July 25, 2021 The Cost of Discipleship

The Cost of Discipleship

July 25, 2021


Scripture reading: Matthew 8:18-22.


One of the scribes expresses a desire to follow Jesus. From a casual reading of the gospels, we learn that all the opposition to Jesus came from the scribes and the Pharisees. They were the experts in the Scriptures, yet they opposed the very incarnation of God’s will and law. Things have not changed much. Throughout church history, the greatest antagonism to moves of the Spirit has come from religious leaders. For example, Whitefield, Wesley, and Edwards were all opposed by church leaders during the Great Awakening. In Jesus’ day, although many scribes and Pharisees opposed him, there were a few who did not, such as Nicodemus. This scribe evidently had a sincere desire to follow Jesus. But Jesus lets him know that it will not be an easy life if he chooses to follow him. He tells him that he does not even have the same privilege as a fox or a bird. The implication is that, if this teacher chose to follow him, he too would find himself without a place to even sleep. He might have to sleep under the open sky.


Although salvation is free, there is a cost to being a disciple to Jesus. This cost is not anything we do to earn acceptance. We are accepted by the Father through our faith in Jesus. But, when we actually follow him, we must deny ourselves and live for him. Otherwise, any faith we think we have is an un-transforming and non-living faith which is no faith at all.


Someone said to him that he wished to follow him but that he first had to bury his father. Some commentators have said that this disciple (not one of the twelve) was actually asking to wait until his father died (possibly because he was old and infirm?), then bury him, then come and follow Jesus. But this is neither what the man asked nor does it fit with how Jesus responded. The man specifically asked to bury his father. One does not bury a live person. When Jesus responds he says, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” Matthew uses the Greek word, nekros, which means a corpse.


See both the radicalness and the immediacy of the call to follow Jesus! Following Jesus is radical because it calls us to give him first priority over everyone and everything! We place him and obedience to him above the responsibilities to our family members. Even above our spouse, parents, and children. Following Jesus is immediate. We neither wait to have everything just right in our lives nor do we wait to do what we wish to do (even so-called good things) before we carry out what the Lord desires of us. When the opportunity arises to serve…then serve! Throw away your excuses. Ninety-nine out of a hundred excuses we use can be done after we carry out the Lord’s work. Is this a hard word? How much harder it was for this disciple facing the death of his father! Our reasons are less than his.


The terms of discipleship are laid out even more plainly in Luke:


25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “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. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. [1]


Jesus did not mean that we should literally hate ourselves or our family. What he meant was that our love for ourselves and our family members should seem as if it is hate compared to our love and devotion to him. Here is what we must see: If we do not love the Lord Jesus supremely, so far above ourselves, our mother, our father, our children, that our love for them is like hate, then we cannot be his disciple!


This is radical. If we do not give all of ourselves – our minds, our emotions, our will – to him unreservedly and completely in a daily way, then this means either that:


  • We have not been born again. Or,
  • We were born again but we have lost our way.


I believe that many disciples have lost their way. As far as books that were written by one person, that greatest of all books, Pilgrim’s Progress, chronicles the journey of the main character, Christian, as he travels through the world. His journey is an allegory of the disciple’s life. There are deceptions, pitfalls, and traps along the way. There are other characters who seek to persuade him to abandon his journey. But perhaps most telling is that he gets lost along the way several times.


One of the main burdens of the author, John Bunyan, is to warn believers that the life of a disciple is not easy but is fraught with danger. If one stumbles through life merely living by their feelings and their own notions, or even the notions of others, without relying on light from heaven (God’s words) then we become seduced and lost. If we have been truly born again then we will not be eternally lost. But we may be lost during our earthly pilgrimage and the consequences of such will cause much grief in the present and may cause us to lose our inheritance in the next age. Our inheritance is the kingdom of God as it will be manifested in the next age. In other words, losing our way now, even as disciples of the Lord Jesus, may result in great disappointment and a failure to inherit the kingdom. We will have to wait a long time – until the age after the next age – before we enjoy the privileges of communion with the Lord and his people.


