We Christians spend a lot of time encouraging other people to become Christians. On a semi-regular basis I’ll do a talk with the whole purpose of telling people how good Jesus he is and what he has done for them. Then I ask them if they want to commit to him. And then often some people will make a commitment to trust and follow Jesus, and we all get excited because there are a few new people who have joined the team.
For us Christians, getting people “across the line” (for want of a better term) is one of the most exciting things that can happen. But what if Jesus is not as interested in getting people across the line as we are? What if Jesus doesn’t want everyone to follow him?
In Luke 14:25-35 Jesus spends 11 verses actively encouraging people not to follow him. Or at least, not to follow him if they aren’t completely committed to following him.
He begins by saying: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
Jesus isn’t anti-parents or anti-family. He’s saying compared to him, everything else should be disposable. Your parents, spouse, kids, siblings, even your life should be nothing to you compared to him. When you carry your cross you carry it to die.
Jesus is saying, if you’re not willing to die for him, don’t follow him. Jesus only wants committed disciples.
The next thing Jesus says is: “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.’”
He’s saying, if you’re planning to start following him, make sure you can see it through all the way to the end.
Following him will cost you, it’ll cost you everything. It’ll cost you all the things you love most, as you choose instead to make Jesus what you love most. It’ll cost you the things you want most, as you replace them with the desire for what Jesus wants most. It’ll cost you whatever life you want to build for yourself, as you commit to building Jesus’ Kingdom for him.
So before you start following Jesus, make sure you’re happy to pay that cost. Can you afford to spend everything you have for Jesus? Because that’s what he’ll ask for. Everything you want for yourself, he’ll say “That’s mine.” Obedience is required in everything.
Of course what you get back is better than what you give up. Life with Jesus is the life you were made for, but getting there is going to hurt.
We Christians rarely talk about this. We rarely ask people to count the cost. We rarely say “Before you give your life to Jesus, ask yourself, will you give your whole life to Jesus? Because it’s better to never start following him, than to start and then give up.”
But maybe we should. I’ve seen a lot of people give up, a lot of people who have started building a life with Jesus only to quit when the cost got too great. Maybe if we ask people to count the cost up front, then when they find following Jesus costs them the thing they love the most they won’t be surprised and they won’t be as likely to give up.
If I was building a house and I imagined it would cost me $5000 and halfway through I discovered it cost $500,000, I would give up. But if I expected it would cost me $400,000, that’s at least a much more realistic cost estimate to begin with. Following Jesus is never meant to be easy, and if you think it is, don’t follow him till you’ve got a better cost estimate completed.
But here is the next crazy thing from the passage. Jesus says: “Suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”
One of the overarching themes of the Bible is one of allegiance. This world is rightfully God’s. Jesus is the king come to reclaim his Kingdom. He is waging war on the forces of darkness. You can either choose to align yourself with Jesus or you will (because of your rejection of his kingship and rightful rule in your life) be against him.
So Jesus is saying you should add up the costs. Can you face off against God and win? If you can’t, then you should probably figure out some way to make peace with him. If not, one day you will find yourself having to face-off against God and you will have to pay for your rebellion. It will cost your life.
So make peace. Make peace before it’s too late. How do you make peace?
Jesus doesn’t give the answer in this passage, but late in Luke he does create the answer. If we try to make peace cannot succeed. But when Jesus died on the cross he made peace between us and God. If we trust in Jesus, we get forgiveness for our rebellion against the rightful ruler of the world. We surrender our lives to him and he gives us new life in return. We surrender and we become not prisoners of war, but citizens of God’s new kingdom.
So if you’re counting the cost, one way or another, you lose everything. If you don’t follow Jesus you will lose everything at the end of your life when you pay for your rebellion against God. You might get what you want now, but you’ll lose it all later. Or you can choose to follow him now, give up any claims you have on your own life, trust the peace that Jesus made and gain new life in him.
If Jesus is real, maybe he doesn’t want your allegiance. Maybe he wants you to count the cost and only follow him when you’ve come to terms with losing everything because, one way or another, lose everything you will.