The High Standard of Discipleship

Dr. Brian Allison

Awhile ago, Barbara Walters was interviewing Rush Limbaugh on the program 20/20. Some of Limbaugh's statements were simply outrageous. He claimed to be the "doctor of democracy." He said that he could speak more effectively than many, with half his brain tied behind his back. He stated that he was the person who declared truth. During the interview Barbara Walters asked Limbaugh why people watch his program. He replied by saying that the reason was "the good taste and refinement of the American people." Now Rush Limbaugh, in many respects, is a competent social critic, yet he seems to be a man who is afflicted with pride. He conveys the picture of a man who loves himself. His attitude is typical. We live in an age of self-love, an age of stuporous narcissism. Self-love is a part of the human condition. Self-love has characterized every age, but this human malady manifests itself particularly in our day. People are so concerned about their image. They are so concerned about their dress and outward appearance. They are concerned about their status and security. People are intoxicated with themselves. The words of Lew Wallace, author of Ben Hur, are apropos. He wrote, "Would you hurt a man keenest, strike at his self-love."

We also live in an age of rampant hedonism. People lover and seek pleasure. This fact is powerfully communicated and promoted through television and radio advertisement. The Pepsi slogan is typical - 'Be young! Have fun! Drink Pepsi!' The television program Hard Copy recently scheduled an episode on the 'California party fiends'. These party fiends consist of single women whose lives revolve around carousing, imbibing, dancing, and picking up men. Their philosophy of life is simply to party, 'life is a continual blast'. The words of Oscar Wilde, the Irish writer and wit, could serve as a motto for many today. He said, "Pleasure is the only thing to live for."

As we think of the fact that self-love and pleasure-seeking characterize our society, we immediately observe that a great contrast exists between that which the world esteems and that which Christ expects. A great moral and spiritual tension exists between the state of society and the requirements of the living Christ. The values of Christ are contrary to the values of the world. In an age of self-love and pleasure-seeking, the risen Christ calls people to move in an opposite direction. He calls people to move in the direction of self-dethronement and self-sacrifice. Simply put, He calls people to discipleship. In responding to this call of Christ to be His disciple, we are simultaneously casting a vote against the world. In becoming Christ's disciples, we are rejecting the world. Jesus requires and expects faithful discipleship in this post-Christian age of idolatrous narcissism and lewd hedonism.

The Meaning of Discipleship

If we are to live as disciples, then, of course, we must clearly understand what discipleship means and consists of. A helpful Scripture in this regard is found in the Gospel of Matthew. Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it. For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mt. 16:24-26). This Scripture provides us with a rather simple, but succinct, definition of discipleship, contained in the words 'come after Me'. This particular phrase is found four times in the Gospels and, in each case, discipleship is in view. For instance, Luke 14: 27 reads that Jesus said, "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple." Discipleship means going after Jesus. Using contemporary language, Jesus is teaching that discipleship means being completely identified with Him. 'To come after' Jesus is to be totally committed to and aligned with Him. Thus discipleship is very costly. In order to 'come after' Jesus, you must sellout completely to Him. When Jesus sets forth the proposition and directive to come after Him, He expects nothing less than a total giving of oneself to Him; and that is why disciple is so costly. Discipleship is essentially a self-abandonment to Christ. One must be willing to give up everything to be identified with Him. So Christ poses the question: How will a man be eternally advanced if he gains the whole world, if he amasses great fortunes, if he erects a strong financial empire, and yet in exchange for all that he loses himself? What is the point in gathering wealth and building up assets when eventually you are going to forfeit your life, and thus not even have the opportunity to enjoy all your acquired wealth and assets? Jesus reminds us that the soul is priceless, it is valueless. Nothing can be given in exchange for a soul. If we do not give it completely to, and for, Him, we shall one day lose it. If we give it completely to, and for, Him, we shall one day receive it forever. Discipleship means giving your soul, your life, to Christ in order to live completely and fully to, and for, Him.

Self-abandonment entails self-denial

Self-abandonment to Christ particularly entails three stipulations - Let him deny himself, let him take up his cross, and let him follow. First, discipleship entails self-denial. This phrase is used only three times in the Gospels, and yet it carries great significance. When Jesus instructs us to deny ourselves, He wants us to view our personal ambitions, desires, and aspirations as no longer having priority in our lives, as no longer being the most important things to us. Often we have misdirected ambitions, desires, and aspirations. For instance, the romance novelist Fabio feeds and fuels the hearts of women through his writings to desire and seek romance. Now romance itself is not bad, but it does become a problem when it becomes a preoccupation and an obsession. Surprisingly, 41% of the books purchased by women are romance novels. In contrast, our desires are to be centered on Christ. There are higher values than such things as romance.

