Summary: Discipleship was not simply a program through which Jesus ran the disciples. Discipleship was life.
Jesus clearly sets the conditions of entrance into discipleship. In Luke 14:25-33 He emphasizes the cost that disciples must pay in following Him. Anyone who wishes to be Christ’s disciples must meet Christ’s demands involving one’s family, self and possessions.
Jesus declares; “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” (Lk.14:26). The word “hate” here has bothered many people. Is Jesus telling us to dislike or abhor our family? According to Hendricksen this verse should be seen in the light of its parallel in Mt. 10:37 which says; “anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me….” It is clear, then that the meaning of “hate” in the Lucan passage is to love less. Hendricksen further adds that the word hate in this passage cannot really mean to hate because Jesus tells us in Mt. 5:44 to love even our enemies.
Jesus is saying that following Him means to put Him in such a place of prominence in one’s life. Nothing must be a substitute for Him as the focus of allegiance, not even one’s family. Devotion to Jesus must be so wholehearted that even attachment to parents and to the other members of one’s family must not be allowed to stand in the way. If a person is unwilling to give that unconditional devotion, then, Jesus says, “he cannot be My disciple”.
“Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:27). This is the second condition mentioned by Jesus. The meaning of this negative statement is clear in its positive parallel found in Luke 9:23; “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” According to Wilkins this expression must be understood in terms of the cross of Jesus. The cross was the Father’s will for Jesus’ life. Jesus surrendered His will to the will of the Father saying: “not my will but yours be done” (Lk.22:42). To come after Jesus means denying one’s own will, taking up the Father’s will and following Jesus. The cross also symbolizes the suffering that a disciple will experience in following Jesus. Hendricksen comments that to take up one’s cross is to voluntarily and decisively accept the pain, shame, and persecution for the sake of Jesus and His name - day in, day out. Discipleship, according to Bonhoeffer, means submission to the law of Christ which is the law of the cross. The cross means sharing the suffering of Christ to the last and to the fullest. The disciple is a disciple only in so far as he or she shares his/her Lord’s suffering, rejection and crucifixion. Suffering is the badge of true discipleship.
Anyone who wants to be a disciple of Jesus must be willing to die to self like the apostle Paul who declares: “I have been crucified with Christ and no longer live…” (Gal. 2:20). Bonhoeffer’s famous line reminds us that “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Jesus gives two parables that emphasize the necessity of counting the cost of following Him (Luke 14:28-32). The first is about a person who wants to build a tower. That person must first estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it. Otherwise, he would be ridiculed for failing to finish it (vv.28-30). The second is about the king who is about to go to war. He must first calculate the strength of his army against their enemies before going into battle (vv.31-32). Then Jesus makes clear His point in v. 33: “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”
A person must be willing to dedicate everything to Jesus, including his or her possession or wealth. Marshall stresses that discipleship means saying a final ‘good-bye’ to one’s possessions. Just as one should not attempt a venture without having sufficient resources to complete it, but will need to put everything into it in order to be successful, so the disciple must be continually ready to give up all that he or she has got in order to follow Jesus.
Jesus clearly laid down the cost of following Him: wholehearted devotion, complete self-denial, placing one’s all at God’s disposal. There can be no conditional discipleship, that is, following Jesus on our own terms. According to Bonhoeffer: “Discipleship can tolerate no conditions which might come between Jesus and our obedience to Him.” Discipleship requires absolute commitment to follow Christ. It means an exclusive adherence to Christ which implies that the disciple look only to his or her Lord and follow him.