Later in the book of Matthew Jesus will say this:


Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.[2]


Many versions have the word, “reward,” in place of “repay” in verse 27.[3]


First, take note to whom Jesus is speaking. He is not speaking to worldlings. He is not speaking to the lost. He is talking to his disciples – those who have made a decision and a commitment to follow him already. They are just like us, though. They decide things, they commit to things, but do not always understand what is entailed in what they have decided. So, Jesus is going to make it plain to them.


He says, “whoever.” Whoever! There are no exceptions! No exceptions for being under bad teaching. No exception for hearing a watered down gospel. No exception for feeling as if everything is fine. No exception for “knowing” that God loves you. Whoever!


“Whoever wants to be my disciple must…”


The terms of discipleship that our Lord is about to lay down are not optional. He said “must!” Here is one false gospel going around today (there are many!): You can make Jesus your Savior, but not your Lord. You can believe in him as your Savior and then, later, maybe you can make him your Lord. That is not in the Bible and is a damnable gospel. No subjects of a king receive a pardon when they are still in open rebellion against him.


We must deny ourselves to be a disciple of Jesus. Sadly, there are many who take the name of Christ but are still living to satisfy their own desires. Now, the Lord is kind and gentle. That is the way he describes himself (Luke 6:35; Matthew 11:29). Therefore, he will often give us the desires of our hearts. But first we must consider them of no importance and we must subsume them to the Lord’s will. Because we are all a work in progress, we all have desires that do not line up with the Lord’s desires. The goal of sanctification is to be conformed to the image of Christ. The Lord’s desires are becoming our desires. The Lord is working himself into us so that:


  • our mind becomes like his,
  • his thoughts become our thoughts,
  • his loves become ours,
  • and his will becomes our will.


Until that process is completed we must deny ourselves. The first term of discipleship is to deny ourselves.




We must take up our cross to be a disciple of Jesus. What did Jesus mean by “cross?” The cross was the means of execution administered by the Roman government. It was a familiar sight in Israel. Criminals would be required to carry their own cross to their place of death, as Jesus would do when he would be crucified.


The cross represents the suffering that we must undergo. But see that Jesus says that we must take up our cross. Some versions have “pick up their cross.”[1]Our cross is something that we can pick up or leave down. In other words, we can often choose to avoid suffering. Yet, if we follow the path that the Lord has for us, the path of righteousness empowered by His life, then times will come when we must choose to suffer.


Madras, now called Chennai, is the most visited city in India. It is considered the best city in India and is characterized by both wealth and safety. The Anglican Bishop of that city was visiting the kingdom of Travancore about a hundred years ago. Travancore was located in the Southwestern tip of India. He was there introduced to a little slave girl called “The Child Apostle.” She had won this title by the zeal with which she talked of Christ to others. Her quiet, steady persistence in this had won several converts to Christ. But she had suffered persecution at the hands of Hindus too brutal to relate. When she was introduced to the Bishop, her face, neck and arms were disfigured and scarred by stripes and blows. As he looked at her, the good man’s eyes filled, and he said, “My child, how could you bear this?”

She looked up at him in surprise and said, “Don’t you like to suffer for Christ, sir?”


Do not the life and words of this little girl put us to shame? They should also remind us that our children, even at young ages, can be resolute and committed to the Lord Jesus. It is a sad report that there are Christians to day who do their best to avoid suffering. They will not miss a meal to serve Christ in outreach or some other work for him. They will not forego their laundry day or their shopping day to do a work for Christ. What a shame!


This little girl suffered because she talked to others about Christ. She was willing to suffer beatings and whippings for her sharing the gospel. Some of us are not even willing to experience just a little embarrassment for sharing the gospel. What a shame this is!


Sometimes we will suffer for simply choosing to do the right thing. We must be willing to take up such a cross. This is our calling. At the same time, almost all suffering is temporary. The Lord grants relief and comfort in his time.


A preacher tells a story from his childhood. He was raised on a small farm in Alabama. “One hot summer, as an eleven year old boy, I was hoeing corn in a field adjoining a neighbor’s farm. I was overjoyed to see a dark cloud approaching. I knew if it rained I could go to the house!

The rain did come—on the neighbor’s field and right up to the fence between his farm and ours. Only a few drops fell on our field, so I had to keep on hoeing.

I learned a lesson that day that has helped me through many storms of life. A storm cloud ends sometime, somewhere.”