To deny oneself also means that one will not view himself as number one, viewing his or her wants and needs as the first order of business. Many of the Hollywood 'super models' convey the impression that they are number one, that the world revolves around them. Many star athletes demand millions of dollars because they deeply believe they are worth it. In fact, all of us are merely dust. To deny oneself will also mean that one will forgo personal comforts, benefits, and ease. Many of our Christian missionaries are labouring in turbulent and hostile countries. These missionaries have left behind their families, as well as the amenities and conveniences of their homeland in order to work in regions of poverty, privation, and squalor.

Now self-denial does not mean that one's self image becomes unimportant. We should have a good self image, but we should not be self-preoccupied. We ought to like ourselves and seek to improve ourselves, but we should never become enamored with ourselves. We ought always to have a very sober and realistic self-view, not thinking of ourselves more highly that we ought to think, but to think reasonably as God has given to each believer a measure of grace and faith. We are to deny our sinful selves (resulting from the Fall), not our created selves (made in the image of God). We need to deny our selfish appetites, our carnal lusts, and our fleshly passions, whether they consist of gluttony for food, or cravings for sex, or greed for wealth.

Self-abandonment entails self-surrender

Second, discipleship entails self-surrender – taking up the cross. The cross was the instrument for crucifixion. It is a symbol for ignominious death. To go after Jesus means being willing and prepared to suffer and die. The logical connection between self-denial and self-surrender is obvious. Unless one is first willing to deny himself, he will not be willing to suffer and die. Self-denial serves as a prerequisite of death. Christians, as disciples, should be willing and prepared to suffer and die. If the world hated and rejected Christ, it will similarly hate and reject those who are identified with Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died as a young man under the Nazi regime in 1945, reminds us that "when Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die." Living in an affluent society, we may not appreciate the full weight of these penetrating words. Again, true discipleship is costly. The Martyr's Shrine in Midland, Ontario, is a complex that was erected during the earlier part of this century to commemorate the Jesuit priests who, in the 17th century, canvassed southern and northern Ontario in order to evangelize the Indians. The cost of their endeavor was the price of their blood. Are we prepared to seal our testimony with blood? Are you willing to die for Christ?

Self-abandonment entails self-submission

Third, discipleship entails self-submission - following Christ. True Christians must live and do as Christ would. To follow Christ means to imitate Him, to reflect His character, to obey His words, to keep His teachings. When we have denied ourselves, which is foundational to being ready to suffer and die, we are then able to give ourselves to Christ and live as He desires and demands. Jesus says, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (Jn. 10:27). The phrase 'follow me' is used 15 times in the Gospels, and every occurrence is uttered by Christ, and always in connection with discipleship. When Jesus says, "Follow me," He is calling people to decision and commitment. The command implies loyalty and allegiance. Our Lord Jesus summons people to enter into a life of servanthood to Him. In John 12:26, Jesus says, "If any one serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall my servant also be; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him." Following Jesus means serving Him.

When Jesus called people to follow Him, He invariably called them to leave something or someone behind. This command and calling of Christ always involved a personal abandonment or forsaking of something or someone. For example, Matthew 8:21f. reads, "And another of the disciples said to Him [Jesus], 'Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.' But Jesus said to him, 'Follow Me; and allow the dead to bury their own dead.'" Jesus sometimes calls us to leave our family behind in order to follow Him. Matthew 9:9 reads, "And as Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man, called Matthew, sitting in the tax office; and He said to him, 'Follow Me!' And he rose, and followed Him." Jesus sometimes calls us to leave our job or business behind in order to follow Him. Matthew 19:21 reads, "Jesus said to him [the rich young ruler], 'If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.'" Jesus sometimes calls us to leave our possessions and assets behind in order to follow Him. If you are to follow Jesus, you will leave something or someone behind. Again, the issue is one of allegiance and loyalty.

Maybe for some of you, Jesus is calling you to leave your job behind and enter into full time Christian service; maybe that is what following Jesus will mean for you. Maybe for others, Jesus is calling you to leave that questionable relationship behind and to restore your spiritual relationship with God; maybe that is what following Jesus will mean for you. Maybe for still others Jesus is calling you to leave your property and goods behind for the needy and the poor; maybe that is what following Jesus will mean for you.

