The Cost of Discipleship
by William Barratt
At this point in Jesus’ ministry, there were “great crowds” of people following him. Small wonder—he was a wise teacher who was healing sick people left and right, among other miracles. But in this passage, he warns his followers not to lightly make the decision to become his disciple. It is not a casual warning; he invokes no fewer than four examples to get the point across.
First is the warning that even family relationships must be secondary to following Jesus. No family relationship is exempt from this requirement—not even a marriage or a parent-child relationship. While we know people even today who are disowned by their relatives for following Christ, let us not leave the warning at that. Those of us living in Christian families can be tempted to put temporal plans and desires for families ahead of obedience to the Lord. We may too easily allow our leisure plans or sports schedules to disrupt our participation in prayer, worship, study, and Christian fellowship.
Second is the admonition that Jesus' followers must bear their own crosses. This language is found elsewhere in the Gospels (Luke 9:23, Matthew 10:38). Those who followed Jesus two thousand years ago were at risk of severe persecution and even death. Such terrible persecution persists today; our brothers and sisters in some parts of the world are truly making a life-and-death decision when they choose Jesus in spite of the prevailing local beliefs or laws. I fear that, as residents of a country where our faith only rarely puts us at serious risk, we think, “I am willing to suffer the quiet disapproval of my colleagues or neighbors for the sake of Jesus—that is my ‘cross’ to bear.” Is that really the standard we are being held to? If severe persecution became more common in the United States, how many would fall away?
Jesus’ final two examples show us how seriously he wants us to consider our choice. We should approach our decision to follow him as least as thoughtfully as we would a major home renovation, and with the same gravity as a nation facing a war against a formidable enemy. If I might suggest an additional example, we should take as much care in our decision whether we can follow Christ as we would in deciding whether to marry someone—not a decision that most people make overnight! I write these things not to discount the validity of sudden conversions that have occurred frequently since Jesus’ time, but to underscore the danger of casual Christianity that is not based on a strong conviction and commitment.
Lord, give us the faith, courage, and willpower to follow you despite the trouble or danger we may face in this world. We thank you for the example of those who have suffered for your sake. Be patient with anyone who is not ready to make the commitment that you require in this passage, and help us to support them as they count the cost of discipleship.
William Barratt is a member of the vestry and also serves on the Welcome Team. He lives in Arlington with his beautiful wife and adorable daughter.