The conditions of discipleship are stated in Luke 14.
26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
We see that the conditions are two.
1. Hatred of all others but Christ
The passage teaches that we must hate all others in the same sense that we must hate our own lives. And in what sense must we hate our own lives? We must hate our natural tendency to disregard and disobey the will of God. Just as we must hate this tendency in ourselves, we must also hate it in others. A proper hatred for the sinner has two good results.
- One is a proper love for the sinner. Unless we hate his deplorable inborn self-destructiveness, we will not do much to help him. We will more readily give him the gospel he sorely needs if we see his peril.
- Another is that we will more staunchly resist sinners when they pressure us to give up or compromise our Christian testimony. We will recognize that their way of life has nothing to offer.
2. Willingness to bear a cross
The cross in this metaphor has been interpreted in various ways.
- A cross of suffering. Scripture calls us to "the fellowship of his [Jesus'] sufferings" (Phil. 3:10), and His sufferings were most acute when He hung upon the cross. So, it is argued, the injunction to take up a cross and follow Jesus means that we should be willing to suffer as He did. Many Christians think of any affliction or hardship as a cross to be borne. Some Bible teachers disagree, noting that while many kinds of suffering are the lot even of the unregenerate, cross-bearing is the special lot of Christians. Therefore, they say, a Christian fulfills the terms of discipleship only when he suffers specifically for the cause of Christ. My own view, which I will expand later, is that the cross laid on a disciple certainly includes any suffering he must undergo, whatever its origin.
- A cross of persecution. It was persecution that sent Jesus to the cross, and Jesus promises that we too must endure persecution.
Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; . . . .
- A cross of obedience.
And being found in fashion as a man, he [Jesus] humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
His will may be that we endure persecution. Or perhaps He will ordain some other affliction or hardship. If we accept our lot graciously, with a surrendered spirit, we are truly taking up our cross and following Jesus, for, like Jesus, we are living in obedience to the Father. Our obedience is no less precious and Christlike because the same kind of suffering has also overtaken the unregenerate. Christ's passion was not wholly unique either. In Roman times, crucifixion was an ordinary method of execution. Many criminals and rebels died on a cross.
Easy-Believist Misunderstanding of Discipleship
Easy-believism frankly denies that becoming a Christian and becoming a disciple are the same thing. It teaches that a convert's decision to accept Christ is normally a decision to accept Him as Savior only; that a decision to accept Him as Lord—to give Him full obedience and dedication—normally comes later, perhaps after a delay of months or years; and that a believer does not become a disciple until he makes the second decision. It is alleged that many genuine believers never become disciples.
The increasing tendency in some circles to treat conversion as separate from and preliminary to discipleship can be blamed partly on their longstanding overemphasis on the externals of conversion. Someone does not need much commitment to Christ or much desire to be His disciple to go through the standard ritual in a manner that, to all observers, seems totally sincere and heartfelt. Therefore, wherever this ritual is offered as the key to heaven, the idea must arise that salvation does not require much commitment to Christ or much desire to be His disciple. This error leads straightforwardly to the equally false notion that discipleship and commitment must be an advanced stage of the Christian life rather than an integral part of the Christian life from the beginning.
But for two reasons we may be sure that being a disciple is the same as being a Christian.
- With reference to a development about ten years after Pentecost, the writer of Acts says,
. . . And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
- In Matthew's version of the Great Commission, Jesus commands,
19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
The easy-believists have misread the passages on discipleship by supposing that they state the requirements for becoming a disciple. In Luke 14:26-28 and kindred passages, Jesus says that unless a man gives up everything for Christ, "He cannot be my disciple." We know, of course, that He is not teaching salvation by works. What then does He mean?
Notice that full surrender is necessary not to "become my disciple," but to "be my disciple." Jesus, addressing those who already identify themselves as His disciples, is saying that the test of their claim is whether they are willing to make the sacrifices that He requires. In other words, He is stating the sacrifices that He may, at any time of His choosing, impose upon someone who is His disciple already. If a professing disciple persistently refuses to make them, he shows himself deficient of saving faith.
We conclude that Jesus is giving the tests of discipleship, not the requirements to become a disciple. He says "cannot be my disciple" rather than "is not my disciple" as a warning that no man can prevail upon God to accept him as a disciple on less demanding terms.
There is no contradiction in the assertion that salvation is free but costs everything. It is free because it is a gift no man can purchase by human works. It costs everything because the grace of God enables every recipient of this gift to give everything he has back to Christ.
In the last 150 years, a number of teachings similar to "deferred discipleship," as we might call it, have swept through the church. These have all encouraged believers to seek a second experience after salvation: variously called the second blessing, the higher or deeper life, sanctification (defined as attainment to sinless perfection), and the baptism of the Spirit. These teachings are unscriptural because, by creating a higher class of Christians, they cultivate spiritual pride. The mature Christian is supposed to consider others better than himself.
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
Paul warns the Christian in the Last Days to be careful about accepting others as fellow believers and fellow laborers for Christ. From any who have "a form of godliness" but who deny "the power thereof," he must "turn away" (2 Tim. 3:5). The sort of religion Paul describes is exactly what we have called easy-believism. Easy-believism is nominally orthodox. It pretends to admire godliness. But by allowing the ungodly to masquerade as Christians, it demeans, declines, and denies the power of God to transform the life of every true believer.
When enumerating the achievements of Philadelphia, the Lord observes that they have "not denied my name" (Rev. 3:8). No doubt, as He looks ahead to the church that would someday be found worthy of escape from all the ills of the Tribulation, He means not only that they would refrain from outright apostasy, but also that they would reject that false gospel which hides His Lordship from the lost seeking to be saved.
© 2007, 2012 Stanley Edgar Rickard (Ed Rickard, the author). All rights reserved.