The Cost of Commitment

Luke 14:25-35

16 July 2000

Greyfriars Church


I've really enjoyed following the Tour de France on television over the last two weeks. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that it is the most demanding sporting event in the world, and without a doubt it is the sports highlight of the year for me. I've been recording all the coverage which they broadcast at three in the morning to watch before I go to work, which means I've been getting up jolly early!

It's not well known round here, but many years ago I used to race bicycles myself, which is how I first got into following the Tour every July. I was a member of St Ives Cycling Club; I used to ride around 250 miles a week in training; I had a skintight, lycra body suit, and I even shaved my legs, as all serious cyclists do. Back then it was my ambition to ride the Tour de France one day.

But as you can probably tell from my now less than aerodynamic physique it's been some time since I've cycled 250 miles in a week. In fact, it's been over three years since I've been on a bike at all. Nowadays my cycling activities are reduced to watching from an armchair. I'm no longer a participant, just a spectator.

What's that got to do with Luke chapter 14? Well, this is the difference that Jesus is addressing here: the difference between being a spectator of the church and being a participant in the church; between being an admirer of Jesus and being a disciple of Jesus.

It will certainly help you if you have the text open at Luke 14:25 if you can find a Bible nearby. I want to look at this little episode under four headings, which are, crowds, cost, counting and consequences.


So, to my first heading, crowds. In verse 25 we read that, Large crowds were travelling with Jesusref.

At this point in Jesus' earthly ministry he seems to be causing quite a stir, and he has drawn a big crowd. I think that for us today this would be regarded as a sign of some success. We love to have our churches full: the successful churches are the ones packed full every Sunday. A successful evangelistic rally is one where hundreds of people go forward to pray the prayer. If a lot of people come to Alpha this autumn, I think we'll be congratulating ourselves with a pat on the back, won't we?

So, by our standards it looks like Jesus is doing pretty well here. Jesus, however, doesn't seem to think so. We find him turning to this marvellous crowd, and launching into an extraordinary challenge to them.

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple... Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.ref

What are you doing Jesus?! They'll never stick with you if you say things like that to them. Don't you know the first rule of selling a quality product: never discuss the cost?

But that's exactly what Jesus does with this crowd of on-lookers: he tells them what it will cost them to follow him. He outlines to them the difference between being a spectator and being a participant in Christianity. He tells them the difference between being his admirers, and his disciples.


So here's the second heading: Jesus is telling the crowd about the cost of following him. "If you want to be my disciple it's going to cost you" , he says. He goes on to mention two particular ways in which discipleship will cost the follower.


First of all, being a disciple of Jesus will means changed relationships. As he says in verse 26,

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.ref

Hang on, what's this about hating people? Aren't we supposed to love our neighbours, and to honour our parents? Jesus says something similar to this in Matthew's gospel which sheds some light on this,

Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.ref

So we see that he does not really mean we should "hate" our relatives. He's using vivid hyperbole; striking exaggeration. It's a Hebrew idiom which means that in comparison to our love for Jesus, our love for our families, even our love for ourselves, should look like neglect.

For the disciple, Jesus comes first in every relationship; the true convert's relationships will all be changed dramatically.

So the new Christian may have to face up to rejection from his or her parents. In some cultures of the world this can mean ejection from the family, or even death.

The new Christian's marriage might come under strain, as new priorities are worked out in that relationship. Indeed, in the Bible we see evidence that marriages broke down when one of the partners became a Christian.

If the new Christian is not yet married, then his or her faith will have a major impact on whom they eventually marry. A non-Christian partner is out; priorities are changed; Jesus comes first now.

A new Christian's relationships with his or her children may need to change. To try bring them up in knowledge and love of Jesus might be a struggle that is very costly; it might mean discipline and confrontation.

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.ref

So, being a disciple of Jesus will affect a person's closest relationships, and by implication all his or her other relationships as well, because Jesus must come first in every encounter we have.


Having talked of changed relationships, Jesus goes on in verse 27 to say that being a disciple will mean a changed life.

Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.ref

Jesus is describing here a life of sacrifice. We are to be living sacrifices, as we saw in last week's sermon; we are to get on to the altar and offer ourselves to God. When Jesus carried his cross he was on the way to give his life for us. In the same way a disciple carries his cross by giving his life for others.

Practically speaking this means that the new convert will have to make many changes in her life. Jesus will leave no area of her life alone, and a would-be disciple must give up control over every aspect of it.

The disciple has no right to say "no" to Jesus; there is no area of his life where the disciple can say, "No Jesus, not that" . Elsewhere, Jesus says something similar,

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.ref

A disciple must be prepared to deny himself, and instead to follow Jesus by doing things his way, in every aspect of his life.

To carry one's cross, to be a living sacrifice, may be very costly. It means giving all of our time and all of our money; it means loving the unloveable and touching the untouchable; it means honesty and integrity in everything we do; it means loving and forgiving however we are wronged by others; it means a life of moral and sexual purity; it means daily confronting and putting right the wrongs we do to God, and the wrongs we do to others.


Thirdly, in addition to being prepared to change his relationships and to change his life, the would-be disciple must be prepared to change his posessions—everything he considers to be his own—as Jesus says in verse 33,

Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.ref

Easy to say; not so easy to do, is it?

So, this triple challenge might lead to us changing our ambitions, changing our jobs, changing the country we live in, changing how we spend our time, changing what we wear, changing what we own, changing what we watch on television. Perhaps changing everything.

