Those Who Cannot Be His Disciple

Most jobs have requirements you need to meet in order to be considered for a job. There are often things which will immediately disqualify you from a job. For example, those who have been convicted of a felony need not apply to be President of the United States. If you have had a number of moving violations in your car you don’t need to bother applying to be a bus driver. Sometimes even your age will disqualify you from a job (even though it is not supposed to disqualify you).

In our text this morning (Luke 14:25-35) Jesus repeats a phrase three times in this passage. It is the phrase “cannot be my disciple”. Jesus is warning us of things that will disqualify us from being His disciple.

Note the context of the passage. There were large crowds following Jesus. Most leaders today are concerned with how to keep the crowd. Jesus seemed to intentionally be trying to thin the crowds. Jesus understood that people are naturally attracted to a crowd.

Jesus understood that it is easy to talk like a Christian and to even believe that you are a Christ follower simply because you hang out with followers of Christ. Jesus wanted us to understand that discipleship is not about membership, it is about a way of life. It is not about following the crowd, it is about following Him. When we put our trust in Christ we enter into a relationship. Faith does not end at the point of decision . . . it begins. Jesus wants to help us in that relationship.

So who are those who cannot be His disciples?

Those Who Are Too Family Oriented

The first thing Jesus says is,

“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.

This is not a new theme. Rick explained this passage several weeks ago when Jesus was speaking to just the disciples. Now He expands the audience and applies this to any who would follow after Him.

Anytime we come up against a passage like this we must interpret it carefully. We must never interpret one passage in such a way that it contradicts another.  The Ten Commandments tell us to honor our Father and Mother. Consequently, these words do not mean that we should neglect or dishonor our family. However, in our heart, in our priorities, in our calendar . . . He must come first. When we read the story of Jacob and his wives Rachel and Leah we are told that Jacob loved Rachel and hated Leah. We know from the context of the story that Jacob didn’t despise Leah . . . he simply loved Rachel more than Leah.

What God is asking of us is similar to a marriage covenant. A man and a woman stand on a platform and declare that they will be “yours and yours alone for the rest of my life”. It used to be that couples used the words: “forsaking all others”.  They are not declaring that they will no longer have any friends or never talk to another person of the opposite sex. They are saying that their spouse will have the central or priority position in their heart over all these others.  Couples say this because they believe life will be better together than it ever could be apart.

It is a huge commitment. To keep that commitment you have to change the way you make decisions. You can no longer live as if you were the only one that mattered.  However, for those who truly make this commitment life is better than it could have ever been outside of that commitment. There is companionship, sometimes there are children, there are shared experiences, and there is a oneness between the two people that can be downright frightening to others.

This is what God wants from us. He wants that kind of commitment from us in our relationship with Him. He wants us to make His glory our primary priority in life. He wants us to do so because He has demonstrated that He alone is God.

This obviously goes against the cultural mindset of our day. Today priorities seem to revolve around “Me, My Job, and My Family” in the minds of most people. We justify our obsession with our job saying, “It is what puts food on the table”. We run to endless school, athletic and extra-curricular events justifying it by saying we are just being a good parent.” We live by a simple motto: “I want what I want” and that seems to settle the issue in our mind. Hear the words of Jesus. He says that people who function by these priorities cannot be His disciples.

Kent Hughes writes,

In the secularized, anti-family culture of today, our family is at the center of our Christian ethic. And that is proper. But some of us love our wives, husbands, and children more than we love God. We miss the mark when we put their development athletically, intellectually, culturally, artistically, socially before their spiritual well-being. We fall short when we spend more time in the car in one day shuttling them to games and lessons than we do in a month in prayer for their souls. By comparison, our lives reveal that we hate God and love our children disproportionately—and that we are not Jesus’ disciples.[1]

The Lord is not telling us to abandon or mistreat our family. He is not telling us to get so involved in the work of the church that we are never home. He is calling us to order our priorities in a godly way. When we do this we actually will be able to love our family more appropriately, fully, and effectively. This is because we are no longer trying to prove ourselves to be a “super parent” but are instead pointing our family to the One who alone is worthy of praise. Only Christ can redeem our children. Only He can accompany them through the storms of life. Only He can lead them to eternal glory before the Father of Heaven. They need us to lead them to Him.

