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I have been baffled—no, saddened is the better word—at the lack of attention pastors and leaders pay to the requirements for discipleship in Luke 14. The evangelical church has classes on discipleship. Pastors teach from the pulpit about discipleship. What are we taught? We should pray. We should read our Bibles. We should go to church and be in a small group. We should be good parents and spouses and should wisely manage our finances. We should love God and one another. Yes. But why is Luke 14 avoided? If you have a passage where Jesus said, “You cannot be My disciple if…” shouldn’t we all teach it? Use it as a baseline for discipleship? Perhaps the reader is asking, “What is the passage to which you refer?” Here:

“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” (Luke 14:26–27).1 This is a vital teaching. He sums it up in verse thirty-three. “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

So, we can be Bible readers, pray-ers, church and small group attendees, and all the rest, but if we don’t love Jesus more than our families, be willing literally to die for Him, and renounce all that we have, all that reading and praying and good behavior does not move us to a place of discipleship.

At least as far as Jesus is concerned.

A few years ago, Laurie and I traveled to Malaysia to meet with leaders about the possibility of finding a ministering place as missionaries. We had a great time meeting some wonderful people. As is usual in such things, I was asked to speak at a few venues. The venue we enjoyed most was a small-group Bible study. However, as is often the case with foreign visitors, I also spoke at a couple of larger venues. The topic I chose for both of those times was discipleship and Luke 14. The first was Saturday night. The reception was good but muted. However, Sunday morning proved to be an eye-opener.

Perhaps I should call it an eye-closer.

I spoke to a group of around 150 people. However, before we proceed further to that Sunday morning, a little background.

The overwhelming determiner in judging “effective” preaching is—and has been for some time—audience response. Therefore, speakers tell jokes, funny, thought-provoking, or tear-jerking stories, and address topics that “meet people’s needs.” Preaching is a performance. It is so common that we don’t even think about it anymore. We judge the morning’s message and say, “Good job, pastor.” I know this performance standard well. You just don’t get on stages unless you’re a walloping good communicator according to cultural standards. Unfortunately, this kind of preaching has nothing whatsoever to do with biblical standards. None at all. I encourage the reader to study the first three chapters of First Corinthians. Read it with the current state of the church in mind. The church at Corinth was divided over which leader they were to follow. Peter? Paul? Apollos? Who was the most effective teacher and leader? In addressing this, Paul wrote, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1–5).

Funny stories and jokes were not the standard in Paul’s time: lofty speech and the wisdom of men (thus not biblical wisdom) were. He denied those two standards because he did not want his listeners to have their faith in anything but the power of God. Obviously, non-biblical jokes and stories with a topical “felt needs” teaching don’t get us there either.

So. Back to Malaysia. I spoke on Luke 14:26-32. I made an invitation for those who wanted to be disciples according to Jesus’ requirements to come forward and pray.

Nothing. No sound. No movement whatsoever.

It was awkward. It was awkward because I was waist deep in the enculturation of the “you-must-perform” standard. (This is progress. I was once neck deep.) As I stepped down from the platform, I told myself the truth, which was that the Holy Spirit must make the words of God real. I do not have that ability. He does. But living for decades in worldly performance standards hung on me like a stinking carcass. As I thought through it all, I worked with the Lord’s help to shake that carcass off. I knew I had preached the truth of God’s word. However, now I think I should have walked down off the platform, faced it, and knelt and prayed. It is not possible that everyone in the meeting that morning had met the rigorous standards Jesus presented in Luke 14. I should have prayed for this church that for whatever reason had rejected the message of the cost of discipleship. I should have prayed that the Lord would be merciful for that rejection, that He would open their hearts and minds, that they would be willing be live a sacrificial life as Jesus commands.

We cannot be His disciples unless we do.

His words, not mine.


1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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