Paying the cost of discipleship

by Mike Ratliff

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

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. Tragically, 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, which was His intent. 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 multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, 26 “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. 27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. Luke 14:25-27 (NKJV) 

The word hate in v26 can be very disturbing to us if we read this casually. It is best understood in context with Matthew 10:37.

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. Matthew 10:37 (NKJV) 

Jesus is telling us that He is Lord of those who are His disciples. That Lordship is one of ultimate superiority. He is King of kings and Lord of Lords. 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 do not do this or are not willing to do this are not His disciples. Stop right here and mediate on that for a few minutes.

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, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— 29 lest, after he has laid the 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 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? 32 Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. 33 So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. Luke 14:28-33 (NKJV) 

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. Yes, 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 the ones who save their own lives and, therefore, lose them.

23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. 25 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels. Luke 9:23-26 (NKJV) 

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  (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 as Lord. Some metioned specific parts of their lives that they held on to, et cetera. 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 have backslidden. 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 the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? 35 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!” Luke 14:34-35 (NKJV) 

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.

On the other hand, over the last few years I have made several friends online who detest what they call “Lordship Salvation.” They contend that John MacArthur’s book sells a form of the Gospel that is works theology, et cetera.  I have, I hope, patiently explained that they are misinterpeting what John MacArthur is saying. He is not saying we are saved by anything more than by Grace through Faith. He never adds anything to that. On the other hand, He quotes those passages I used above to show that genuine Christians are submitted to Christ as Lord. My brethren, you can’t have it both ways. You are either His or you are not. He is either your Lord or you are not His. Which are you?

Soli Deo Gloria!

6 thoughts on “Paying the cost of discipleship

  1. Please explain what the “bound to the flesh” arguments were used from those in the class, who criticized. I really enjoyed this and agree


  2. Those arguments were very similar to the one’s we get in which people reject the doctrine of regeneration, which, in effect, does away with the doctrine of original sin. They say that people are saved by mere belief and simply confess that belief. This confession or profession of faith is all that is required to seal them as Christians. There will be no change in them at all. If they were adulterers they will still be adulterers. If they were drunks they will still be drunks. If they were gamblers, homosexuals, etc. nothing is changed. They are still bound to those sins and no repentance or submission to Christ as Lord is required as only those who go to the next level, disciples, are the ones who have to do that. My goodness, I almost fell apart that evening when I encountered those people in our church. However, they are everywhere, even to this day. We were in our small group the other night talking about this very thing and our elder in our group said his estimate of the number of genuine Christians in our church would be between 15% to 20%. That is scary. Let us not forget that repentance is not a work we do. It is a work of the Holy Spirit who regenerates, changes us and then we repent and walk in the Lordship of Christ after that in repentance. We will never be perfect in this life, but neither will we be bound to the flesh like we were before God had mercy on us redeeming us from the market place of sin.


  3. I wrote too long a comment so I just repost yours in a link from my own site….

    Do we could the cost…..
    Mike Ratliff raises this very uncomfortable topic and it does open our hearts to some challenges…..

    Btw.. Reading it in the Original doesnt make it any easier.

    Matthew 19:21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

    But the use of the word “perfect” does give a clue….
    Matthew 5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
    Matthew 5:20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

    See my comment at:


  4. Mike, I remember going to an event back in 1999 or 2000 in which the guy on the stage was teaching Lordship Salvation. He said there was a difference between believing in Jesus and being a disciple. I’m not sure that he said you couldn’t be saved unless you were a disciple, but he sure made a whole lot of people question their faith. People went for prayer to “rededicate” themselves to Jesus as Lord.

    The fallout from that event was that people questioned the eternal security of being a Christian. Some people felt that they had to go get “re-saved.” I’m not saying that’s what you’re teaching here, but that guy on that stage was all works and no grace and he called it Lordship Salvation. I can see why people cringe when someone uses that expression. It has been used to beat up on people rather than edify.

    My reading of the Scriptures tells me that we are all at different points in our walk but that there will be change, even constant change no matter how slow. On the one hand, living in such an evil society makes it difficult to really see what’s right and what’s wrong (as it was for the pagans in Paul’s day); on the other hand, being new creations, we must expect that our non-conformity to such evil will be very evident to ourselves and those around us.

    The key is whether a professing Christian wants to know the truth and walk in it. He may be “dense” when it comes to certain behaviors because that’s all he’s known, but if he’s willing to search the Scriptures and be teachable, that’s some pretty good evidence of salvation. What I’ve run into so much lately is the lack of belief in absolute truth, the lack of concern about obedience, and the resulting disunity.


  5. What you wrote is exactly the reason I don’t use the term “Lordship Salvation.” The person you are describing was just as wrong as those who teach that all you have to do is profess Jesus and then go live like you want. Both are extremes, both are wrong. There are not two groups of believers, regular believers and disciples. No, there are only disciples. These disciples vary in maturity from being baby Christians to being very mature and everything in between. However, even the most immature Christian is a new creation. He or she will be changed by regeneration and will be able to walk in repentance at some level. If this were not so why do we have these passages like those I shared in my post and the book of 1 John which tells us that we all sin and need to confess our sins by coming boldly to the throne of grace then turning and walking in repentance? That is what our calling is. It isn’t works righteousness. It is walking in the sanctifying grace of God. Carefully read John 15. Believers are simply the branches abiding the Vine who is Christ. Without Him we can do nothing. In the context of what we are talking about, no one can walk in the Lordship of Christ out side of the Grace of God in the power of the Holy Spirit abiding in Christ.


  6. “In the context of what we are talking about, no one can walk in the Lordship of Christ out side of the Grace of God in the power of the Holy Spirit…”

    Exactly. Thanks, Mike.


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