This is the challenge that Jesus gives to the crowd of would-be disciples. Know the cost: it will change your relationships; it will change your life; it will change what you own.

Jesus gives this challenge because he is not content to fill the church with spectators and half-hearted amateurs. What Jesus wants is disciples: in the Great Commission, he doesn't say, "Go and make converts of all nations" , he says, Go and make disciples of all nationsref. And, as Jesus says, discipleship is costly.

[A bit of a diversion from the text, but helpful, I hope] A pastor and theologian called Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a wonderful book called "The Cost of Discipleship", which I can't recommend too highly to you. In the book he draws a contrast between what he calls the "cheap grace" that we offer people to get them into the church, and the "costly grace" that Jesus offers people.

Cheap grace is a promise of God's blessings without any appreciation of the cost. As Bonhoeffer puts it,

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.

People lured into the church by the promise of cheap grace will take their faith very lightly. Bonhoeffer starts his book by saying, "Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace" . Costly grace is what Jesus offers us. To quote again from Bonhoeffer,

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that the he has. It is a pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son, and what has cost God much cannot be cheaper for us.

Incidentally, Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew a bit about the cost of discipleship. He was a German, and throughout the war, driven by his Christian faith, he opposed the Nazis. Eventually, in 1943, the Gestapo arrested him and sent him first to prison and then to concentration camps. He was executed by the Nazis at the Flossenburg concentration camp just five days before it was liberated by the Nazis. He had written his book, the Cost of Discipleship, many years earlier, but there's no doubt that he lived out what he preached.

Costly grace is the only grace worth having, that's why Jesus here challenges the crowd with the cost of following him.


So, how can we make disciples for Jesus rather than admirers of him? Well, Jesus shows us how in v28. We should take our potential converts and sit them down before they make a decision, in order to count the cost with them. And that's my third heading, counting the cost.

Jesus gives us two little pictures to illustrate this, and basically it's just common sense, isn't it?

In verses 28-30 he describes a man building a tower.

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'ref

Of course he will sit down beforehand and estimate the cost, and check his resources, before embarking on the project. No one wants to end up a laughing stock, do they? Perhaps we could change the word "tower" to "dome" to make it more contemporary, or am I being a little unfair?

More seriously, we should understand that Christian discipleship is like going to war, which is the picture Jesus uses in verses 31-32.

Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.ref

In other words, Jesus is saying, "Don't start it if you can't finish it. Sit down beforehand and estimate the cost. The cost of failure is enormous" . This is what we should be doing with our would-be disciples, perhaps after the Alpha course this autumn, or whatever other opportunities we have.

This is the kind of thing that Jesus often did. You remember the Rich Young Ruler who came to Jesus?ref Any church today would welcome this guy with open arms, especially, I guess, if they had some kind of reordering project going on. "You seem to be a genuine seeker. Come in and have a nice comfy seat" .

Jesus, however, isn't so quick to welcome him in. First he sets out what it will cost the man. Jesus will have to be Lord of all of his life, and that includes his wallet. When the young man heard this, it says, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.ref He wasn't prepared to do verse 33, to put Jesus first by giving up everything he had, so he couldn't be a disciple.

You see, Jesus wants to fill his church with disciples, not admirers; participants, not spectators.


So, like Jesus, we need to sit down with people and help them to count the cost of discipleship before they embark on the Christian life.

As my final heading I'd like to look into the consequences of not doing this. Crowds, cost, counting and consequences.

I guess that we are so reluctant to present the demands of Christ to would-be disciples because we fear that it will put them off Christianity, and drive them away. But Jesus is quite clear that the consequences of not doing so are far more serious.

The consequence of not counting the cost at the beginning is that people will fall away. Like the man with the tower, they won't be able to finish it; or they are in danger of giving up in a spiritual battle for which they are not prepared.

And for a Christian, falling away completely is disastrous. It's worse than never having been a Christian at all. Jesus uses a picture of salt to illustrate this,

Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure heap; it is thrown out.ref

A believer who loses his or her saltiness cannot be made salty again. Hebrews chapter six puts it even more starkly:

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.ref

It seems that if somebody is not prepared for discipleship it's better for them not to begin at all.

On two occasions when I've led somebody to Christ I have neglected to present them with the cost of discipleship. To my deep sorrow, as in the parable of the sower, both of these people were like the seed that fell among thorns. The weeds grew up and choked the new life they had begun. They were not prepared for the discipline of discipleship.

On the other hand we should not worry about putting people off by talking about the cost of discipleship. I actually became a Christian at a talk about the cost of discipleship. So I certainly wasn't put off.

Presenting the cost doesn't put people off, on the contrary it shows people that we have something valuable, something worth giving our lives for.

So, the take-home message that I'd like you to have tonight is that, like Jesus, we should make sure to tell people the cost of discipleship when they come to us.

But, I'd just like to finish this sermon with a slightly different thought, which is that, like Jesus, we should also live the cost of discipleship.

For so many people in the world the gospel is just a piece of worthless junk; they have no idea how precious it is. We know that the gospel is a "pearl of great price", don't we? It's worth everything that we have, but so often we don't let it show. In our lives, let's allow people to see how much following Jesus means to us; let's show them what it costs us to be his disciples.

Let's show the world, to borrow from an old advertising campaign, that following Jesus is "reassuringly expensive".