talking about Him carrying His own cross. Others think that in some way Jesus was telling us to bear His cross. But, in Luke 14, Jesus is not speaking of His crucifixion, but ours! Jesus is not speaking of His death, but our death! Some think of cross-bearing as suffering that must be endured. We’ve all said, Well, there’s nothing I can do about this--it’s just my cross to bear. We see the cross as pain, suffering and trouble.
Jesus is not speaking of suffering. He is not calling us to an endurance of persecution and abuse. The most common thought is that a cross is symbolic of service. We read this passage and see the cross as Christian service, working for Jesus in His Kingdom. True, we must have a sense of duty, but this is not what Jesus is speaking of in Luke 14. He says, Anyone who does not carry, does not take up HIS cross and follow Me cannot be my disciple. Jesus is insisting that the cross we take up is our own. If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple (v 27). We don’t carry the cross as a service to Jesus or anyone else. The cross we bear is our own.
Bonhoffer wrote, When Christ calls, He calls us to come and die. Paul tells us when this dying occurs. What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin (Rom 6:1-6).
You will never be a disciple until you die to sin, die to self, and die to the world. Our discipleship begins in a grave (Rom 6:3, 4). Baptism, being born again, is a death. Baptism, being born again is taking up the cross of Jesus. Not only do we die to sin in the act of baptism, but we also continue to die daily in our Christian walk (Gal 2:20; 1 Cor 15:31; Rom 6). Baptism is not all there is to taking up the cross of Jesus. It is not enough to die once in the act of baptism. We must die daily in the way we live. Paul is saying, My life is no longer mine: I give it to Jesus daily. I am under His control. He commands, I obey. He directs, I respond. He calls, I answer. His interests are my interests. His agenda is my agenda.
Why do we struggle in our Christian walk? Why do we experience discontentment? Because we try to follow Jesus’ way as well as our own way. We’re not willing to allow Jesus total and absolute control. We’re not willing to crown Him lord and king over every facet of our lives. We are not dead yet. No wonder Paul admonished the Philippian church and us, Let the mind, the heart, be in you that was in Christ. Not considering His own interest and equality with God as something to be held on to, He emptied Himself, taking on the very nature of a servant, and submitting to death, even the death on a cross. Are we willing to die? The Hebrew writer spoke to us about crucifying the Lord again and again, crucifying Him afresh. That is exactly what we do when we don’t enthrone Him, when we don’t grant Him lordship over our lives daily. Indeed, discipleship involves a cross.
We tend to compartmentalize our lives. We take six days a week for ourselves and give God one. We take 90% of our salary and give Him 10%. We renounce and repent of many sins, but build a hedge around, and justify, our favorite one. We love everyone and behave ourselves in the company of Christians, but act like the world when we are not in their company. But genuine discipleship, Christianity with a cross, demands we die to this world and place everything, everything under the lordship of Jesus--money, time, talent, energy, emotions, desires, entertainment choices, friendships, dress code, business, golf playing ethics. It all boils down to who is on the throne and who is on the cross. Our personal world must be totally committed to Him.
There is a difference between being a disciple and being a pretender. Pretenders just go through the motions. Pretenders do some of the things disciples do, but they are not really disciples. When it comes to friendship, do we want friends committed to us or those who just pretend? When it comes to soldiering, are we satisfied with those just willing to march in the ranks or those willing to fight the battles?
Discipleship is genuine friendship with Jesus, and a willingness to fight for His cause. The phrase traveling with Jesus, as used in the Bible, refers to the multitudes following Jesus. In Greek it means simply to accompany, to go for a stroll together. The idea in the Greek is that only a few in this multitude were cross-bearing disciples. Most of them were not true disciples--They were just tagging along. They were pretenders. They were following Him for all the wrong reasons. Are we just out for a stroll with Jesus or are we genuine disciples?
Discipleship demands an unrivaled love. If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple. When you compare love and commitment to family with your love and commitment to Him, your love for family must look like hate. Genuine discipleship means that Jesus must come before father, mother, spouse, children, brothers and sisters. Our love for God must be first and foremost. Love God with all your heart, mind, body, and soul. Thou shall have no others before me.
Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. The bottom line is this: Our loyalty to Christ must come before everything else. Jesus is saying that unless we are willing to grant Him this unreserved devotion, we cannot be His disciples. Jesus tells us that discipleship is neither easy nor painless. In fact it is costly, sometimes very costly. We must be willing to give Him our all--all we have, all we are, all we want to be. Genuine discipleship demands a cross, a commitment, and a cost. Jesus never promised that discipleship would be easy or painless. He did promise it would be worth it all.