We begin the New Year with a look at discipleship. The word disciple comes from the Greek word mathetes, which means a learner or a follower. It implies devotion, commitment, and submission to a master. Anyone claiming to be a Christian needs to realize that implied in the very word Christian is the idea of discipleship—for it was the disciples at Antioch who were first called Christians. By putting together various statements from the Gospels, we can get a clear picture of what Jesus had in mind when He used the term disciple.
The Cost of Discipleship
Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “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. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple … whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:25-27, 33).
These are hard words. I am sure people struggled with what Jesus said. Yet, He understood that a lot of people were following Him for the wrong reasons. We’re told in the gospel of John that many in the crowd followed Him because they saw the miracles. They ate the loaves and were filled. Jesus was here laying down the qualifications for discipleship.
Likewise today, people struggle with and are confused by this teaching. Is Jesus saying that we are to hate in a malicious sense our father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters? Of course not. His message is of love. So why does Jesus use such strong wording? He wants us to understand that our love for, devotion to, and commitment to Him must be superior to our love for, devotion to, and commitment to anyone and everyone else—our families and ourselves included.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him, ‘Come and die.’” That’s the invitation; that’s the cost. We are to die to ourselves, our plans for life, our agendas, and our priorities. When we come to Christ to be His disciple, we are putting all of those things aside and yielding ourselves to Him.
Notice also: Jesus said that if we are not willing to do this, we cannot be His disciples. He sets the terms. And it’s important for us to remember that, especially in our day and age. We are not in charge. We’re not calling the shots. Many people today want the Lord, but they want Him on their terms or under their conditions. However, Jesus does not compromise or negotiate. He has already stated His requirements clearly.
Next time, we will consider the characteristics of a disciple of Jesus.