• The BaptistWay lesson for Jan. 5 focuses on Luke 14:25-35.
“With every head bowed and every eye closed”—words that have begun most evangelists’ invitation at just about every Baptist revival that has taken place through the years. They then proceed to “draw the net,” as I’ve heard it called, by urging people to raise a hand, stand in the aisles, walk to the altar and eventually say a prayer accepting Christ as their Lord and Savior.
If you’ve ever been exposed to one of these kinds of invitations, you’ve likely heard familiar phrases like “all you have to do is believe” or “just choose Christ.” These methods have proven to produce large statistics for us to report at annual meetings and in our church profiles. In some instances, I’ve even seen them produce disciples. This was how I was converted at age 15, and a year later, I found myself surrendering to ministry.
However, when looking back at my youth group, my experience proved to be the exception rather than the norm. Most who walked the aisle with me, cried over the thought of going to hell and said a prayer to get their fire insurance are not active in church today.
While it’s not fair solely to blame an evangelist or his methods on this lack of discipleship, I do think it is fair to blame the mindset behind what fuels these invitations. Many churches assume as long as they are baptizing people and people are joining the church, things are going well.
As people respond to our invitations, the question we have to ask is “What are we inviting them to do?” If people only feel their church is inviting them to get out of hell, then it is no wonder they are ceasing to commit themselves to further church involvement. Perhaps if we were a little more honest with our invitations, we might report lower statistics but have more disciples.
The cost of discipleship
In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” When we invite people to “accept Christ,” we often leave off this part. Yet Jesus did not mince his words when he spoke about what following him would entail. When Luke mentions the large crowds who followed Jesus, he often punctuates their presence with difficult and jarring words from Jesus.
In our particular passage, Jesus tells them whoever does not hate his own family and self cannot be his disciples. You’ve heard the common explanations we use to lighten the punch of this statement: Jesus was exaggerating; Jesus really meant you aren’t supposed to love your family or self more than him; Jesus didn’t mean “hate” the way we use it today. There is truth to some of these explanations, but we must be wary of allowing them to blunt the force of his statement, which Luke clearly intends to come off as shocking and demanding.
Building a tower and going to war
To elaborate on this statement, Jesus told two parables. First, he posed a hypothetical situation in which someone wanted to build a tower. It would be foolish for anyone to undertake such a task without considering what it would cost. The result would be failure and humiliation. Second, he proposed another imaginary situation where a king was about to go to war. He points out that the king would not do this unless he felt confident that he could win.
The obvious point behind these stories is the necessity of counting the cost of action. But Jesus intends to draw out a superior parallel about discipleship from these scenarios—the fact that one’s own resources are inadequate for discipleship. It’s not about making sure you have enough to follow Jesus; but realizing you can’t unless you give up everything (v. 33).
Can you imagine what our invitations would sound like if we took this seriously? It’s time to stop talking about merely accepting Christ, but about following Christ. Several months ago, I was approached by a church member who told me Kyle Idleman’s book Not a Fan changed his life. The material now includes a small-group DVD study with personal journals for participants that many churches have used to encourage discipleship.
Idleman says the inspiration for the basis of his “Not a Fan” curriculum came to him when he was preparing a sermon for Easter Sunday. As he finished writing, he realized the whole sermon was meant to make the “one-Sunday-a-year” crowd feel good, in hopes they might come back. At this realization, he scrapped the sermon and re-wrote a message that included the hard message of costly discipleship.
But what does following Jesus involve? If it isn’t just “accepting Jesus,” walking an aisle, checking a box or getting baptized, what exactly does it entail? Simply put, Jesus says it is being usable. Our passage draws to a close with a strange statement in verse 34 about “salt losing its saltiness.” The strange part is that salt can’t lose its saltiness. I think that is exactly the point Jesus was making. Salt, by definition, is salty. A disciple, by definition, should follow Jesus over all else and be able to be used by him. Anyone with “ears to hear” (v. 35) this invitation can follow Jesus, but it will cost them their whole life.
What do you need to give up to follow Jesus fully today?