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The Cost of Discipleship

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Beloved for the way in which it highlights Jesus' care for those on the margins of society and for its care in telling the story of our Savior's life and ministry, the gospel of Luke has always been treasured by the Christian church. Dr. Sproul's expositional study of this inspired account of Jesus looks at the significant events of His life and His teachings while unfolding the meaning of both for us today.

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Willing to Die

  2. devotional

    The Cost of Discipleship

  3. article

    Why Follow Jesus?

Willing to Die

Peter’s grasp of the Messiah’s task was lacking at first (Matt. 16:13–23), but he finally saw that the Messiah is the Suffering Servant who bears God’s wrath against sin (1 Peter 2:21–25). Moreover, Peter probably met his end by being crucified upside down, enabling him to share the Savior’s misery in a special way.

Jesus in today’s passage calls each person who wants to be a disciple to take up the cross and participate in His afflictions (Matt. 16:24; see also Col. 1:24). To partake in Jesus’ sufferings is not in any way redemptive; only heretics say Christ’s death is insufficient to save us unless joined to our own efforts. Instead, our share in Jesus’ afflictions shows our commitment to live as He lived, which always earns for us the persecution He also endured from the world. A servant is not above his master, and we cannot take part in the benefits of Christ unless we walk the hard road of obedience He lays before us (10:24–25).

The cross was a means of execution; thus, Jesus calls us to die. True discipleship puts our lives at risk — a foreign reality to Western believers, admittedly. Still, our values, goals, loves, and activities can and must paint the picture of a people who enduringly serve God’s kingdom, not the present world order. John Calvin says that self-denial is extensive, calling us “to give up our natural inclinations, and part with all the affections of the flesh, and thus give our consent to be reduced to nothing, provided that God lives and reigns in us.”

Promises of final judgment and reward surrounding Jesus’ promise that some of His original followers will not “taste death” until the Son of Man comes in His kingdom (16:27–28) complicates interpretation. Many believe Christ is speaking of His second coming, which would cast doubt on His veracity, since His apostles are dead and the world continues on. Matthew 16:28, however, only means that some apostles will not die before the kingdom comes (Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27). This cannot refer to His second advent, which consummates a kingdom already inaugurated. Christ is likely talking about Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 a.d., for this event confirmed His authority as judge and king that He received in His resurrection and ascension (Acts 1:6–11; 1 Cor. 15:12–28; Phil. 2:5–11).

The Cost of Discipleship

A great crowd gathers about Christ as His acclaim spreads in Capernaum, and He prepares to cross the sea of Galilee (Matt. 8:18). We are not certain why He makes this move, but many interpreters believe Jesus is seeking rest. After all, He is found asleep in the episode following today’s passage (v. 24).

Seeing that our Savior is about to depart, a scribe trained in the law of Moses expresses His desire to follow Jesus wherever He goes (v. 19). Christ does not turn this would-be disciple away, but He explains to this scholar the cost of discipleship. Following Jesus, the scribe learns, might even entail the loss of a permanent home (v. 20). The Redeemer’s people must accept that they are strangers and exiles in this present world (Heb. 11:13–16). In Christ we will one day rule over all (2 Tim. 2:12a), but the Christian life, as the church father Tertullian says, is a call to follow the Lord’s pattern: “He walked in humility and obscurity. He had no definite home. …He is unadorned as to dress. He exercised no right of power even over his own followers. …Though conscious of his own kingdom, he shrank back from being made a king” (On Idolatry, 18.4–5).

Like Jesus, we must be willing to tell people that there is a cost to following the Savior. We do not help the non-believer if we teach or imply that Jesus can be folded into the fabric of our lives without the world hating us (Matt. 24:9).

