One of the hardest decisions I ever had to make was the one we are living into currently. Moving back to West Virginia was never a no-brainer discussion for myself or my family.
We were established in Kentucky. I was ordained in Kentucky and was becoming confident in my leadership and place within the structures there. Abbi and Noah, though familiar with West Virginia, had never lived here. To be honest it was a decision we went back and forth on for months, even going as far as submitting a letter to turn down the opportunity to come home.
What helped me to think through the decision was to make a list. Do you ever do that? Sometimes I’ll get out a sheet of paper, or just think it through in my head, and consider the positives and negatives of a certain decision. That process helps me to think through all of my options before making a major decision. It is a process that helps me to weigh the cost.
I wonder, did you do something like that before committing yourself to being a disciple of Jesus Christ? Before you said yes to following Jesus, did you take time to consider what this life meant, what was being asked of you as a follower of Jesus Christ, and truly wrestle with if you were willing to commit ourselves to this life? A disciple of Jesus Christ is someone who makes a commitment to follow Jesus and who seeks to live out the desires Christ places upon us. Did you consider what that meant and its implications for your life?
Jesus desires disciples who have wrestled with this life and are willing to live it out. This life isn’t about saying, “I love Jesus,” It is about saying, “I love Jesus and I am willing to go where Jesus leads.” That may seem like an easy and simple statement, but in practice it is a challenging and transformative one. Jesus isn’t looking for people who simply want the benefits of the life in Christ without ever being transformed by this life. He is interested in people who have wrestled with what Christ is asking and are willing to give up everything in order to follow him.
That is what Jesus shares with the large crowd that is following him in our passage from Luke 14:25-33. Once again, Jesus is on the move throughout modern-day Israel and is heading towards Jerusalem. We have left the dinner table from last week where Jesus called those who would follow him to welcome the very people Christ has welcomed into fellowship.
Crowds following Jesus was a normal occurrence. They gathered from throughout the Galilean region after hearing him teach or having witnessed one of his miracles. There were people who had committed themselves to following Jesus. At the same time, there were those who had come because they had head about the things Jesus had done and wanted to see it for themselves. When large crowds gathered around him, often Jesus either pulled away to find a secluded place for rest or used the opportunity to provide deeper explanation on what it means to follow him.
That is what Jesus is doing here. He turns his attention towards the amassing crowd and, essentially, asks them to consider why they are following him. Jesus wants them to consider if going with him, both physically and spiritually, was what they wanted and desired.
He wants them to weigh the costs. In doing so, Jesus doesn’t assume that everyone who had gathered with him had committed to following him or had wrestled with what was asked of a disciple. Large crowds were never a sign for Jesus that things were going well or that the ministry was strong. We, however, have that focus. We’ll see a large crowd for worship or a special event and immediately we are being faithful and, as a result, leading people towards deep discipleship in Christ’s name. The fact is that is not necessarily the case. Crowd size is not a reliable marker for whether people are actively engaging in what it means to truly live as a disciple of Jesus Christ. We have to get away from that way of thinking and truly consider what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and weigh the costs of this life.
What are those costs? In our passage, Jesus outlines two things he asks of anyone who would follow him. A disciple of Jesus Christ, someone who desires to follow Jesus, must be willing to devote themselves to Jesus completely. This means that no other loyalty or desire can come before Christ. Jesus also asks of his disciples to give up everything in order to follow him. What Jesus asks, here, is to consider if we lost everything in order to follow Jesus would it be worth it.
Jesus asks nothing less of us than full and complete surrender and dedication. This is a life that requires us to abandon ourselves and our own desires in order to experience the hope, peace, joy, and love that comes from following in Christ’s footsteps. Following Jesus is more than simply saying, “I believe in Jesus.” Jesus often mentions in Scriptures that demons and those who are only half-interested in following him say they believe. What Jesus desires of those who would seek to follow the Lord is a commitment to let go of everything that would define us in this world and to know what Christ desires and live them out.