Is Jesus calling you to make a decision? Jesus wants you to evaluate your life and to determine where you stand. Are you on the side of the world or on the side of God? Do you love yourself and your life more than you love Jesus? Do you value the things of the world more than the things of Christ? Are you more interested in fun and in pleasure than you are in suffering for Christ and serving Him? As a believer, Jesus must be first in your life. He has a universal claim on your life, on all that you are and on all that you have. You ought to be more concerned about glorifying and uplifting His name than you are about your own personal comfort and ease.

You will know that Christ has first place in your life when, for instance, prayer has precedence over watching some silly television program. You will know that Christ has first place in your life when, for instance, Bible meditation has precedence over doing physical exercise, or going to the theatre, or engaging in personal reading, though these things do have their rightful place. You will know that Christ has first place in your life when, for instance, Christian service has precedence over your participation in sports, or in recreation, or in some personal hobby. Does Christ have first place in your life?

Furthermore, if you are going to be a disciple of Jesus, you must be willing to die to the opportunities and attractions of the world, if it means living for Christ. You must count your life as nothing, if it means promoting the cause of Christ. You must even be willing to physically die, if it means glorifying Christ. Moreover if you will be a disciple of Jesus, you must be willing to serve Him in any form and in any capacity that He reveals to you. You will have to possess the attitude that says each day, "Speak, Lord, for your servant hears." You will have to make a choice between Jesus and that to which you were previously attached, whether it be your work, your family, your possessions, your home, your hobbies, or whatever it may be. Jesus expects nothing less.

Discipleship is admittedly a high and hard road. Do you really understand how high and hard it is? Have you abandoned yourself to Him? Have you given your life to Him, recognizing that He owns you, that you belong to Him, that your life is His life and He can do whatever He wants with it; knowing that if you lose your life now, you will find it later? Are you a disciple of Christ?

The Cost of Discipleship

August 1969 marked one of the most significant sociological events of the 20th century. The event was Woodstock, three days of peace and music. Now the peace and music of that first Woodstock contrasted the devastation and killing of the war in Vietnam. Woodstock, in part, was a protest and social statement against that war. Woodstock epitomized the disillusionment and rejection of the counterculture youth against the 'system', particularly against the government of the 'system'. The youth confusedly asked, "Why the war? Why should America be involved in this war?" America's involvement was senseless. The words of the heavy weight boxing champion Muhammad Ali captured the general sentiment. When he was drafted, he lyrically said,

"Keep asking me no matter how long-

On the war in Vietnam I sing this song-

I ain't got no quarrel with Viet Cong."

The country had been demoralized. Allegiances were divided: on the one hand - love for one's country; on the other hand - a hatred for one's government and its policies. The America citizens halfheartedly supported the war effort. Unlike W.W. I and II, the sense of loyalty, of allegiance, and of commitment was conspicuously absent. The war was an international embarrassment. Many American citizens were unwilling to give to the cause, to sacrifice for their country. The 1984 film 'Forrest Gump' offers a microscopic view of this infamous past in the history of America, and captures not so much the American dream as an American nightmare.

Now, the admirable virtues which, at that time, were generally absent in the citizens of America, Jesus requires of those who would be His disciples. Jesus requires undivided allegiance and unrestricted sacrifice. So the Scripture reads, "Now great multitudes were going along with Him [Jesus]; and He turned and said to them, '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...So therefore, no one of you can be my disciple who does not give up all of his own possessions'" (Lu. 14:25,26,33). This passage presents to us the high cost of discipleship.

The cost of undivided allegiance

First, Jesus requires undivided allegiance - one must "hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters." The disciple's love for Jesus should be unrivaled. When Jesus says that we are to hate our families, He means that our love for Him should be of such a degree that our love for our family members should appear as hatred. That is, our relationship with Jesus ought to have the exclusive priority over all our other personal relationships. Matthew 10:37, 38 clarifies this point, "[Jesus says,] 'He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of me.'" Jesus is not calling us to literally hate and despise our families, but rather is calling us to love Him to such an extent that our love for our families pales into hatred. It is a question of loyalty; it is a question of devotion.

Jesus calls us to a very high and demanding standard. The point that our Lord is making is this: He and His kingdom are to come first, and you and your family are to come second. The implications of this truth are far-reaching. Now someone may say, "Jesus here is talking not so much about what we should do as how we should feel; Jesus is talking not so much about obedience and service to Him, as our devotional life with Him." The contention, the criticism, is that in these words concerning hatred for family and love for Christ, Jesus is talking more about our state of heart, our attitude, rather than about our performance or life-style. Now such an interpretation would be tenable if Jesus had not continued by saying, after calling us to hate our families, "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple." The emphasis is not so much what one feels in his heart as what one does with his life. Our families and our family commitments are to be secondary in the kingdom economy of Christ. Now that does not mean that we may neglect our families or that we are free to reject our family responsibilities, but it does mean that no family relationship or obligation should detract from or undermine our undivided allegiance and devotion to Christ.