Even family duties take second place when Jesus calls. After speaking to the scribe, another man says he is willing to follow Christ if he can first go bury His father. Yet Jesus allows no hesitation (8:21—22). This is a difficult saying, since Scripture tells us to honor our parents (Ex. 20:12), but it is likely that our Lord’s reply to the dead man’s son is a universal principle, not a universal application. Jesus alone deserves our supreme devotion, but the ways in which this principle is applied may vary. John Calvin comments, “Children should discharge their duty to their parents in such a manner that, whenever God calls them to another employment, they should lay this aside, and assign the first place to the command of God. Whatever duties we owe to men must give way, when God enjoins upon us what is immediately due to himself.”

Why Follow Jesus?

Jonathan Dodson

In today's culture, we are more pragmatic than reflective. Obsessed with knowing what works and how it works, we strive to repeat the formula. We are less concerned with why things work. Discipleship is no exception. Many have traded in the why for the how, motivation for the best practice. This is disconcerting. The reason for this is that practice can take us only so far. When hardship hits, practice needs motivation to continue.

What motivates you to follow Jesus? If this question isn't one you continually ponder and answer, you will walk away from Jesus rather than after Him.

The Pragmatic Disciple

Given our culture's pragmatic bent, the modern discipleship mantra is "make disciples who make disciples." This mantra is pragmatic and reproductive. Is pragmatic reproduction Jesus' chief concern? When He came proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, did He give an inspiring message and then move to three action points on how to make disciples? Certainly, He did model, instruct, and send (Luke 9–10). The kingdom of God is embedded with reproductive DNA (reflected in some of Jesus' agricultural parables). But the kingdom of God is also slow and deep. It stretches across arduous lifespans and into the depths of the human heart. The reign of Christ penetrates our DNA, continually motivating us.

Instead of focusing His training on the how, Jesus relentlessly got to the why. This is why so many of His sayings are unnerving. As a master teacher, He provoked reflection, not just action:

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." (Luke 9:57–58)
Yet another said, "I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." (vv. 62–63)

Jesus forces us to reflect on our motives for following Him. If we live for comfort and ease, we won't give up our beds, money, and entertainment to follow Him. If idyllic community is what motivates our decisions, we won't give up close friends and family members. Jesus is clear. If we want to be His disciples, we must be motivated by something greater than comfort and community. His kingdom must motivate us, and the kingdom comes with a cost.

True disciples will consider and embrace the cost over and over again. They will endure because, in finding the kingdom, they have found a King worthy of their sacrifice. Searching for the why of their existence, they discover a pearl of great price. Disciples motivated by pragmatism alone may consider the cost and embrace the cause of making disciples who make disciples, but when push comes to shove, they will walk away from Jesus, not after Him. We need more than the hows of fulfilling the Great Commission to get us through the adversity of seeking first the kingdom of God.

The Jesus Disciple

When Jesus gave His mountaintop commission, He loaded it with kingdom motivation. The main directive to make disciples is preceded by the image of a risen, radiant king, rippling with power and authority, in heaven and on earth (Dan. 7:9–14; Matt. 28:17). He is strong enough to depose nations and glorious enough to summon their worship. We are sent under this aegis. We are not sent in the authority of our own experience but in the authority of His lordship. Our story isn't sufficient to "make a disciple," but His story is. Why do we go? To baptize into His name, not ours. Making disciples of all nations is no personal cause; it is the redemptive agenda of God Himself. Our motivation, then, arises from being submerged in the grace of God, not from having others align with our way of doing things.

How do we continue to make disciples when wading neck deep in sin? We have to remember that the success of our mission requires not only the authority of the King but also the mercy of the Messiah. He is the Disciple who succeeds where we fail, in perfect obedience to God. We extend mercy from His mercies that are new every day.

But what if the mission field is too hard? Behold, He is with us always, even to the end of the age. We depend not only on the past obedience of the Faithful Disciple, but also on the present presence of the risen Lord. We make disciples in the authority of Jesus, submerged in the grace of Jesus, enduring in the mercy of Jesus, with the forever promise of the presence of King Jesus. Disciples need to recover a singular motivation to endure all the cost—the infinite sufficiency and splendor of our Lord.

Why do we follow Jesus? Because of who He is. If we have Jesus, we have more than enough to make disciples.

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