The Cost of Discipleship

by Mike Ratliff

21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21 ESV)

The message of salvation that is normally preached or taught in the vast majority of churches these days has been contaminated with Humanism. The focus is on becoming a Christian for some great benefit or reward from God. Masses of people respond to that false gospel as well. The genuine gospel that our Saviour preached during His earthly ministry may have mentioned the benefits of being saved, but He emphasized the cost of becoming His disciple in such a way that it caused many of His hearers to not follow Him anymore. In fact, whenever He saw that the people were flocking to Him to have their felt needs met, He would speak a message to them that expressed that those who are His disciples are the ones who have counted the cost and seen that the eternal is all that truly matters.

25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-27 ESV)

The word hate in v25 can be very disturbing to us if we read this casually. It is best understood in context with Matthew 10:37.

37 “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37 ESV)

Jesus is telling us that He is Lord of those who are His disciples. That Lordship is one of ultimate superiority. He is Lord of Lord and King of Kings. He possesses all authority. The requirement to be His disciple is to love Him above all things and all people. If He isn’t Lord of a professing Christian then he or she isn’t His disciple. Those who profess that surrender to the Lordship of Christ is a work, therefore, it can’t be part of salvation obviously do not understand Jesus’ words here. This is very clear. In v27 we see that not only must a disciple of Christ be totally surrendered to His Lordship, they must also bear their own cross and follow Him. Those who don’t do this or aren’t willing to do this are not His disciples. What does it mean to bear one’s own cross? Isn’t it dying to self and self will. Because of our love for Him above all things and all people, we die to self and follow Him. This implies that we obey Him in all things.

28 “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:28-33 ESV)

Who counts that cost? Christ’s disciples are those who hear the truth of the cost of discipleship and go for it regardless of the apparent high cost. It is costly… to the world. It is costly to those bound to their flesh. It is costly to those whose minds are focused on the things of men rather than on the things of God. However, to Jesus’ disciples it is losing ones life in order to gain it. Those who see the high cost and back away are those who save their own life and, therefore, lose it.

23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26 ESV)

Several years ago a good friend gave me a book by John MacArthur titled The Gospel According to Jesus. I finished it in about a week. I devoured it. It was eye opening. God used it to start the process of driving Humanism from my heart and how I interpreted the Gospel. Throughout the book John reveals the fallacies of the Humanistic gospel. He not only explains the various forms of it, He names names. I was shocked. The week I finished that book I was asked by our Pastor at a former church (we left in 2000 because the company I worked for relocated us from OKC to Tulsa) to fill in for him on Wednesday night while he went to preach in a revival somewhere. I decided to teach on much of what I learned from John’s book. I was not prepared for the backlash from many of the people in the class. Some of them were determined to make me see that there are two types of Christians, disciples and those who are bound to the flesh. It was no fun dealing with this I assure you. However, after the class several people came up to me requesting that I pray with them because the message had struck their hearts deeply. They were convicted about their lack of submission to Christ’s Lordship. It was a night that was both very stressful and very humbling.

Many of you reading this are struck in the heart the same way. You know that you love things or another person more than you Love our Lord. You know that you do not deny yourself and follow Him when you would rather do things you own way. Or perhaps the stress of standing out as a non-conformist with those bound to the flesh make you compromise and follow the crowd. The reason you are struck in the heart is that the Holy Spirit is bringing conviction into your Heart to repent. Your conscience is condemning you. This is actually very good for you because that means that our Lord is calling you to repent and turn back to Him, to take up His yoke and follow Him. It means that you are His, but that you are a backslider. Now is the time for you to make it right again.

Many are on the fence. They see the high cost of discipleship, but believe that they can still be Christian and not have to pay that cost. I assure you that that is not what our Lord said.

34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35 It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 14:34-35 ESV)

Those who believe they are Christians, but refuse to pay the cost of discipleship are like salt that has lost its savor. Just as this salt is worthless or useless, so will be those who think they are saved, but are not His disciples. Why? They aren’t saved, therefore, they are not regenerate and don’t have the Holy Spirit. They are simply religious Christians whom the Lord does not know. Only those who count the cost of discipleship and see that eternity is all that really matters, lose their lives and, therefore, gain their lives. They have eternal life and will be with our Lord in eternity.

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13 thoughts on “The Cost of Discipleship

  1. Mike,

    Amen!! This is awesome!

