Jul 13, 2014

The Cost of Discipleship

Luke 14:25–35

Jesus calls His people to a lifetime of discipleship. We must count the cost of following after Him. In this sermon, R.C. Sproul continues his series in the gospel of Luke by acknowledging the sacrifice involved in living for the Lord and declaring the immeasurable worth of Christ Himself.


This morning we will continue with our study of the Gospel According to Saint Luke. It is Luke 14:25–35, and I will ask the congregation please to stand for the reading of the Word of God:

Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.

“Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

These are the words of Jesus, our Lord, carrying the full measure of His authority with them. Please receive them as such. Let us pray.

Our Father and our God, again we come before You as Your people. Sometimes, even being converted by Your Holy Spirit, we still have difficulty hearing Your voice. So, we ask that in this hour indeed You will give us ears to hear what You have said to us in Your Word. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Cost of Being a Disciple

If we have a desire for evangelism, a concern for our loved ones and friends who do not know Christ, sometimes we will do everything we can think of to win them to Jesus. We plead with them. We beg with them. We cajole them. We give them all kinds of marvelous promises of how their lives will be wonderfully changed if they come to Jesus.

It is good that we have that desire in our hearts to see others come to Jesus, but we often forget that when Jesus called people, He often went about it in a different way. We want to make the path to Christ as easy as we possibly can. However, when Jesus called people to Himself and to discipleship, as they began to move forward in response to His invitation, He would say, “Wait, stop right there. Think about this for a minute. Is this really what you want to do? Before you come to Me, don’t you think you ought to stop and at least ask the question: ‘How much does it cost? What will it really mean if I fall in with You? What will the price tag be if I declare my commitment to You?’” That is what Jesus did in this text.

Jesus posted a warning to all who would come to Him, to all who would rush to Him and seek shelter under His wings. He said: “Hear this: anyone who comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” In other words, Jesus was saying: “Let me tell you how much it costs. Let me tell you the price. If you want to come with Me, I must ask you: Are you willing to hate your mother? Are you willing to hate your father, your brother, your sister, your wife, your children? Are you ready to hate yourself? Because if you’re not, you can’t be My disciple.”

When is the last time you heard an evangelist put that in his evangelistic message? Of course, we are stunned by these words. What was Jesus saying? He told us to love our neighbor, to love our mothers and fathers and children, but now He says we must hate our mothers, fathers, children, wives. We think that He cannot possibly mean what He says in this text.

Defining “Hate”

We stumble over the word “hate” in this text and tend to interpret it the way we use it customarily in our own culture. If we look carefully at how the Bible uses that term, it frequently—but not always—means simply to love less.

In the Old Testament story of Jacob and his marriages to the daughters of Laban, Leah and Rachel, Jacob worked seven years for Rachel and then was deceived by his father-in-law. He had to marry Leah and work another seven years before he was finally given the patriarchal blessing to marry his first love, Rachel.

It says that Jacob hated Leah and loved Rachel, but in the next breath, the Scripture clarifies that and says that he loved Rachel more than he loved Leah. Conversely, he loved Leah less than he loved Rachel. In comparison to the love that he had for Rachel, the love that he had for Leah seemed like hate.

What our Lord was saying in this text was not that we are to despise or abhor our parents, children, or spouses, but that the devotion we have to Jesus must be even greater than what we have for our dearest family and friends.

Conflicted Loves

Many of you who have been converted to Christ have experienced the very conflict of which Jesus speaks with loved ones.

I remember when I came home full of excitement and joy after being converted to Christ and told my mother I had become a Christian. I fully expected her to rejoice. Instead, she became angry: “What do you mean you became a Christian? You’ve always been a Christian. We had you baptized. You went through catechism. You grew up in our family. You’ve always been a Christian.” My mother was hostile to my conversion narrative. Fortunately, by the grace of God, she finally came to understand what I was saying. She became converted herself and a devout student of sacred Scripture. In her initial reaction, however, she was not pleased.

Many of you have had the same experience. When I was first converted and wrote to my fiancé to explain it to her, she thought I had lost my mind. I trembled at the thought of whether we could become husband and wife if she remained in that posture. But again, by the grace of God, her heart was changed. She too was converted and acquiesced to my marriage proposal.

We often experience conflict between the ones we love the most and our love for Christ. So, Christ said: “Just a minute before you come with Me. What I demand from My disciples is that their first devotion, their first love, must be Me. You must love Me more than your family. You must love Me more than you love yourself. Otherwise, you can’t be My disciple, and unless you’re willing to bear your cross as I must bear Mine, you can’t be My disciple.”

