The very essence of the grace of God is that it is free and unconditional. The conditions for its reception are repentance and faith, but grace itself is unhampered by any condition. Some people give with one hand and take away with the other or add in so many restrictions and conditions that the gift is useless to the recipient, but this is not God's way.
Yet Luke 9:23 tells us that "if any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me." Why the "if"? What does it mean? Is salvation really free or must we make a bargain for it with the Lord? How about other verses that contain similar "ifs"?
In answer, read Luke 14:25-35. Verse 26 says "If any man come to Me and hate not his father and mother and wife and children and brethren and sisters, yes and his own life also, he can not be My disciple." Those four last words are repeated three times (vv. 26, 27, 33). Note that they don't say anything about salvation but rather, about being the Lord's disciples!
The preceding paragraph (Lk. 14:15-24) contains the parable of the great supper which is a marvelous unfolding of the grace of God. Thus, having just explained divine grace in a manner that brought great crowds about Him, the Lord Jesus then tests their reality by giving them the terms of discipleship.
Although grace and discipleship are two different things, they must be looked at together and in their proper order. Grace is a special form or character of divine love - its character when it stoops to go forth to the completely undeserving and adapts to their needs (although far surpassing those needs).
On the other hand, discipleship is a special form or character of a believer's love which comes from a response to God's love. It is the reverse or backwards flow of divine love to its Source. A disciple is both a learner and a follower. When the grace of God grasps a soul and a new life begins, its first instincts are to learn about and from the Savior and to follow Him. Thus loving grace is the source and power of discipleship.
In the parable of the great supper mentioned above, we find the door of salvation swung wide open and the very worst people invited. No demand, condition or bargain is made on them. Grace is not hindered or dimmed by such things. Yet the Lord was well aware of two things when He spake this parable:
- Many would only profess to have received grace. There would be no reality.
- Those who really received grace have thereby received a responsive love in their souls that draws them irresistibly after the One from whom it comes, and those people desire to learn what is pleasing to Him.
This is why the Lord followed up His declaration of grace with instruction as to discipleship and then added two short parables to show the importance of counting the cost of discipleship (Lk. 14:28-33).
One day, a sad-looking man told me, "It costs too much to be a Christian." Was he right? If he meant that it costs too much to be saved, he was wrong because salvation costs us nothing. That incredible cost has fallen on the One Who was able to bear it and He, being made sin for us, has borne it all.
If the man meant that it costs too much to be a disciple, he was wrong again! It costs to be a disciple but it doesn't cost too much! The fact is that the sad-looking man was not saved. He had never tasted grace so he had nothing to spend. When a man goes shopping with no money in his pocket, everything costs too much! The man was putting demand before supply, the cart before the horse.
Discipleship costs constant sacrifice on our part. We must work to strengthen our Christian position and expend considerable energy in fighting our enemies.
The first parable on counting the cost (Lk. 14:28-30) speaks of work: "Which of you intending to build a tower…" If you want to follow the Lord, you must build a tower. A tower speaks of protection. We are kept by the power of God through faith (1 Pe. 1:5). We are responsible to build up ourselves on our most holy faith. Therefore, "praying in the Holy Spirit" is our only proper attitude and the result is to keep ourselves "in the love of God" (Jude 20-21). We are well protected when the love of God surrounds us as our tower of defense. Faith builds. "The faith" as found in the Word of God is the strong foundation on which we build, and prayer is the attitude best suited to such building. Thus, the love of God, consciously known, is our tower of defense.
All this is only a means to an end. We become strong defensively so that we can act offensively against the enemy. We see this in the second parable (vv. 31-33): "Or what king going to war…" A disciple should move offensively, positively, aggressively. Notice that king proposes to take the offensive against another king with twice as large an army. That's a bold move! But behind his back, he was well fortified: his tower was built. This is God's way! For instance, David's tower had been built in his wilderness-experiences of meeting and killing a lion and a bear. Therefore the giant Goliath didn't scare him.
Discipleship means all this. It means earnest prayer and earnest Bible study. It means deep exercise and the shock of battling the world, the flesh, and the devil. Sit down and count the cost! Does it scare you? If so, then recount the cost in the full light of the power of God and the riches of grace and you will begin to "rejoice in Christ Jesus" and even more deeply have "no confidence in the flesh."
Thus grace and discipleship go hand-in-hand as seen by the case of blind Bartimaeus (Mk. 10:46-52). Grace (in the Person of the Lord Jesus) stood still at his cry for help and freely gave him all he desired. Jesus said unto him "Go your way," i.e., "Go where you want: no terms are imposed on you." But where did Bartimaeus go? "Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus in the way." Impelled by grace, he entered the path of discipleship. He followed Jesus (v. 52).