What does this mean? Jesus desires our full loyalty. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means that we cannot say we love Christ and be more devoted to our identities, ideologies, professions, or anything else in this world. All of these things must come second to our first and primary devotion and that is to Christ. As well, Jesus desires our full commitment. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means that we are called to do more than just read a few passages of Scripture once a week and live as if nothing has changed. We have to put into practice the very things Jesus says and be doers who participate in the life of Christ with our words, actions, and deeds. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means no longer living for yourself, but living for Christ and seeking the best in one another. So, is it worth it?
That is not a question that we ask of people. That’s probably not a question that we have asked ourselves. It is probably not a question I’ve asked people to wrestle with in my ministry that often, and that is my own fault.
Why is that? Because we are more interested in saving the institution of the church than being the church as the living embodiment of Jesus Christ. We’ve are more interested in keeping doors open and maintaining influence and power than being faithful to the life of Christ. As a result, we’ve lowered the expectations of discipleship to simply being about saying a few words and making a vow to promises we haven’t been willing to live out. The bar of discipleship has been lowered beyond anything that is recognizable in Scripture, because we want the rewards of following Christ more than we want to participate in the life Christ calls us to claim.
The consequence of this is that we’ve replaced faithful discipleship with the practices of a social club. We are not the Christian version of the Ruritans: a social club for like-minded Christians. We are called to be disciples, to live as disciples, and to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Following Christ means we desire to be life-long students who grow into what it means to devote ourselves completely to the Lord. Without that focus, we’ll never grow as a church or a people. We’ll only be a reflection of what we can be and what Christ calls us to be. Discipleship is a life-long commitment and not a one-day decision.
The way we live this life is so important to Jesus that he says more about how we are to live out our faith in this world than he does about life in his eternal presence. He calls us to be his witnesses in this world by living out his desires. This is a life that requires of us our complete obedience not when it is convenient, but in every act, every breath, and in every thought.
We should never lower the expectations of what it means to follow Christ. We should raise the expectations to meet those of Christ’s for us. That seems counter-productive in our instant-gratification, get results now, and focus-on-the-numbers culture. The life of Christ is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive to our basic desires. It would be easy to say, “Let’s lower the expectations, so that more people will come on Sunday.” I want us to live and think like Christ calls us to live and think. We need to raise the game on ourselves and for those who would seek to come and journey with us in this life, because Christ has raised the expectations of what it means to be a disciple. No longer should we expect of ourselves a semblance of weak and half-hearted discipleship. This life is more important than to just give a half-hearted effort.
We should raise the stakes to claim the life Jesus calls us to embrace. We must consider if there are any loyalties in our lives or in the church that are more important than Christ. Are we more interested in being a business than we are in being a church? Are we more interested in our ideologies than living completely for Christ? Are we willing to have everything about us – our words, our actions, our social media posts – being defined by a life in Christ?
As well, we should raise the stakes by taking seriously our vows that we made before Christ and one another. We claim that we will be disciples who will commit ourselves to our gifts, service, prayers, presence, and witness. This is a promise that we make at our baptism, confirmation, or entrance into our fellowship as a covenant. It is a commitment.
If we are to be faithful in our discipleship, then it means we must live out our promises to God. We must take seriously how we are giving of our time and energy towards the mission. We must take seriously how we are supporting the work of Christ through our gifts. We must take seriously how we are praying for the church – not for our will to be done, but for God’s will to be manifested within our community. We must be willing to be present – emotionally, physically, and spiritually – when we gather together. We must be willing to share with others the life of Christ. These are the marks of discipleship that we should expect of ourselves and from one another. It is the marks of discipleship, most importantly, that Christ expects of us.
When we take the life of discipleship seriously and are focused on being true followers of Christ, that is when deep transformation takes place. That is when we experience lives being changed, churches being reborn, and communities being strengthened. It doesn’t happen by being a club. It happens when we seek to the be the church and live as disciples of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t happen by lowering the mark. It happens when we raise the expectations to meet the very expectations Christ has for us.
So, is it worth it? Is following Jesus, living out what it means to be a disciple, really worth it for you and this church? I cannot answer it for you. We need to answer it and really consider the implications for what it means if we say yes. We won’t be judged as disciples on if we believe. We’ll be judged by if we lived as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Is it worth it?