To be sure, not all are called to official service in the kingdom, but all are called to kingdom service; all are called to commitment as disciples of Christ. As you examine your own heart, as you challenge your own heart, can you say with a conscience void of offense that you have an unrivaled and absolute devotion to Christ? What does your heart say? If not, Jesus says, in effect, "I do not want you; you cannot be my disciple. I am either first and foremost, so that your decisions are dependent on your relationship with Me or there can be no relationship with Me." What do you think about that? No other commitment, whether it be with your son or daughter, your husband or wife, ought to have a higher priority than your commitment to Christ. Now that does not mean that you should be expected to put in 40 or 50 hours working at the Church, but it does mean that Christ should have the preeminence; that His having first place in your life will be factored into all that you think, all that you do, and all that you are. When Jesus' call comes to you, when He gives that burden of heart, that sense of mission, you are not to be distracted or persuaded by the opinions and demands of your family.

The cost of unrestricted sacrifice

Second, Jesus requires unrestricted sacrifice - "So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions." Again, Christ wants all that we are and all that we have. Absolutely nothing is exempt. Now Jesus is not teaching that we are to run out and sell all our possessions; but what He is teaching is that your car is His car, your house is His house, your computer system is His computer system, your VCR. is His VCR., your cottage is His cottage; everything you own belongs to Him, and He can do whatever He wants with it. You are to use all your possessions for His glory and for the extension of His kingdom.

The cost of discipleship is extremely demanding. Jesus stresses the point by setting forth two illustrations. First, Jesus says, "For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish'" (Lu. 14:28-30). It is sound and wise business practice to make sure that in undertaking a building project, you have a sufficient cash flow and adequate financial backing in order to complete such a project. Before you begin a building project you should determine whether the contracting arrangements and required supplies are sufficient in order to bring the project to completion, lest having begun with your great dreams and plans, you discover that you do not have the means to finish; and as a result people begin to point at you, mocking and ridiculing, for not being able to finish. Successful building requires serious planning, not a flimsy whim. For example, Lee Iacocca did not launch the project of revitalizing Chrysler on a whim? Do you think that his fresh vision, and his innovative marketing just happened on a whim? No, he analyzed, he calculated, he strategized, and he was successful.

The second illustration Jesus uses is similar to the first one. He says, "Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and take counsel whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks terms of peace" (Lu. 14:31,32). It is sound and wise military planning to sit down and determine whether you have the available means to win the war, rather than to fool-heartedly run into battle and sacrifice the lives of many. In January 1968, North Vietnam launched a massive offensive, successfully surprising the United States. After that massive offensive, President Johnson began to negotiate for peace. That offensive helped to awaken the United States to the fact that they could not win the war, though by that time some 550,000 troops had been stationed in that Asian country, and numerous casualties had been suffered.

As we consider these two illustrations, two simple points can be made: 1) Concerning the building illustration - once you begin, make sure you are able to finish; perseverance is indispensable. 2) Concerning the military illustration - once you begin, make sure you the means and resources to be successful. In summary, before you begin, count the cost. As Abraham Lincoln once said, "Do not switch horses midstream."

Have you counted the cost? Becoming a Christian and being a disciple are not two different acts or phases. You do not first become a Christian, and then become a disciple. No, in becoming a Christian, you are a disciple.

The Demands of Discipleship

Where is your life going? Maybe you have had opportunity in the last number of months to sit down and, in a moment of sobriety, figure out where your life is going. As I pose that question to you, what is your response? Where is your life going? What is happening with your life? What do you want to do with your life? Maybe at present you find yourself standing behind a customer service counter. Or maybe you find yourself walking down the corridors of some medical or factory building. Or maybe you find yourself at an office desk pushing paper or crunching numbers. Or maybe you find yourself sitting in a car delivering products or distributing goods. Well, as you think of what you are presently doing, assuming that you will continue to do this work, when you come to retirement and you review what you have done with your life, do you think that you will have a sense of satisfaction? That, of course, is a hypothetical question, but a question we need to seriously think about, lest in eventually looking back over our lives, we are filled with sorrow and regret. Moses said, "So teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom" (Ps. 90:12). When you come to that point in your life when your best years have passed, will you look back with a sense of accomplishment? Will you say, at the end of the day, "It has all been worthwhile; I have lived a full life. My life has been purposeful, my life has counted"? As you look back in that day, will you say that you gave your life to something worthy? Are you giving your life to something worth living for?

