Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 7/9/95
Luke 14:25 Now great multitudes 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. 28 For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not sit down first 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 take counsel whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks terms of peace. 33 So therefore, no one of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. 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.”
When I was in seminary our budget was pretty tight and splurging a rare event, but there was one day that I thought I had enough saved up to take my wife out to a nice restaurant. “What can I order?” “Hey, for once, anything you want!” “Should we get desert?” “Hey, you only live once.” Things were going quite well until I got the bill. “Uh, Marsha, do you have any money on you?” By pooling our resources we managed to come up with enough to cover the tab plus at least a token tip. But we walked out of that place with exactly four cents to our name. Four little pieces of copper stood between me and public embarrassment! As for private embarrassment after we got back home . . . well, we won’t go into that. Perhaps some of you have had a similar experience; maybe some of them did not end so fortunately. In any transaction, it is be important to count the cost.
It can be important to count the cost even when you are being offered something for free. One time somebody gave us a dog. We did not pay one red cent for that dog. It was a completely free gift. But before the week was out we had paid plenty in vet bills and dog food. On another occasion a member of our congregation, perhaps feeling guilty for the low wages that church was paying, gave us a car. It was completely free; I never paid one red cent for it. But in order to accept this free gift I had to pay through the nose for a tag and insurance—not to mention gas and oil (and, not too much later, repairs). I literally had to count the cost. I had to pause for some quick calculations to see if I could afford to accept that totally free gift! It was not immediately clear that I could do so. Even a completely free gift with no strings attached whatever can end up costing you something.
Salvation is like that. Scripture accurately described salvation as a free gift. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24). These words are absolutely true, and they are not in conflict with the Lord’s words here. Salvation is a free gift. It can only come as a free gift. There is nothing you could do to earn it; it is not earnable. But accepting that gift will cost you something. And that is what our Lord is talking about in the passage before us today.
What will accepting the free gift of salvation cost you? In a word, everything. The Lord lays out three specific areas that add up to everything.
In the first place, accepting Christ as Lord and Savior will cost you your family, indeed, by implication, all of your relationships. Now, of course our Lord himself maintained his relationship with his mother right up to the end of his life, and almost his last act was to provide for her after his death by entrusting her to the care of the Beloved Disciple. So in one sense the Lord does not take those relationships away, but rather transforms them. Nevertheless, it is a transformation which includes one of the hardest and most misunderstood sayings in all of Scripture: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters . . . he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). What can this mean? How can the Lord want us to hate anyone, when we are supposed to love even our enemies? The attempt to explain this I have heard most frequently is that our love for our family must be like hatred in comparison to our love for Jesus. But that doesn’t really get the point. To understand Jesus’ statement here you have to understand what was to his original audience a common Old Testament idiom.
Quite frequently in the Old Testament people—even God himself—are spoken of as “hating” others for whom they hold no personal animosity or even necessarily any negative feelings at all. Often hatred does not mean literal “hatred” at all but is used as a metaphor for rejection. “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” means that God had rejected Esau as the heir of the Promise and chosen Jacob; it does not necessarily mean that God bore Esau any ill will. I think the clearest example of this usage is found in Genesis 29: 30-31. In Genesis 29:30 we read that Jacob “loved Rachel more than Leah.” This means that he did love Leah; after all, she bore him quite a few children, so their relationship was not without affection. But then in verse 31 we read that “Now the Lord saw that Leah was unloved,” so he opened her womb, presumably to compensate her for Jacob’s preference for her younger sister. The word that our squeamish translators have rendered as “unloved” is literally “hated.” This when the very previous verse has just stated that Jacob loves her (albeit less than Rachel)! Love and hate are sometimes used as a metaphor for acceptance and rejection, or even for preference.
