I listened to a podcast a few days ago from Theology Refresh. It was an interview about discipleship with a man who has been with Navigators for sixty years. Unfortunately, I found myself at odds with what was being said. I found myself in this condition not because these two men aren’t men of faith, honor, and integrity. They are. It was that I continue to be bewildered by the absence of understanding in the Church concerning what discipleship is according to Jesus. This truth isn’t a patchwork of verses stitched together from various places in the gospels and letters. This is in plain sight, right out there for all of us to see, with no need of proof texting. We’ll look at this passage in a moment.

As I said, the young man conducting the interview asked this fine Christian gentleman what discipleship meant. Without going into detail about the answer, the sum of the matter was that the way of discipleship was to teach others to become people who read the Word of God. Self-feeders, was the word that was used. Surely, no argument can be made about the value of teaching and encouraging others to read the Bible. This is an essential part of being a follower of Jesus Christ. However, here is my question: Why are we Christians so reluctant to obey or ignorant of or blind to, the qualifications for discipleship that Jesus Himself gave in the very Bible we are encouraging people to read?

Here is what Jesus said about the qualifications for discipleship:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 14:26-35 ESV).

Please note that Jesus said that without meeting these three criteria, one cannot be His disciple. Cannot. He didn’t say that he might be a disciple, perhaps—but that he cannot. Do you see any wiggle room here? I don’t. And if you were thinking that there may some escape from this spiritual grenade that Jesus has thrown into our midst, please re-read verses 35 and 36. If we don’t meet these qualifications, we are of no use, either for the soil or for the poop pile. Sorry. This is Jesus talking, not me.

Welcome to the offensive truth of Jesus Christ.

Please note that Jesus didn’t mention reading Scripture here. Does that mean that reading Scripture was unimportant to Him? No. Clearly, He was knowledgeable about God’s Word. He quoted it.

Truth is, He wrote it.

Here is what I believe is the tragic, fundamental flaw in defining discipleship primarily in terms of reading the Bible: It’s one step off from the most important thing of all—loving God with everything we are to the point where our lives on this earth no longer matter, loving Him with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strengths.

We may know the Bible. We may memorize it.

But so did the Pharisees, who totally missed the very God about whom the Scriptures were written. Not only missed Him—they wanted to kill Him.

I cannot escape the verses from Luke 14. I cannot ignore them.

I cannot be a disciple unless I move toward them.

What do I mean when I say, “move toward them”? Loving God more than one’s family, life and possessions isn’t something that happens with a one-time decision, nor is it a decision that happens overnight, necessarily. It may be a bit easier to choose this sacrificial path when one is twenty-three, unmarried, with no house or possessions. However, things change when we get married, purchase a house and begin to gain possessions. Therefore, we must thoughtfully and prayerfully keep Jesus’ criteria before us all our lives long if we want to continue to be disciples. This narrow way also can’t be defined in a practical way for each believer, as if there was a to-do list of things that applies to all of us. How does one love God more than his life? We must ask Him to help us do that, not only practically but willfully as well. The “want to” must come from Him. We don’t have that desire, consistently, in our natural selves—it is a gracious gift from Him. We are as inconstant as the morning dew (Hosea 6:4). It must also be pursued prayerfully because this self-denying path can never become legalistic for us.

Please pray with me that the Church of Jesus Christ will engage with and be obedient to Jesus’ words concerning true discipleship.