If we want to be His disciples, Jesus told us that we must be willing to take up our crosses and follow Him. “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). This is surely the most obvious as well as the most graphic of His requirements in the verses in which He lays out His criteria for discipleship. Jesus’ contemporaries didn’t think that Jesus was speaking metaphorically when he told them they must bear their crosses. No, they knew exactly, literally what He meant. The crosses of crucified criminals and rebels regularly dotted the horizon of their homeland. Jesus was saying that, if we want to be His disciples, we must be willing to die a brutal death for Him.

Although most people in the West don’t have to mull over this condition for discipleship seriously as they decide to follow Jesus, that hasn’t been true throughout Church history—in fact, the Church itself has sometimes been responsible for persecuting Christians and forcing them to decide to give up their lives for Jesus. Nor is it true for believers in much of the world today. Regardless of where we live, however, we must be prepared to give up our lives for Him. It’s something we should consistently bring before Him when we pray. If we struggle with being willing to make this ultimate sacrifice, we must pray that He will make us willing.

If we want to be His disciples, that is. If not, well, it’s time for us to move along and out of the way.

It is here that Jesus paused and told a parable that will illustrate how we must count the cost of following Him. He related the story of a man who planned to build a tower. Jesus said that it just makes sense that, if this fellow wanted to accomplish this task, he should determine in advance whether he had adequate funding to finish the job. Otherwise, there will be just a foundation or an abandoned, half-built eyesore encumbering the ground.

Not a great testimony.

At the risk of offending many people, this is the unfinished, spiritual rubble we see in the Western Church, human buildings begun with great joy and transformation, now sadly unfinished; plants birthed by the seed planted by the loving Sower, choked now by “the cares and riches and pleasures of life” (Luke 8:14). And we leaders, many of us, have not been adequate examples to them of a life that is otherwise lived, a life divinely confined by following Jesus through the narrow gate that few find (Luke 13:24).

Jesus continues the parable in Luke 14 by using the illustration of a king who is faced with fighting an enemy with superior forces. If this ruler wants to win and not be defeated, he must weigh whether or not he has the resources that will enable him to conquer his adversary. If he doesn’t, he would be wiser to come to a compromise so that he won’t suffer a humiliating, costly defeat. Interesting, isn’t it, that Jesus used a military metaphor here? Giving up one’s life for Jesus is the opposite of taking a vacation. Living a life of self-denial contrary to culture is like trying to fight a foe that has two times your strength.

Jesus gave us an out. Perhaps this really is too much, so consider. Count the cost.

We may be teachers in our churches. We may serve on the church council. We may be deacons or elders. We may be leaders and pastors. But that doesn’t mean that we’re disciples. Do you want to be a disciple of Jesus? It is costly, make no mistake. It will cost you something, and that something is your very life.