Counting the Cost of Building

Jesus continued with a brief parable. He said, “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it?”

If you build a house, an outbuilding, a tower, or silo, whatever it is you have under construction, before you build it, you ask: “How much is it going to cost me? Do I have the money to complete the job, or am I going to start to build a great building and put it beside I-4, then stop construction in the middle and call it the ‘I-4 Eyesore’”?

When I was growing up, I had more than one friend who lived in the foundation of a house. In Pennsylvania, every home had a basement or a cellar, so the foundation was built, then the cellar, then the house on top of that. There were people who began to build, and after they dug the foundation, they put up the cement block and had a cellar. They ran out of money, so they took plywood and covered the top of that foundation, moved in, and lived in the foundation. I had friends who lived in foundations like that. They never asked us over to their house because they were embarrassed. Their fathers had started to build a house but did not think about how much it would cost.

Counting the Cost of War

The second example Jesus gave had to do with warfare: “What king, having ten thousand troops, will go out to meet another king coming against him with twenty thousand troops without first asking the question, ‘Do we have what it takes to win this war, or should we sue for peace?’”

There are different kinds of wars. I have read that during the Battle of Bull Run, which opened the conflict of the Civil War a short distance outside of Washington, D.C., the wealthy women of Washington rode out in their carriages to watch the conflict. They, like their husbands, like everybody in Washington, and basically everybody in the north figured the war was going to be over in two weeks because all the military and industrial power was concentrated in the North.

What people did not understand at that time was that there was not one war going on, but two. There was a war of conquest and a war of attrition. For the North to win the war, they had to conquer the South to keep them in the Union. For the South to win the war, they did not have to capture a single square inch of the North. All they had to do was to protect their own borders and outlast the will and determination of the North to conquer them. That is called a war of attrition.

If you know anything about Civil War history, if it had not been for the space of forty-eight hours between Gettysburg and the fall of Vicksburg, nobody in the North would’ve given Abraham Lincoln one chance in a million to be reelected, because the South was winning the war of attrition. After eight hundred thousand casualties, the North was losing its stomach for this battle.

The situation was the same in the Revolutionary War. For the colonists to win the Revolutionary War, they did not have to conquer a single village in England or square foot of British soil. All George Washington and his ragtag militiamen had to do was outlast the resolve and determination of the British, who were fighting a war of conquest while Washington was fighting a war of attrition.

The difference may not be clear to you since America has not learned that lesson since the eighteenth century. That is what happens when you fight in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in Vietnam. All they must do is outlast the U.S. and they win. They are fighting wars of attrition. We are fighting wars of conquest. World War II was different. Germany and Japan had to be conquered by the Allies for that war to succeed. Before you get engaged in either a war of conquest or a war of attrition, you must ask, “Can we win this, or should we send our ambassadors to the enemy and plead for terms of peace?”

Jesus was taking illustrations from common life, from the building of a building to the waging of a war, in order to say to those who would be His disciples, “Wait just a minute, count the cost, and ask yourselves, ‘Can I afford this?’”

Cheap Grace

During World War II, German leaders put together a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Included in that plot was a prominent clergyman and theologian by the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was discovered, arrested, and executed by Adolf Hitler. Then a book of his appeared that has become something of a Christian classic, titled The Cost of Discipleship.

In that book, which Bonhoeffer wrote in the twentieth century, he invented the term cheap grace, which is equated with the concept of what we call “easy believism,” in which people say: “Sure, I want to be a Christian. Yes, I’ll make a confession of faith. I believe that God forgives me of my sins.”

I remember the story John Barros gave of a woman who came down to the women’s center to have an abortion. She had a fish on her car, and John asked her, “Are you a Christian?” She said, “Yes, but I’m going to have this abortion because I know that Jesus will forgive me.”

Imagine how presumptuous it is to sin willfully and knowingly, presuming on the grace of God. That is cheap grace and easy believism, which is not true faith at all. Bonhoeffer was saying that if you are going to be a Christian, there will be a price tag, and it may be your own life.

The God Who Plays for Keeps

I mentioned earlier how I was converted to Christ and began to read the Bible for the first time. I started reading through the Old Testament, beginning at Genesis 1 like it was a novel. I was reading day and night for two weeks to read through the Bible.

I remember walking the halls of my dormitory in college at three o’clock in the morning. Everybody else was sound asleep. There was no sound in the building. I could not sleep. I was walking back and forth like a caged lion, haunted by what I was reading in the Old Testament.

I read about the flood, the destruction of Korah because of his rebellion, God killing Nadab and Abihu, God killing Uzzah when he touched the ark of the covenant, and God instituting the herem against the Canaanites, killing men, women, and children.