Discipleship does not belong to only a few - a clergy. There are no favored-ones in Christianity. All the early Christians were believers, and saints, and disciples (Acts 1:15, 6:1, 9:38, 19:9, 20:7). Even Paul was a believer, a saint and a disciple along with the rest, even though he was gifted directly from heaven and given great authority. Unfortunately, the world has conquered much of the Christian profession. The unscriptural clergy-laity system is everywhere. However, the true Christianity of the Bible knows nothing of these things. Shame on us if we receive our (spiritual) sight and then unlike Bartimaeus go strolling off to amuse ourselves with the novel sights of Jericho! Yet there is a constant tendency in that direction. Therefore, the Lord said to some believers, "If you continue in My Word, then you are My disciples indeed" (Jn. 8:31). Discipleship belongs to all Christians but there are many believers who are not "disciples indeed" - real, earnest followers of the Lord Jesus.
Let's again look at the conditions for Christian discipleship in Lk. 14:25-33. The whole thing comes down to the absolute necessity of putting Christ first and all else in last place. In a comparative sense, we are to hate all else. Our love to Christ should be so strong compared to our natural love for our relations that the latter appears as hate (v. 26). See Lk. 9:59-60 for an example of this. Likewise, in Luke 14:33, we are told to forsake all that we have. Our affections are to be severed from our possessions because they now belong to our Master and thus are to be held for Him. This may mean giving up everything as did the early Christians, or like Levi (Lk. 5:27-29) we may "leave all" and yet still have possessions. Levi's house still belonged to him but it and his money were used for the Lord - to make a great feast for Christ and draw sinners to Him. This is an important example for us!
If Christ is to be first, self must go, so the disciple must deny himself and take up His cross daily (Lk. 9:23-26). We must inwardly say "No" to self. We must be as a dead man as far as the working of our will is concerned. Then, outwardly, we must take up his cross daily. We must accept death as cutting us off from the world and its glory. We must say "No" to the love of reputation and popularity. All this is hard work, bitter to the flesh but it is sweetened by the love of Christ! These are the conditions for discipleship. See also Lk. 9:46-62.
Discipleship today means exactly the same thing as it did 2,000 years ago. There are some minor details that are different because we live in different times, but it still means saying "No" to our own wills. It still means the cross - the world will hate us. In early times (and still in some parts of the world), this hatred was manifested by sword, cross, wild beasts, or flame; now it is usually by silent contempt, a will-timed snub, or social exclusion. The early attacks were often swift and severe and it was all over; for us, the attacks tend to be chronic - mild, but long-lasting. Discipleship still means walking in the spirit of self-judgment and separation from the world in even its religious forms. It means giving up anything questionable or stumbling to others for His Name's sake, even things lawful in themselves because our question must constantly be, "What does He want?"
Obviously, a true disciple will lose much in this world. But he gains "many times more in this present time and everlasting life in the age to come" (Lk. 18:30). The gain will not be in what appeals to the natural man: it will be a higher (spiritual) gain, "If any man serve Me, let him follow Me and where I am, there shall My servant be: if any man serve Me, him will My Father honor" (Jn. 12:26). The gain will be companionship with Christ and honor from the Father! Who can count such wonderful gain! After having been told of discipleship, three disciples got a glimpse of such gain when they witnessed the transfiguration (Lk. 9:27-36). They were "with Him in the holy mount" (2 Pe. 1:16-18). Thus Paul who lost all for Christ, dismissed the loss-side of discipleship as "our light affliction" and proclaimed the gain or profit-side as "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Co. 4:17-18).
One more distinction in terms: Paul was an apostle but he was also a disciple. The two are clearly different as shown by Luke 6:13, "He (Jesus) called unto Him His disciples and of them He chose twelve whom He named apostles." The word disciple means one taught or trained. The word apostle means one sent forth. Every true follower of the Lord was a disciple but only the twelve sent forth by the Lord (plus several others later, including Paul) were apostles. Theirs was a unique place of authority and service. They were involved with the foundation of the Church (Eph. 2:20) and have long since passed away, but millions of the Lord's disciples are to be found even today.
The power for discipleship is found only in God but it reaches us in a simple way. There is an impulsive (explosive, motivating, pushing) power in affection. When the love of God enters even the darkest heart, a new impelling power is known and discipleship begins. The power that starts discipleship also sustains it. Read John 14-16, which is a manual for discipleship. You will find that love is the source for everything. The Holy Spirit is the power, and obedience (obeying Christ's commandments) is the pathway into which the Spirit leads the disciple.
In seeking to live as disciples of the Lord Jesus, you will need three things.
First, you will need spiritual wisdom and discretion (proper judgment) which only comes from the Scriptures wherein we find the Lord's will for us. Our business as disciples is (with the Holy Spirit's help) to search out that will. This means that we must be very familiar with our Bibles and carefully study them.
The second thing is prayer . We must maintain a spirit of dependence upon God which comes through prayer. Thirdly, we must always seek to be obedient. As disciples, our business is to obey, not to do some great thing which we think the Lord would like. Therefore, let us lay aside every "weight" that would hinder us (Heb. 12:1) and remember our Master's words, "If you know these things, happy are you if you do them" (Jn. 13:17).