Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “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. “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.’ “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. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
Be honest, which of us has NEVER made a wrong call. I think we all do it. We misinterpret something we see, something we hear or something we read and we can mess up as a result.
• It is so easy to make a completely wrong judgement about someone based just on what they look like?
• It’s so easy to take something personally, or to completely over-react, simply because as it turns out, we’ve got hold of the wrong end of someone else’s stick?
• It’s so easy, to take something written in a letter, a text or an email the wrong way because we misconstrue the underlying tone or intent of the message.
But why do these things happen? Well, in part at least, I think it is because of what is going on in our heads. Our responses to our individual life experiences somehow become “hard-wired” within us and shape our unique and highly subjective outlook towards the people, the events and the circumstances around us.
Psychologists describe these subjective misinterpretations rather grandly as “cognitive appraisal errors”. But the bottom line is – we just get it wrong. And perhaps even more
worryingly, we are continually widening and deepening how wrong we are with every wrong assessment that we make.
This morning I want to explore the question of whether many in the church as a whole, particularly perhaps in the church here in the west, are guilty of a serious “cognitive appraisal error” when it comes to our practical understanding of Biblical DISCIPLESHIP.
Now while I think it is a particular feature of the pampered and economically prosperous western church today, I do think we can discover both when and where the seed of this error was sown. Perhaps surprisingly, I don’t think, we can really blame it on anyone’s intentional or unintentional misinterpretation of doctrine. Rather, I think it’s a problem that may have arisen, almost naturally, when those Early Church converts fleeing persecution arrived in Antioch and as Acts 11:26 tells us, “. . . disciples were called CHRISTIANS first at Antioch.”
I want you to notice two things from that snippet of scripture. First, of course, it tells us that Antioch was the place where disciples began to be referred to, perhaps derogatorily at first, as “Christians” – followers of the much maligned Jesus Christ.
But secondly, and very significantly in my view, that verse is also telling us categorically by implication, that “disciples” and “Christians” are in fact one and the same thing because the verse says: “. . . DISCIPLES were CALLED CHRISTIANS first at Antioch.” So “Christian” is just an alternative name for exactly the same thing.
Disciples are Christians and Christians are disciples. Obvious? Yes. But significant, because I think that subtly, over time, we have used that difference of name to provide ourselves with a means of avoiding, and eventually of not REALLY hearing, some of the most demanding aspects of our call, and our responsibilities as followers of Jesus.
And this has opened the door to a serious self-deception, or “cognitive appraisal error” because when we read about “disciples” in the New Testament, I think we can put up a mental drawbridge between ourselves and the truth which the Word intends us to hear.
When we read “disciple”, we can be thinking “them”, not “me”. We can think of ourselves as “Christians”, and not primarily as “disciples”, and so we can weaken the power of the Word to touch and challenge our lives. And that’s a serious problem because the term “disciple” appears 307 times in the New Testament while the term “Christian” appears only 3 times!
To illustrate my point, here are just a few examples of how distinguishing “them” as disciples, but thinking of ourselves as “Christians” can warp our thinking, and undermine and frustrate
God’s purposes for our lives.
• Disciples see in their call an imperative to act in love and obedience like their master; but Christians CAN sometimes settle for a call that amounts to little more than membership of an exclusive club.
• Disciples will have a clear focus on opportunities to SERVE other people; but Christians CAN sometimes find themselves side tracked into focussing simply on their church SERVICES.
• Disciples will seek to demonstrate their believing by practicing OBEDIENCE to their Lord; but Christians CAN tend sometimes to gauge the quality of their Christian lives by showing how much they KNOW, rather than how much they actually put into practice.
But the reality is, there is no Biblical distinction between a disciple and a Christian, they are one and the same. If you are disciple, you ARE a certified Christian. And, if you are a certified Christian, you ARE a disciple. And, perhaps most challenging, if you are NOT a disciple, then you are also NOT a Christian.
So to correct this particular “cognitive appraisal error” we need to set straight in our head that there is no distinction between a Christian and a disciple. We need to appreciate that disciples are NOT some kind of special group within those called Christians OF WHOM MUCH MORE IS REQUIRED.
Nor are Christians those who, while benefiting from the same salvation, are somehow exempt from the demands that Jesus makes of His disciples. Christians, ALL Christians, ARE DISCIPLES – that’s what a Christian is, a disciple of Jesus.
Look at those first two verses of our reading, Luke 14:25-26: LARGE CROWDS were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “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. Jesus wasn’t talking here then to his immediate group of 12, or even to that bunch of 72 who were sent ahead of him to share the good news and heal the sick. Nor, probably, was this even just the wider entourage of inquisitive followers, or “fans” who were hooked on hearing His ministry. These verses describe them as “LARGE CROWDS” and very probably they were just the multitude of ordinary Jewish pilgrims headed for Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, who simply stopped to hear what Jesus had to say.
But what was Jesus speaking to these large crowds about? Well, He was sharing about the call to DISCIPLESHIP. So very clearly this scripture completely punctures any idea that discipleship is somehow a closed door to all but an especially hand-picked few. In Jesus’ view the call to be a Christian IS a call to be a disciple. All Christians ARE disciples and discipleship is what being a Christian is really all about.
Also, while the unbiblical distinction we can make between “Christians” and “disciples” may be the root cause of this particular error of cognition on our part, I wonder in fact whether our approach to evangelism is actually reinforcing this serious error of understanding.
So often we speak of leading people to “become a Christian” as our evangelistic goal. And a multi-step process is suggested that leads to “salvation”. And of course there is truth in that. But shouldn’t we rather be focussing more on people becoming servants of God, DISCIPLES; those who will commit to becoming obedient followers of their Saviour, and choose to make doing His will the central purpose and focus of their lives.
Today then, I’d like us to tackle this “cognitive appraisal error” with regard to personal discipleship. But while in the short time remaining this morning we obviously can’t travel too far in that direction, perhaps we can stir ourselves up a little, and expose some areas where the Holy Spirit may be seeking to bring us vital and life transforming revelation.
And on this point, remember that Jesus says of the Holy Spirit in John 16:14 “He (the Holy Spirit) will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to YOU.” So putting us right when we get it wrong is very much a part of the job description of the Holy Spirit.
And what’s more, I have it on the good authority of the Apostle Paul, no less, that the Holy Spirit is right here IN each one of us this morning to do just that, because he tells us in 1 Corinthians 6:19 “Do you not know that YOUR body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, WHO IS IN YOU, whom you have received from God?
So let’s all be listening out for the word and conviction of the Holy Spirit within us as we take a brief look at this discipleship that we Christians are ALL called to.
At heart, the Biblical concept of “discipleship” is a commitment to follow a teacher with the intention of becoming more like them, and for Christians of course that involves the process of absorbing the teaching of Jesus through active surrender and submission to the Holy Spirit.
So perhaps the obvious first thing to note about DISCIPLESHIP is that it is NOT about getting to grips with some sort of knowledge based discipleship curriculum. It’s NOT primarily about what we KNOW. It is about devoting ourselves to our master and leader. We are to be “disciples”, followers of Jesus, not EXPERTS on Christianity, or indeed even experts on the Bible – valuable and worthy and vital as that may be, because at the very centre of discipleship is not a requirement for a good grade in Bible knowledge, but rather it’s about developing the quality and closeness of our RELATIONSHIP with our Lord.
The purpose of our daily quiet times with God, for example, is not accumulating brownie points from God. The purpose is that we are communing, and fellowshipping, with the Lord - getting to really KNOW Him and to understand what He wants from us.
Ultimately, our goal in life is to draw closer and closer to Jesus, so that we get to be more like Him and therefore more able to be used by Him. As Jesus himself says in Luke 6:40 (ESV) “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained WILL BE LIKE HIS TEACHER.”
And did you notice Jesus’s word choice there? Jesus didn’t say “everyone when he is fully TAUGHT will be like his teacher.” He said: everyone when he is fully TRAINED will be like his teacher.” So, though we are right to really value and prize Bible teaching, and as Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:11, teachers, are a part of God’s five-fold ministry in the church, discipleship is actually about us allowing ourselves to be TRAINED by the teaching we receive. It is about US putting what we know and believe into action and so changing our lives. And, if we don’t put what we are taught into action, we may have mastered the Bible knowledge curriculum, but we haven’t yet been fully TRAINED!
But IF the first thing about discipleship is that it is a RELATIONSHIP - a closer and closer relationship with Jesus, then I think the second thing must be the recognition and active acceptance of the truth, that our discipleship is going to be COSTLY and that to seek to escape that cost is in fact to step right out of God’s will and purpose for our lives.
It is costly because much of what Jesus teaches us is essentially counter-intuitive to the self-centred, discomfort-avoiding, gratification-seeking focus that for most of us is our default position! Let’s face it, being a Christian, being a disciple, is just plain difficult and challenging! It is often NOT what we naturally want – it is about doing what God wants and being what God wants us to be.
It’s no wonder then that the idea that we could be “Christians” with all the blessings of salvation, but without all the uncomfortable demands of being a “disciple”, appears a very attractive proposition. But sadly, as I’m seeking to suggest, it is a completely untenable one that takes no account of the nature of what happens when we are born again and choose to follow Christ.
Now history provides numerous examples of the level of personal commitment that people are capable of and the case of, Hernando Cortes who set out from Spanish held Cuba with just a small band of around 500 men on a “do or die” mission, is just one such example.
And, although particular details of the event are a source of some dispute amongst historians, Cortes with his men did land in Mexico on a mission to attack the capital of the great and wealthy Aztec Empire with the intention among other things, of relieving them of some of their fabled riches.
And such was Cortes’ zeal to succeed, that on arrival on the shores of Mexico, some claim that he literally “burned his boats”, so that retreat would become impossible. In fact, it now seems that the truth was that he ordered all but one of his ships to be scuppered rather than burned. But either way, the intention was the same, to strengthen the resolve of his followers to overcome their fearsome enemy and accomplish their goal of taking the Aztec Empire for Spain, because with no way to flee, he felt his men would fight with all the more determination.
Now whilst we might not find this kind of enterprise politically correct any more, Cortes’ determination when hugely outnumbered by a frankly terrifying enemy, remains a graphic example of the quality of resolve that is needed if we are to be successful when the challenge before us is great.
And the challenge that Jesus laid before that large crowd gathered on the road to Jerusalem, and therefore, since it’s there in the Word of God, the challenge that he lays before every one of us this morning, makes clear what God is calling us to step up to, if we are to truly be disciples of the Saviour. We need to really burn our boats and give ourselves fully and unreservedly to our calling to be a “DISCIPLE”. It is a “do AND die” mission for everyone one of us that calls themselves a Christian.
Using what is technically referred to as a “hyperbolic argument” in our text passage, Jesus’ calls us to HATE our loved ones, by comparison to our unswerving commitment to be obedient disciples.
So no matter how you read it, it is inescapable that Jesus intends us to get the message that there is to be nothing flimsy, half-hearted or weak-kneed about our discipleship. Deciding to be a disciple is a choice to commit ourselves heart and soul, and with all our might, to walk obediently as followers of Jesus.
We are to be active recruits not passive stay-home supporters. We are to love our Saviour with such commitment that it exceeds even the love we have for our very closest loved ones.
Having carefully considered what it will cost us, we are to associate ourselves with Jesus unreservedly, with a bold and unyielding commitment, and determine to carry this cross that God chooses to give us. We are to be sold out to Christ, whatever the cost to us personally.
If we really hear these words of Jesus it will more than simply provide us with a particular kind of worldview and determine how we spend our Sunday mornings. It will shape, order and dominate our lives and our relationships. It will overturn and displace self and substitute it with a life of love and selfless service.
But if discipleship is fundamentally about developing and deepening our RELATIONSHIP with Christ; and if it is delivered through a determination to accept the personal COST that must inevitably be paid if we are to live in obedience and faith; then in my view, it is critical that we also allow ourselves to keep the BENEFITS, BLESSINGS and PRIVILEGES of discipleship central in our hearts and minds so that we are continually fired up, inspired and energised by the unique and unsurpassable promises that our call to discipleship provides.
Keep sight of these BLESSINGS and the COST diminishes in significance and the RELATIONSHIP is enhanced and made immeasurably all the more phenomenal.
So to bring us to a close this morning let me highlight just a handful of the blessings that are ours if we will only take up our cross and follow Christ as faithful disciples.
Perhaps the greatest blessing for a disciple whose goal is to have the closest possible relationship with their master, is to end up even a little like Him, and that is just what the Bible tells us will happen.
The Apostle John says in 1 John 3:2 “… we know that when he appears, we shall be like him,…”. While Paul tells the Romans in Romans 8:29” For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” And to the disciples in Corinth he promises in 1 Corinthians 15:49: “And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” GLORY!
The Bible also tells us that we will one day be WITH the Saviour. In John 14:3 Jesus himself promised: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” Think of that, you and I, unworthy as we are, will one day be actually WITH the Saviour, and He has given us His Word on it.
But also, it’s clear from scripture that there are actually individual rewards awaiting those who faithfully serve the Lord. For Jesus says of His servants in John 12:26: “My Father WILL HONOUR the one who serves me.“ and in Matthew 5:11–12 He says: ““Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because GREAT IS YOUR REWARD IN HEAVEN, . . .”
Now many of our blessings lie in the glorious future that Christ has secured for us all. But if you feel you can’t wait that long, there is a precious blessing in James 1:25 that is for right now as well as for all the eternity before us, because it says: “But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it (now that has to be a description of a true disciple) he will be blessed in what he does.” And that’s a promise that encompasses both our difficult present and our glorious future . . . he will be BLESSED in what he does.”
So, there is a very special and very wonderful relationship with God available to each of us as DISCIPLES of Jesus. Our challenge is to meet the personal cost of discipleship, and pay the price by serving Him with body, mind and soul. Then, and only then, will we become the people Jesus has called and purchased and empowered us to be. And then, praise God, we will enjoy the treasures of blessing that God has freely chosen to pour out on each one of us, His disciples.