These are admittedly hard words but understand how important this is,

  1. Our actions demonstrate what is truly important in life. It doesn’t matter what box we check on a religious survey. It doesn’t matter what you tell your children you believe. Our families are watching our actions. We are either leading our families to God or we are leading them away from Him by the choices we make.
  2. This is the wise way to live. Jesus knows the answers to life’s questions. He understands human nature; He is the fountain of all wisdom. When we point our families to Christ we are providing for them the greatest blessing possible.

Those Who Want Easy Discipleship

The first exclusion is hard but the second may be harder

27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Jesus is not talking about carrying a cross in your pocket or wearing a cross on a chain around your neck. The cross is a symbol of death. Jesus is saying we need to be people who are willing to sacrifice even our very lives for the Lord. Contrary to what we sometimes hear on TV, Jesus never said following Him would be easy. In fact, He said just the opposite. Notice here that Jesus does not encourage the crowd with flowery words and promises of ease and happiness . . . He points them to the cross and the cost of following Him.

Christians are often guilty of preaching a shallow gospel. We call people to “accept God’s gift” and we act as if this is the end of it. It would be like someone coming into a car dealership. You as the salesman tell the person that you “want to put them in this brand new car and all they need to do is sign on the dotted line.” The person who has never purchased a new car before eagerly signs their name and then is shocked when you say, “OK, the final cost with tax, license, under-coating, insurance, inflated tires, knobs on the radio, is . . . . four times more than you can afford to pay!” The person feels you swindled them because you never said anything about their being a cost.

This is the way we often present the gospel, and it is irresponsible. Jesus calls each of us to “count the cost”. He gives two illustrations to drive His point home,

28 “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? 29 For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

If you want to put an addition on your home even I know that you don’t knock a hole in the wall and then go to Menard’s to buy some lumber. You need to consider many things: what kind of addition you want and whether you have the property to facilitate that addition. You need to consider the issues of plumbing, heating and electrical. You need to talk to the utilities and find out what is currently buried in the ground. You need to consider structural viability. Then you need to add everything up and decide whether or not you can pay for such an addition. You must count the cost.

The second illustration is a little different.

31 “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? 32 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 this case the man doesn’t have a great deal of time to make a decision. An army is advancing against him. The King must take time to consider whether his army has a chance of victory. If there is no good chance of victory the King would be wise to negotiate terms for peace.

Jesus is saying don’t enlist in his army unless you are willing to abide by His command. Don’t declare you want to be His follower unless you know what is at stake. He is telling us not to respond emotionally (even though our emotion is involved); He wants us to respond to Him rationally. This comes as a surprise to many today who think that you need to have lobotomy before you become a Christian. Jesus says the opposite…think about it, count the cost, know what you are getting in to.

In many countries, declaring allegiance to Jesus could get you killed.  In some Muslim or tight knit Asian communities declaring allegiance to Christ is seen as an act of treason. You may be executed. Our cost may not be as great but,

  • Your belief in a Creator might cost you your job at a University
  • Your stand for Christ and the moral Laws He has given might cause you to lose an election, be fired from a job, or be the focus of protests.
  • Your refusal to be part of activities that involve illegal or excessive drinking, immoral behaviors, and just plan foolishness, may cause you to be ostracized by your friends
  • Your pursuit of personal holiness may necessitate you abandon some of your former activities and friends and create an uncomfortable situation with others.
  • Your insistence on conducting business honestly may cause you to lose contracts to less scrupulous people.

The point is that we need to understand that following Christ will not be easy and it will not be “business as usual”. He calls us to be willing to follow Him even ahead of our own comfort and even our own lives. If we don’t realize this, we cannot be His follower.

