Few, True Disciples

Luke 14:25-27 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.”

As word of the miracles, the healings and the teachings of Jesus spread, the masses gathered and followed him. The crowds surrounding him grew, and just at the point where most ministry leaders would have been putting structures in place to keep as many followers as possible, we find Jesus repeatedly made statements to separate the “dinner and a show” crowd from the “dying to self” disciples, the entourage from the army and the God-chasers from the cross-bearers.

Jesus clarified and emphasized the requirement for following him: surrender. Surrender will always cost, and the plan of God will rarely leave your expectations intact. We like to think there is an entire section of our lives that are off-limits to the Almighty labeled “Things God Would Never Ask Me to Sacrifice.” When we understand that followers of Christ do not belong to themselves but to God (1 Corinthians 6:20), we begin to see that surrender is all-encompassing, and we must never settle for commitment when surrender is demanded. Commitment is working to “do more;” surrender is the willingness to “die more.” Discipleship always comes with demands.

I heard a story some time ago from a pastor who was in a discussion with members of a church’s pastoral search team. The team and the pastor were talking through the current spiritual conditions of the church. Growth had stalled, and the number of people in attendance began to drop. Programs had been added over time, but no programs were ever trimmed out (even when they were ineffective and drained resources). Add to that, a few people clung to the notion that nothing should change because the only thing needed was a leader willing to trudge ahead with “more of the same” and a breakthrough would occur if only they remained “faithful.” The church had been operating in this comfortable agony for over a decade, and everyone was still waiting for that breakthrough. At their current rate of decline, the congregation faced closing the doors of the church and disbanding within two years.

The pastor gave the search team a list of things that he would change immediately if called to lead in the next season. He explained that the church was near death, and without a quick, biblical response, the conditions would continue to deteriorate.

The team members agreed that radical change was needed, but they brought up a single concern. One of team said, “There is an older member here who would have a very hard time with these changes. She is a charter member, and her health is poor. She probably won’t see another two years here on earth. Though we know we need to change, if we do the things on this list, she will leave and begin attending another church. She is very outspoken and has often said that she helped the church when it began and that her prayer was to die while still a member.

“If you do come as our pastor, maybe we could just wait until she passes before changing anything. It would be a shame to lose her as a member so late in her life. Maybe we could delay things, just for a while, as a way of honoring her.”               

The pastor responded, “You must decide whether you will risk losing her or lose the church. If change does not occur, she will eventually die, and by the time of her passing, things will be bad enough that the church will soon follow her to the grave.”

The church did call that pastor as their next leader, and he made all the changes on the list (and more). The older member did leave the church and passed away within two years. But the church caught a fresh vision from God, began reaching others for Christ and saw deep spiritual growth take place.

Was there a cost to obedience? Yes. There is always a cost. Were sacrifices required? Yes, they always are needed. Did change cause pain for some? It always will.

Cross-bearing is not an option, but a requirement for followers of Christ. Whether applied to a church or an individual, you’ll lose it all if you hold anything back.    

The kingdom of God is more valuable than the best the world can offer. More than any human relationships, more than any earthly allegiances, more than national identity, cultural background, local traditions, public opinion or personal preferences – no matter how good, or great, things may be, nothing compares to God’s best. Too often we delay or neglect seeking God’s kingdom because we are too focused on worldly concerns. This is not a new problem…                 

Luke 9:57-62 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

When following Christ, the only expected surrender is total surrender. This does not mean that we will relinquish control perfectly in every circumstance, but we seek to do so. From the very deepest place of our hearts, we must cry out, “God, I am willing to lay everything on the altar for you!” 

That might sound frightening, until you realize that there is always an altar. Each of us will give all our lives to something whether we realize it or not. There is always an altar; no one escapes that reality. Your life will be spent fully on something – your life will be a sacrifice – make sure it is worthy of eternity. 

A true follower of Christ must be a cross-bearer…and cross-bearers hold nothing back, because a true cross-bearer knows that no one is half-crucified.

“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:27

And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. – 2 Corinthians 5:15

“So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:33

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