Luke 14:26 therefore has nothing to do with hating your parents, spouse, children, or siblings in the way that most non Hebrews unfamiliar with the idioms of the Old Testament would understand hatred. We are of course supposed to love them more than ever in loving Christ, not the reverse. It means that when push comes to shove you are prepared to reject them and choose Jesus, that in principle you have in fact already done so should they ever come between you and your relationship with Christ. They are to have no claims on you except those which are compatible with his claims, which are absolute and non-negotiable. A well meant but shallow formula says, “Christ first, others second, self last.” I say this formula is shallow, and the use of the metaphor of hatred here for the choice being made points out how shallow it is. The real formula is “Christ first—period.” There is to be no competition for the throne of your heart permitted at all. You must hate your father and mother. In other words, any claims from any other person in your life, no matter how close, which would ever conflict with the claims of Christ, must have already been rejected in advance. If you waver on that point, you have not yet really reckoned with what it means to be his disciple.
The second thing accepting this free gift will cost you is your self, or your life. Verse 26 includes “or even your own life” among the things to be “hated” or rejected, and verse 27 adds, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” To carry a cross is to be a person marked out for death, on your way to execution. The crowd looked to Jesus as their Messiah, and if he had turned out to be the kind of messiah they wanted he would have led them in a rebellion against Rome. The Roman Empire executed traitors by crucifixion. They did it all the time. So Jesus is saying, “If you are not prepared to die for this cause, don’t sign up! Count the cost.” When the early Christians refused to participate in emperor worship, their refusal was misinterpreted as political disloyalty or treason, and many of them had to pay for it with their lives, often by crucifixion. “Take up your cross” was not just religious language in the First Century! Any person who was not prepared to face the martyr’s death had no business becoming a disciple of Jesus. And in many countries to this day this demand is still a literal one. For us in the West right now it is not a literal demand, but it is no less real for that. We simply have the opportunity to explore its spiritual dimensions in death to self and sin. But whether spent in martyrdom or in daily service, your very life is what the free gift of salvation will cost you. You are not a true Christian if you are not ready to die for the cause of Christ. Am I saying you have to be that brave before you can be saved? No. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. What I am saying is that to truly give your life to Christ, the spirit must be willing.
The third thing Jesus lists is our possessions (verse 33). “So therefore, no one of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” When I first studied this passage I wondered at the order. After hating your father and mother and giving up your very life, possessions seemed somewhat anticlimactic. But then I remembered the comedy routine that Jack Benny made a career of. A robber sticks a gun in his face and demands, “You money or your life!” Benny just stares at him. “Hey, didn’t you hear me?” the robber asks. “I said your money or your life.” Benny then waits for just the perfect split second of comedic timing and replies, “I’m thinking about it.” There is a way in which this cost of accepting the free gift is climactic after all. It is easy to make the demand to give up relationships or our own life merely hypothetical. Our parents aren’t opposing our call to the mission field, no one is holding a gun to our head and asking us to deny Christ, so we can easily pretend that we have yielded to the Lordship of Christ in those areas because it is not being put to the test. The question, “Who is Lord of our wallets?” has to be answered every day. Do I own its contents, or does Christ? Not all Christians are called to a life of poverty, but all are called to the concept of Stewardship. That is, we are called to think of (and treat) our property not as something we own but as something we manage for the true owner, Christ himself. “So therefore, no one of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.”
These rejections, these yieldings, are not arbitrary requirements tacked on to the gift of salvation so that it is not a free gift after all. They are part of the gift. To accept it without accepting them is not to accept it at all. The basis of this truth lies in who Jesus is: Lord of all, the King of glory, the One in whom all things consist, the One to whom is given all judgment, rule, and power, the One who is Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father, Mighty God, and Prince of Peace, the One who is Head of his Body, the Church, the One who is Prince of Peace. To accept anyone less than this is not to accept Christ. And the basis of this truth lies also in what salvation is: union with Jesus Christ. Even our clichés reflect this truth. We speak of having a “personal relationship with Christ.” Scripture speaks even more profoundly, describing salvation as like the grafting of branches into a tree (Rom. 11) or like being a body in relation to its head (Eph. 4) or like marriage (Eph. 5). Even justification by faith is not an impersonal transaction, as if we could say, “Yeah, sure, I’ll take free forgiveness” and then go on our merry way as if nothing had happened. For the imputation of our sins to Christ and his righteousness to us is based on the union: we are in Christ as before we were in Adam, and that is why there is now no condemnation (Rom. 8:1). In other words, the objective, forensic declaration of righteousness, the objective imputation of righteousness, counts because of the relationship we enter into with Christ when we take him by faith as Savior and as Lord. The mystical union is not something extra tacked on to a merely legal justification (justification is more than legal, but it is not less; Romans 5-8 flows out of Romans 3-4); our union with Christ is essential to salvation, the very essence of it. It is because we belong to Christ, because faith relates us to him in this very particular way, that God counts us as righteous for his sake.