Those Who Can’t Let Go

The last disqualified for discipleship is in verse 33

In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

Do you remember the story of the Rich Young Ruler? He wanted to know what was needed to obtain eternal life. Jesus told Him he needed to obey the law perfectly (that is the only way to be saved by our own strength . . . we must never sin). This man felt he had lived an obedient life. Jesus told Him that he also needed to sell everything he had and give it to the poor.

Jesus was not saying that a person must be destitute to be a follower. He was saying that we cannot be enslaved to the material and still be honoring God. As a believer we are to be people who are willing to give anything and everything to the Lord for His service. There is to be NOTHING held back.

It is natural for us to say, “Lord, I will give you all I have . . . as long as you don’t ask for; or don’t ask me to do . . . “  You may have said in your heart and mind: “I will follow you fully as long as you

  • don’t ask me to serve on the Mission field
  • don’t ask me to give up my friends
  • don’t ask me to give up buying a new car
  • don’t ask me to love a certain person
  • don’t ask me to forgive a certain offense

The attitude of a true disciple is this: “All to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give”. If Jesus is to be Lord AT all . . . He must be Lord OF all. We do not tell Him what is most important, He tells us. He does not exist to glorify us, we exist to glorify Him.


Let’s confess honestly that we struggle with each of these things. We aren’t sure that we really love the Lord more than we love our family. We don’t know if we are willing to follow Christ . . . even to death. We are positive we haven’t given Him everything. Does this mean that we are not His disciples?

The answer to the question I believe is: not necessarily. As we look at the lives of the disciples we see that they grew in their commitment to Christ. I think the principle is this:  if we are not seeking to follow Christ fully, if we are not trying to consciously give Him all things, if we are not willing to make significant sacrifices because of our love and trust of Him . . . we are not and cannot be His disciple. We still struggle. At times we still fall short. But we should be moving in the right direction.

Let’s go back to the marriage analogy. Do we live our commitment faithfully all the time? No. Are we as devoted as we need to be? No. There are still many self-absorbed times, there are still temptations that come our way . . . but, if we are pursuing the goal of being fully devoted and committed to our spouse we will see significant progress.  Every day brings new tests and challenges. True commitment is both a decision and a learned behavior.

It is the same in the Christian faith. We should be growing in our discipleship. We are constantly learning the cost and every day we agree to pay that cost. Every day we consciously surrender again all that we have and all that we are. Jesus said,

34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Salt was used for a number of things: it preserved, it enhanced, and it facilitated growth. The Christian is to be all these things. However, if a follower of Christ isn’t following . . . they become useless. What can we do to remain “salty”? I’d suggest several things.

  1. Consciously decide to truly follow Christ. When we make decisions we quickly (and unconsciously) go through a list of questions: things like: Do I want to do this?  Will my friends approve? Is there something to be gained? Is this what I think a good parent would do? Will it be profitable? Will this cause conflict? We must learn to consciously ask: “Will this reveal and honor my commitment to Christ?” “Will this advance His Kingdom?”  And we need to ask that question before and above all others.
  2. Set up regular check points in your life to monitor your spiritual vitality. Set aside a regular time to meet with God every day. If you find trouble praying, try writing letters to God. Use the Sabbath as it was intended; as a time to realign our hearts with the Lord and to grow in knowledge and truth. Do a monthly spiritual inventory and monitor progress in your spiritual life.
  3. Be ruthless in confronting sin in your life. Confront your excuses, justifications and denials. Don’t let yourself be fooled by your own rationalizing. Recognize sin for what it is and deal with it.
  4. Practice your faith. Remind yourself that knowledge is of little value until it is applied. Be intentional about finding ways to live out what you say you believe.
  5. Be intentional about growth. Read books to deepen your understanding. Listen to sermons. Watch or attend conferences. Make sure you are being spiritually nourished.

When you apply for a job, you could lie on the application and perhaps get the job. However, you will not last long. The truth will be seen in the way that you do your job. In a sense Jesus is saying the same thing about our discipleship.

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