    This is the “meat” of Christ and His message, but unfortunately not received because it requires work. Working out our salvation with fear and trembling means nothing to most Christians. We are a lazy people. We want what is easy, quick, and feels good..a “Drive-thru” Christianity.

    Once again, thanks for a wonderful article.

    In Christ,


  2. Sherry,

    Drive-thru Christianity! 🙂 I wonder where we lost the concept that God never changes. Many have fallen off the fast-track truck and God has providentially drawn them into this long, intimate, live changing walk with Him.

    Very good point Sherry!

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  3. Mike,

    Count the costs, count the costs, count the costs. Excellent article, and thank you for the book recommendation: The Gospel According to Jesus. As we go into this week, and every week, lets pass the salt.



  4. Thank you for this article. It pierced right through my heart. I am that person sitting on the fence. A backslider. Please pray for me.


  5. Aaron,

    I just prayed for you that God would open your eyes to see His truth and to draw you into the light so that you can walk before Him as a Spirit-led believer who lives for His glory alone.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  6. Thank you Mike for another biblical post. Thank you for the teaching and the encouragement. As I read through the article it brought to mind a recent sermon I heard in a Sunday morning worship service. I have dug out my notes and want to share a few of the thoughts, if that is okay. the text the pastor used was: Matthew 16:24-46, similar to the Luke 9:23-26 scripture you quoted in the post.

    Matt 16:24-26 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

    The pastor began with a Bonhoeffer quote, while clearly stating he was not endorsing much of what Bonhoeffer taught- but that Bonhoeffer had gotten this point exactly right, “Cheap grace is grace that cost the professor nothing.” The pastor went on to say that to be a discpile of Jesus Christ is costly; very costly. The enjoyment of grace, living as an heir of the kingdom of heaven costs greatly and the truly regenerate cannot avoid the cost. He described three specific costs:

    1. The cost of denying self- obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ in all things (not as a good work, not for morality’s sake, nor as an act of making oneself righteous). It is to subordinate yourself to the will of Christ, to deny all that you are by nature, and to only want and treasure what God wants, wills and treasures. It means to contravene my own wisdom, ambitions and desires if they contravene the will of God. It means to live under God’s reasoning, God’s wisdom, God’s wants, and God’s interests in God’s world.

    2. The cost of taking up one’s cross- the cross being an instrument of death- shouldering suffering and death for the sake of Christ; for the sake of living in subjection to the will of God. The pastor stressed that our afflictions (by way of health issues, physical limitations, ect.) are not “our cross”; afflictions are our thorns in the flesh.

    3. The cost of following Christ- obedience to the Law of Christ; His commandments. Obedience and disciplship are one. (John 3:36)

    Denying self, follwing Christ, taking up your cross- for the true child of God-are done for Christ alone; for Christ’s sake. And they can only be done by His indwelling Holy Spirit.

    The pastor’s closing thought: Being a Christian demands your life.

    This sermon has been a blessing to me and I thought it might to you, too.

    Thanks again Mike. Kim T


  7. Thanks Kim!

    God has me head down in this subject right now. When we think of all that is wrong with the church we often are looking at all of the apostasy out there, however, God is showing me that the key to killing this apostasy is to teach and preach the truth of how those of us who really know Him must be in total war against our flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit.

    More to come. 🙂

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  8. Thanks Mike for this article, you are exactly right. Too often we are creating pew potatoes these days. That is, people want to come to Christ only for the benefit of heaven, so they will attend church week after week but never show any change in their lives. Remember, true hearing produces action.

    This problem, sadly to say, is the shortcoming of us Christians. Many believe that once a person is saved, our job is complete. This is hardly true. Once a person is saved, our job has just begun. This new believer is a babe in Christ, and we must teach him/her how to follow Christ. Christ’s command to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20) was written to all believers, not just a few. But keep in mind, a disciple is not just a convert, he is a lifelong committed learner and follower of Christ.

    Christ tells us we are to turn men into disciples. With this command comes a cost. Training men to be disciples takes time and effort and it quickly becomes apparent how much one loves Christ. I would encorage everyone to study the Gospels with the intent of seeing how Christ lived and how He taught. Once you truly see it, your life will be transformed.

    thanks again Mike,


    p.s. for more info on disciple making, check out
    and especially the free audio lessons.


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