It is true. The storms of life end. There are times of trials and times of rest. We must take both. Do not avoid the trials. Neither avoid the rest. The Lord will give you rest. When it comes enjoy it. But, we must choose suffering at times.


The second term of discipleship is to take up our cross.


Then Jesus says, “… and follow me.” This is the third term of discipleship. We must follow Jesus to be a disciple of Jesus.


Unless we first commit to denying ourselves and to picking up and carrying our cross, we will be unable to follow him. Oh, we may follow him for a while when everything is fine and dandy. But when trouble comes, we stop following.


Theologian and author R.C. Sproul tells of the time that he was having dinner with a friend. He had a concern about the gentleman because he knew that he seldom attended church and he was aware of some things in his life that were contrary to our Lord’s words. As they spoke R.C. began to share the gospel with him. The man said that Jesus was already his Lord and Savior. R.C. Sproul, always one to get to the heart of a matter with a penetrating question asked him, “How does Jesus convey his will to you if he is your Lord?”


You see, this gentleman may have said a prayer. He may have been baptized. He thought that he honored the Lordship of Christ. But how would he answer R.C.’s question? Because of the way the man was living it was obvious he did not read nor study his Bible.


This was the point of R.C.’s question. The only way Jesus can be our Lord practically is if we heed his will. In order to heed his will we must know his will. In order to know his will we must either read or hear his words.


Once we know what Christ’s will is, then we follow it. We obey Jesus. If a preacher is being faithful to what the Bible actually teaches (for all the words of the Bible are the words of Christ if spoken by his representatives), this means that we follow the words of preachers and teachers. When I am listening to a teacher at a conference (I try to go to at least one per year, more often two), I get excited when I learn something new. When I learn a new aspect of the Lord’s will, I am excited to follow. I am glad to carry it our in my life!


Something is wrong when a person who claims to be a Christian reads something in their Bible, recognizes that they are not living that way, and then does nothing about it! Something is wrong when a Christian hears a preacher or teacher, recognizes that they are not living the way they have heard, and then does nothing about it. The apostle James condemns this as being a hearer of the word only. I tell you, there are many hearers-of-the-word-only!


This is not following Jesus! In order to be his disciple, we  must actually follow him! You are what you do, not what you say! (Thank you, Dr. Laura!) This is the third term of discipleship: to actually follow Jesus.


We must follow Jesus practically. This means to read and know the words of Jesus and his apostles. This means to read the New Testament. To be a practical follower of the Lord we must read and study our Bibles.


And, the Lord came right out and said this as recorded by the apostle John:


So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”[4]



Even as believers, we are still in bondage to false ideas, to sins, to worthless activities. When we come to a knowledge of the truth we can be set free from these things!


As Jesus said, we come to a knowledge of the truth by abiding –living! – in his word!


The fourth term of discipleship is to live in Christ’s word. That is, to spend quality time in the Scriptures which are the words of Christ.


[Conclusion] A man came to Jesus and desired to be his disciple. There are many like that today. Some recognize who Jesus is and they do not want to end up in the lake of fire. So they make a profession of faith. But Jesus told this man that there is a cost to live as a disciple. He may not have a place to sleep! The cost is putting Jesus first above all else, even burying one’s father.


Elsewhere, Jesus laid out the cost of discipleship in more detail.


  • To be a disciple means that we deny ourselves. Our first consideration should not be, “What can I get from this?” but “What will Jesus gain from this?” As our souls become more conformed to that of our Lord, we will not have to deny ourselves so often because the Lord’s desires become ours. In the meantime, we deny ourselves!
  • To be a disciple means that we take up our cross. We choose the path of suffering for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
  • To be a disciple we follow Jesus. This means we change the way we live to conform to what we learn in God’s precious word.
  • To be a disciple means we abide in his word. We live in it! We don’t live in front of the tv or the internet. We live in Christ’s word!


Who are you? Are you the man who desires to take care of earthly matters before you take care of living for Jesus? Or, are you like Peter who forsook all for the sake of Jesus? Peter was impetuous. He said stupid things at times. But he was sold out for Christ! Are you the burying one or the forsaking one?


If you are the burier, what will you do now?




[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 14:25–27). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 16:24–27). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] KJV, NKJV, NIV, CSB, CEV, Lexham, NET.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 8:31–32). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.