Now, this relationship is not one that can exist between equals. This is not Jim Croce saying, “If you’re going my way, I’ll go with you.” It is us saying to Christ, “Whither thou goest I will go, and whither thou lodgest I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). Christ is the teacher; I am the disciple. He is the master; I am the servant. He is the Lord; I am the vassal. He is my God; I am his creature. You can no more get married and keep your independence than you can accept Christ as Lord and Savior and still say of your other relationships, your life, or your property, “This is mine.” Not to see this is not to see that Jesus is God; not to accept it is not to accept that Jesus is God; not to relate to Jesus in this way is not to be related to him as your God. It is not to be a true Christian. And therefore these rejections, these yieldings, are not arbitrary requirements tacked on to the gift of salvation so that it is not a free gift after all. They are part of the gift. To accept it without accepting them is not to accept it at all. Salvation is free, but it is not cheap. You cannot buy it; you cannot earn it. You can only receive it as a free gift by faith. But accepting it will cost you everything you have and are. Therefore, count the cost!
If you have become a Christian, a follower of Jesus, without counting the cost, count it now. You will thus discover whether or not you are truly in the faith. None of us is able in ourselves to give any of these things up. None of us perfectly does so. Only by God’s grace and Christ’s constant help through his personal agent and representative, the Holy Spirit, can we enact these surrenders at all. But, thank God, we are not saved by our performance but by God’s grace, which grants us this relationship with Christ through faith. Nevertheless, counting the cost will tell you if you have that relationship. A Christ who is not Lord can save no one; a Christ who is not God is not Lord; a Christ who is God and Lord to you is one to whom you want to make these sacrifices. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Here as in every other aspect of the Christian life we must often pray, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” The question is, are you willing to pray in such terms? Do you want to be his? That is the infallible sign that you have already begun to be.
I am struck by the fact that the Lord did not hesitate to ask us to count the cost. In fact, he went out of his way to do it when the multitudes were following him a bit too thoughtlessly. He was much more secure in the Gospel as the power of God for salvation than we are! He did not downplay the cost of commitment. And therefore in our witnessing we should not do so either. We are far too apologetic, and as a result we present a gospel that is less than the Gospel. Let us have the confidence that our Savior had that there are people out there who are looking for a Cause worth giving their lives for, and let’s give it to them. Let us learn to have the confidence he had that, when we have fully counted the cost, it will still be plain to those who are called that following Christ is royally worth it. Do we not believe it ourselves? Let us ask them to consider it right now.
If you are not a believer, I want to challenge you to count the cost at this very moment. I will not hide from you that you must give up everything. You must give up your self righteousness, any idea of deserving salvation. You must give up all conflicting loyalties, your relationships, your life, your possessions. And what do you get in return? Only Christ. And in him, the forgiveness of all your sins, a clean conscience, peace with yourself and with God, eternal life, and a cause big enough to give point to living the rest of this life. You get a personal relationship with God thought faith in his Son Jesus Christ. That is all. And so I ask you to count the cost, and to count it seriously and carefully.
There you have it. All the cards are on the table. There is no fine print. You are offered as a free gift salvation and all that it means. It will only cost you everything. Jesus was not afraid to make this offer forthrightly and plainly and without flinching, and neither am I. When I accepted the Lord as my Savior I was too young to understand the cost. I have been learning about it ever since. Sometimes the lessons have been hard. I am still learning them. But I have never regretted this transaction for one single moment. I don’t think you will either. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams