Summary: A sermon that looks at the hard side of discipleship by focusing on four character traits that a real disciple develops.
It's Not Always Easy!
The Tough Side of Discipleship
We all know about how messed up things are in our world. But do we know that they aren’t much better in the church.
In the article "The American Witness" in the Nov/Dec 1997 issue of The Barna Report, George Barna examined 131 different measures of attitudes, behaviors, values, and beliefs. In that study he concluded that in the aspects of lifestyle where Christians can have their greatest impact on the lives of non-Christians there is no visible difference between the two segments. For example, Christians are just as likely as non-Christians to have been divorced, bought a lottery ticket, watch MTV or have subscribed to cable television. Christians are also just as likely to watch PG-13, R, and even X rated movies as non-Christians.
In his book, The Second Coming of the Church. Barna states:
Most Christians - not those who merely call themselves Christians but those who have confessed their sinfulness and have asked Jesus Christ to be their Lord and Savior - have fallen prey to the same disease as their worldly counterparts. We think and behave no differently from anyone else (p.7).
This blurring the lines between Christians and non-Christians is a significant reason that many adults have abandoned the church. They figure that if there is no difference between a Christian and a non-Christian there is no reason to go to church. The only difference they see is that they at least get to sleep in a more comfortable location, in their beds.
Our problem, then, is not theological but practical in nature: How can we get Christians, who corporately constitute the Church, to be the light in the darkness by living out core biblical principles.
"Great crowds were following Jesus. He turned around and said to them. "If you want to be my followers, you must love me more than your own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters - yes, more than your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And you cannot be my disciple if you do not carry your own cross and follow me.
"But don't begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first getting estimates and then checking to see if there is enough money to pay the bills? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of funds. And then how everyone would laugh at you! They would say, 'There's the person who started that building and ran out of money before it was finished!'
"Or what king would ever dream of going to war without first sitting down with his counselors and discussing whether his army of ten thousand is strong enough to defeat the twenty thousand soldiers who are marching against him? If he is not able, then while the enemy is still far away, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace. So no one can become my disciple without giving up everything for me.
"Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? Flavorless salt is good neither for the soil nor for fertilizer. It is thrown away. Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand!"
Jesus' popularity is at an all-time high. But are these would be followers disciples? To this mass of mankind meandering after the Messiah, Jesus begins to unravel what it really means to be his disciple. From his teaching to this crowd, we learn four traits that real disciples develop.
1) Real disciples develop complete commitment.
"If you want to be my follower you must love me more than your own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters - yes, more than your own life. Otherwise you cannot be my disciple."
Some of your translations actually read "If anyone comes after me and does not hate …" The call to "hate" is not literal but rhetorical. Otherwise, Jesus' command to love one's neighbor as oneself as a summation of what God desires makes no sense. The call to hate simply means to "love less".
This saying needs to be set in the context of its first-century setting. At that time a Jewish person who made a choice for Jesus would alienate his or her family. If someone desired acceptance by family more than a relationship with God, one might never come to Jesus, given the rejection that would inevitably follow. In other words, there could be no casual devotion to Jesus in the first century. A decision for Christ marked a person and automatically came with a cost (Bock, p.1285).
The modern Western phenomenon where a decision for Christ is popular in the larger social community was not true of Jesus' setting, which complicates our understanding of the significance of a decision to associate with Christ. Today one might associate with Christ simply because it is culturally appropriate, rather than for true spiritual reasons.