The Cost of Discipleship

As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow You wherever You go.” But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay His head.” He said to another person, “Come, follow Me.” The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.” Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow You, but first let me say good-bye to my family.” But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57–62 NLT)

Years ago, the Lord used a dear brother in Christ by the name of Bryan, to speak truth into my life. Bryan was at times my Paul and at others my Barnabas. i often heard him share a story that had great impact on my life. There was a man who owned a large beautiful land tract, comprised of 1,000 acres. One day, he made the decision to deed all but one acre of the land to a ministry, who in turn would use the tract as the site for a training and retreat center. As a condition of the deed transfer, he required that the ministry grant him the right of ingress and egress through the donated property to his one acre. Neither the man or the ministry thought the request was unreasonable in light of the man generously surrendering all of his property, except for this one acre. The ministry took possession of its 999 acres and constructed its training and retreat facilities on the property. It was a peaceful, out of the way site, that worked perfectly.

But as time went on, the man decided to use his one acre to host loud musical concerts once a month and he invited the public to attend. Unfortunately the concerts were loud, and so were the concert goers, and they littered and destroyed some of the surrounding property as they accessed the site. Over time, the noise volume, attendance, and frequency of the concerts all increased. The concerts became weekly events — and soon they were every night. The amount of damage to the surrounding property continued to increase, and the entire tract was no longer conducive for the ministry’s purpose. The ministry was forced to abandon the site. All because the man held on to one inconsequential acre to use for his own purpose.

Regrettably, this is all too often reflective of our “commitment” to follow Christ. We tell Him, “LORD, I give you my life to use as you will wherever You go.” But secretly, we hold on to one little acre in the middle of the tract. Surely, the Master will be okay with me holding on to this one little thing in my life. The reality is that one little thing is the foothold that the enemy uses to get us off track from following Jesus. As we look at this passage in Luke, we will see three men who attempted to hold on to “just one acre”.

Now bear in mind, this passage is not about salvation. The question being asked is not “what must I do to be saved?”. That is a question of unmerited favor by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9). The question being posed by these men, as believers in Jesus, whose sins have been forgiven, is “what do we need to do to follow You as Your disciple”. Let me hasten to say that i believe it is a hard distinction to make between the two questions. Because i can’t imagine receiving His unmerited favor, mercy and forgiveness and not surrendering all of my life as His follower. But there were years of my life when that was true for me. Thus the reason for Bryan sharing his story with me!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book “The Cost of Discipleship”, contrasts what he calls “cheap” grace and “costly grace”:

“Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.

Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus. It comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow Him; it is grace because Jesus says: ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light.’”

Earlier in Luke, we see that Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be My follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). It is a conditional “if, then” statement. IF we don’t give up our own way, die to ourselves, take up the cross He has set before us and follow Him, THEN we are NOT His follower. The pre-condition is our salvation. But this statement is about what we do once we are saved. Jesus lays down His conditions for us being His disciples. And there is no wiggle room. There is no acre excluded. There are conditions, but it is not conditional. If we would walk with the Master, our full surrender and discipleship CANNOT be conditional. We either are His disciple, or we are not.

Though this passage is not clear on whether all of these men turned away from following Jesus, my fear and my belief is that they did. If i am mistaken, i am grateful that i am in error. But i will use the perspective that they turned away as i write this.

The first man in verse 57 makes the declaration, “I will follow You {Jesus} wherever You go.” But Jesus knew his heart. I fear that he was prepared to follow Jesus whereverJesus went, as long as he did not need to leave his comfortable bed. How many of us have made that same statement? In fact, how many of us have expressed that same statement in song — “Wherever You lead, I’ll go”? But do we really mean it?

Over the years, God has blessed me with the opportunity to accompany many people as they have traveled overseas on a short term mission experience. i can tell you that two questions that i have been commonly asked are, “where will we be sleeping?”, and “what are the bathroom facilities like?” Folks can really get out of their comfort zones in those two arenas! How many of us are prepared to follow Him wherever He goes… as long as it’s not __________________ (you fill in the blank with the name of that part of the world where you flat out would not want to go!)?

Matthew tells us (Matthew 8:19) that this first man was a Pharisee. He was a teacher of the Word, but his concern about his accommodations kept him from following Jesus. That was the “one acre” in his life.

The second man in verse 59 tells Jesus that before he can follow, he first needs to go home and attend to his ailing father. Jesus wasn’t forbidding him from going to his father’s funeral. This son was headed home to take care of his father until he died. The man was saying that after his father was gone, he would be free to follow Jesus. Over the years, i have known missionaries and those serving in ministry, who have had to make difficult decisions regarding ailing and aging family members. LaVonne and i also have needed to make decisions regarding moves with those considerations in mind. So i can in particular relate to this man. And i know for us, and for many others we know, this has been an earnest matter of seeking the Master on what He would have us do. Sometimes the answer is to stay; sometimes the answer is to go. The important fact is to do what the Master tells you!

In this instance, i believe that Jesus knew his heart, and his reality was that his love for family surpassed his love for Jesus. And Jesus was clearly showing him that our human affections must take second place to the Master. He claims and He is due “first place”. If He leads us to leave a family member, we can trust them to His care. He loves them even more than we do!

Jesus could see that the third man in verse 61 kept looking back instead of ahead. i am not a farmer, but i tend to believe that it’s impossible to plow as you are looking back instead of ahead. This man was only committed halfway and half-heartedly. He wanted to be a disciple without making a sacrifice. His face was not set to follow; he couldn’t truly let go of what he had. Over the years, i have talked with a number of missionaries serving overseas that have dealt with that struggle. All of the technological advancements in global communication have enabled folks serving in the far corners of the world to stay connected in wonderful ways with family, friends and supporters. And it is a huge blessing! But sometimes, it has become an impediment for missionaries truly letting go of their home culture and connecting with their host culture. Jesus is clearly saying that we need to let go of that which is behind us and look to Him and where He is leading. The apostle Paul would later write, “… brothers and sisters, … focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:13–14).

The cost of our salvation was high. It cost the Father the death of His Son. The cost of discipleship is high. Christ demands all with which He has entrusted us, including our very lives. Every acre… with none held back.