I walked, thinking: “This God plays for keeps. If I’m going to be a Christian, I’ve got to be all in or get out of here.” That was my maiden impression of the revelation of the person, character, and nature of almighty God—He plays for keeps.

Then I came to the New Testament. I read Jesus’ comment, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). Then I got to the end, to the book of Revelation, where Jesus said to the church of Laodicea: “I know your works, that you’re neither hot nor cold. You’re lukewarm, and I will spew you out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:16).

What was Jesus saying? Are you serious about your faith? Is it a consuming passion for you to serve Christ? If it isn’t, you’re just playing. It’s not the real thing. Jesus said: “If that’s the way it is, you just can’t be My disciple. I won’t have it.”

The Paradox of the Christian Life

I have noticed in reading the Scriptures and in the experiences of life as a Christian that there is something paradoxical about being a Christian. On the one hand, Is there anything sweeter? Is there anything more blessed? Is there anything that can possibly produce more joy than being a Christian, being in Christ, knowing that all sins you have ever committed are forgiven, and knowing that Jesus has gone into His Father’s house to prepare a place for you to live forever?

What a wonderful thing it is to enjoy the Christian life. Sometimes I wonder how people who are not Christians are able to cope with human existence. The Bible says that without Christ, you are without hope. You are hopeless. You are living in a state of hopelessness. You may protest and say: “I’m having a great time. I’m living the dream. I’m having all kinds of fun without being a Christian.” Yes, you can have all kinds of fun, but it is a fun that, in the final analysis, is a futile fun, and you know it.

On the one hand, there is no greater thing than to be a Christian, but the other side of the paradox is this: to give your life to Christ in this world is a throwaway life. You have just thrown your life away because you are not your own anymore. You are not autonomous anymore. Now you are under the lordship and command of the Prince of Glory. You are baptized, and you are given the sign not only of all the promises of salvation that come with the sign of baptism, but of your death in Christ, and a sign of your resurrection as well. In baptism, we participate in the death and in the burial of Jesus.

Participating in Christ’s Afflictions

As the Apostle tells us again and again in the New Testament, if we are not willing to identify with and participate in the humiliation of Christ, we will never experience participation in His exultation.

Paul wrote these words to the Colossians: “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church” (Col. 1:24). Sometimes Paul the Apostle is hard to understand, but here he appears to go over the edge when he says that he “fills up in his flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” Was there some deficiency in the sufferings of Jesus that had to be fulfilled by the Apostle Paul? Did the Father say to the Son, “You did a nice job as far as it went but I have to wait for the Apostle Paul to finish the job?” No.

Paul was not saying that there was any lack of merit, sufficiency, or efficacy in the sufferings of the Lord Jesus on our behalf. Paul was saying that the suffering of Christ in His body did not end with His death but continues in the sufferings of His body, the church.

Growing Hostility

The testimony of history shows how the afflictions of those who identify with Jesus continue to add to the total sufferings of His body even to this very day. There are many hot spots of persecution around the world where Christians are being executed daily by hostile forces.

If you watched the American reaction to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, you likely noticed a sudden and dramatic increase in outspoken hatred and venomous attacks, not only against Hobby Lobby, but against all Christians.

Beloved, there is a growing hostility in our culture and nation towards you, me, and all who take the name of Christ. I do not think it is unlikely that soon push will come to shove. If that happens, it is also likely that some of us will say in that hour, “I never knew the Man,” because we will love our own lives more than we love Him.

Peter fled and came back, becoming the kind of disciple that Jesus described. When he faced his execution, he asked to be crucified upside down because he did not believe he was worthy to be executed in the same manner as his Lord.

Keep Your Salt and Gain Everything

This is not a scare theology; this is the truth. Jesus said: “The world has hated Me, and if they hate Me, they are going to hate you. So, wait just a minute. Before you sign up, count the cost.”

It is a heavy cost, a heavy price, but when you count the cost of anything, along with it you must count the value of what you are getting in return. In return, for the cost of your life, is the pearl of great price. No, it is not even a pearl of great price, because there is no price that you can attach to it. It is priceless to own Him, and to have Him own you is worth everything, because He said it Himself: “What do you profit if you gain the whole world and lose your own soul?”

“Be My disciple and be salt for Me, not salt that has lost its saltiness.” The salt from the Dead Sea had a mixture of other substances, and under certain evaporation it could lose its saltiness and become worthless. When it was fully potent, it could be used for seasoning and preservation, but if it lost its saltiness, it was only worth being thrown on the dung heap and cast away. Jesus wants disciples who have counted the cost and who keep their salt no matter what.

This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.