The cost of true discipleship

by Mike Ratliff

18 Now when Jesus saw a crowd around Him, He gave orders to depart to the other side of the sea. 19 Then a scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” 20 Jesus *said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 21 Another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus *said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.” Matthew 8:18-22 (NASB) 

For the Christian, this life is a test as well as a proving ground in which God grows and matures those who belong to Him through pruning and removing what is not of Him in order that the believer will be humbled and, therefore, enter deeper into the process of becoming more Christlike. There is a cost of discipleship, but if you listen to certain preachers and teachers in our time, this is not true at all. Instead, what they teach is that repentance is not at all part of one’s salvation. However, repentance is a marker of Christian authentication. On the other hand, in the visible Church in our time there are many voices which seek to normalize homosexuality. However, to make this claim they must ignore what the Bible clearly teaches about what constitutes marriage (Genesis 2:24;1 Corinthians 7:8-9). Those who truly follow Jesus must do so on His terms, not the terms of this lost and dying world. 

54 When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But He turned and rebuked them, [and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; 56 for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”] And they went on to another village.
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 59 And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” 61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:54-62 (NASB) 

The word “follow” in v57 is the Greek word ακολουθησω (akolouthēsō). This verb is in future tense in this usage. This fellow is promising to not only simply accompany our Lord, but do so in abiding fellowship with Him for the purpose of learning as a scholar from Him as his teacher. This commitment was also for the sake of salvation known or looked for, which presented itself in this fellowship. Let us stop and think of how Jesus is preached in our time by so many. There is no emphasis on what it really means to be His disciple. Salvation is found in no one else but our Lord Jesus Christ, but that salvation is not a trivial thing. Those who truly come to Him must cleave to Him in believing trust and obedience. This cleaving to Jesus includes following His leading, acting according to His example (John 8:12; 10:4,5,27). From this we see why there is a constant stress laid by the Lord Jesus upon the need of self-denial and fellowship with Himself in the cross (Matthew 8:19, 20; 10:38; Mark 8:34; John 8:12; 12:26).

Therefore, my brethren, following Jesus denotes a fellowship of faith as well as a fellowship of life, sharing in His sufferings not only inwardly, but outwardly if necessary (Matthew 9:9; 19:21). This outward fellowship could not continue without inner moral and spiritual fellowship . This is why persecution can only cause those to fall away who are disingenuous, while those who are truly the Lord’s will remain faithful even through the most terrible tests and trials. Salvation is not genuine that does not continue as a way of life. We are commanded to follow the Lamb (Revelation 14:4). We also see that following Jesus this way is independent apart from any outward act or momentary circumstances of time and place which union with Jesus might involve (John 8:12; 10:4; 5:27; 12:26). In other words, Christians are new creations. They are in Christ and will continue to follow Christ no matter what their circumstances are, whether good or bad.

What was Jesus’ response to the one who promised to follow the Lord wherever He went? This is our Lord’s challenge to those who would make this claim. He is telling him and all of us that the path of following Jesus is not easy and comfortable. This is true because this world is not the home of our Lord or those who truly follow Him. Jesus is telling this person that if He is going to commit to following Him then he must know that there is nothing casual about that commitment. It is for life and those who are truly the Lord’s will suffer just as He did. In v59 we read of the Lord saying “Follow me” to another. The word follow here is a form of the same word from v57, ακολουθει (akolouthei). This verb is in present tense, indicative mode, and active voice. This is a command to do something which involves continuous or repeated action. In other words, He is calling this individual to not only commit to following Him, but to do so as a way of life. This is why we should reject those forms of evangelism that preach a form of decisional action that requires no repentance or continual surrender to the Lordship of Christ for the rest of ones life. The genuine disciple follows the Lord as a way of life. What was this fellow’s response? He made an excuse for not following Him. While burial of one’s father was an important part of Jewish life, our Lord is teaching us the priority of the kingdom over family.

In vv61-62 we have a man’s halfhearted commitment to discipleship of our Lord Jesus Christ. What was Jesus’ response? He rebukes the man. His summons to discipleship takes precedence over everything else. The analogy our Lord used in v62 tells us that those who are truly in the Kingdom of God are to repent of their love and partaking of the ways of the world. This brings to mind the wife of Lot looking back at Sodom as they fled the city prior to its destruction. When we become the committed disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ the only thing we will accomplish when we backslide into the ways of the world, is a breaking of the close, intimate fellowship we have with the Lord. If we do so and then go back to it in unrepetance then we prove that we are not genuine Christians. On the other hand, God gave us a wonderful passage in His Word for those who stumble in their walk by turning again to the flesh.

1 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— 2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— 3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.
5 This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. 1 John 1 (NASB) 

The Christian in this life will never be totally free from sin and we make an huge error if we try to be perfect or teach that perfection is possible. Instead, we teach that we all sin and we must confess our sins to God and pray for Him to grant us repentance. In this, He is faithful and just to forgive (αφη) us our sins (αμαρτιας) and to cleanse (καθαριση ) us from all unrighteousness (αδικιας ). The word John used here that is translated forgive, αφη (aphē), means to put away or dismiss. God actually removes the guilt for these sins from us so that we do not stand guilty before Him. All in Christ stand positionally guiltless before God because their sins were completely atoned for at the Cross. This statement is telling us that because of that standing we have before Him through the Son, He will continue to forgive us as we stumble and then turn in repentance back to the Lord. We can be assured that our sins are forgiven and we have been cleansed from all unrighteousness because of the work of Christ. On the other hand, if we claim to be Christians, but repentance is foreign to us, we make God out to be a liar saying we do not need His cleansing. Those who do this prove their disingenuousness because God’s Word is not in them.

My brethren, we must examine ourselves daily to seek to walk as close as possible with the Lord. This requires prayer and repentance as God shows us where we need to confess and seek forgiveness. This is how we walk this walk in obedience to Him. This is what genuine disciples do. I pray that God opened your heart to these truths and that you are committed to following Jesus with both hands on the plow with your eyes fixed straight ahead on the Lord.

Soli Deo Gloria!

3 thoughts on “The cost of true discipleship

  1. Just a comment on v22. My understanding of Jesus’ answer is that He’s saying “Follow me” meaning that He is spiritual life and “allow the dead to bury their own dead” meaning let the spiritually dead bury the spiritually dead, making a contrast between life in Him and death by nature.

    Is this a correct interpretation, according to your understanding and knowledge of Greek?


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