The High Cost of Discipleship

by Mike Ratliff

21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19:21 NASB)

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 based upon little to no personal cost. 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 large crowds were going along with 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 carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.  (Luke 14:25-27 NASB)

The word hate in v25 can be very disturbing to us if we read this casually. It is best understood in context with Matthew 10:37-39

37 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.  (Matthew 10:37 -39 NASB)

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 one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? 29 “Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 “Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 “Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. (Luke 14:28-33 NASB)

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 was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. 24 “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. 25 “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? 26 “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.  (Luke 9:23-26 NASB)

Several years ago a good friend gave me the first edition of  John MacArthur’s book 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 “Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? 35 “It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 14:34-35 NASB)

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 or cultural 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.

Soli Deo Gloria

5 thoughts on “The High Cost of Discipleship

  1. Good article. I once heard a sermon many years ago about being a disciple. The pastor said “Every disciple is a believer but not every believer is a disciple”. It didnt sound right but I accepted it – after all he was a pastor. Warren Wiersbe even mentions this in his commentary. I also read MacArthurs book which opened my eyes to quite a few things that I wrongly understood – especially Jesus encounter with Nicodemus in John chapter 3.


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  4. Very good. I find that in the church today one of the main things being left out is the call to repentance as mentioned in Acts 20:21. Many people are willing to believe in Christ but few are willing to turn to God. They will end up as those spoken of by our Lord who preach in His name, cast out demons, and do many wonderful deeds only to hear I never knew you. Many have forgot that the way is narrow and the path is straight so they offer others a way of salvation that God never offers.


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