Margaret Mead, the American anthropologist and social psychologist gave most of her life to studying the tribal customs and marriage vows of the people of Samoa and New Guinea. In the light of eternity, what is the point of studying the customs and vows of a relatively small group of people? Jane Goodall began her ethological work in Kenya and is well known for her study of chimpanzees. For much of her adult life, she has studied and written about chimpanzees. It is remarkable that someone could devote such large amounts of time and energy to such a study. These two personalities, no doubt, receive much satisfaction and fulfillment from their work, but from the perspective of eternity, what is the point?

Now, if you are a Christian, Jesus expects you to give your life for Him. This fact does not mean that you cannot pursue different avenues of employment, or that you cannot pursue particular careers, but with that particular avenue of employment and in that particular career, Jesus expects you to give your life for Him; and that will make everything worthwhile. Again, Jesus wants all of you. His demands are incredibly high and, from a human point of view, his demands are impossible - impossible, but real nonetheless. Luke 9:57ff. reads:

And as they [Jesus and his disciples] were going along the road, someone said to Him, "I will follow You wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." And He said to another, "Follow me." But he said, "Permit me first to go and bury my father." But He said to him, "Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God." And another also said, "I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home." But Jesus said to him, "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."

In this passage the demands of discipleship are pictorially laid out.

The demand of sacrifice

First, discipleship may demand forfeiting the comforts and the conveniences of this life. A would-be disciples spotted Jesus one day as He was journeying to Jerusalem through the region of Perea. With enthusiasm he declared, "I will follow you wherever You go." This man's resolve is admirable and commendable. He was seemingly ready to pledge unrestricted allegiance. One can sense the excitement and determination in his utterance. In effect, he said to Jesus, "It does not matter whether you go into the wilderness, I will go. It does not matter whether you go into Galilee, I will go. It does not matter whether you go into Judea, I will go. Wherever you go, Lord, I will follow you!"

This man apparently should be commended. His declaration implied a total commitment, a full sacrifice. However, this person may have been oblivious to the stark realities of true discipleship. Jesus' response to this declaration is enlightening. Jesus reveals that a life of discipleship may be a life of discomfort and inconvenience. Discipleship is hardship. Jesus says that animals and birds have habitats, places of repose, "but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head." The Son of Man was a vagabond. He had no permanent address as He sought to fulfil the purpose and will of God. He did not enjoy the security, stability, and comfort of a nice home. His life was one of uncertainty and privation. He lacked the necessities and amenities of life.

We live in an affluent society. We do not have to venture out each day to track game or to pick up sticks and stones to build fires. We do not have to leave our warm homes to carry jugs on our backs for miles to a fresh water-hole or to take our clothes down to the river to wash them and beat them dry on the rocks. We have it "made in the shade." We have our gadgetries, our stereos, our CD players, our microwaves; most of us have lives of ease and comfort. But Jesus may call you to give everything up for the homeless One. Now, if Jesus were to call you to give everything up, would you be willing? No more hot showers, no more microwave dinners, no more colour TV, no more Sega Genesis - would you be willing if Jesus called you to do that?

The rich young ruler came to Jesus with enthusiasm (even as many of us have) and said, "'Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?'" Jesus replied, "'You know the commandments..."' This man responded by saying that he had kept all of the commandments from a youth. Jesus, in turn, proceeded by saying, "'One thing you lack [the thing that has your heart]: go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.'" The rich young ruler turned away very sadly because he had much wealth (Lu. 18:18ff.). When Jesus calls us, often He is pleased to call us where it hurts, at the point of cost, in order to reveal our heart devotion and commitment. He is pleased to test us at the point of our affection. What is precious to you? What would you hate to leave behind? Maybe Jesus will test your love and your commitment at that point.

The demand of primary devotion

Second, discipleship means forfeiting the priority of the family. Now that is debatable, and even unacceptable, language today, both in and outside of the church. Many well-meaning Christians hold the view that the family is first. No, Jesus Christ and His kingdom are first, not the family. We read, "And Jesus said to another, 'Follow me.'" But this second would-be disciples said, "'Permit me first to go and bury my father.'" In ancient Jewish culture and custom, attending to the burial matters of one's parents was highly esteemed and laudatory. It was ranked higher than studying the Mosaic Law or serving in the temple. This person was simply being faithful to his religious traditions. The request of this person seemed quite legitimate. He was merely requesting the freedom to fulfil his familial obligations and responsibilities; and after fulfilling these responsibilities and obligations, he would then follow Jesus.

Jesus' response, at first, seems rather startling. In fact, many commentators wrestle over the language, believing that Jesus could not have said this. We read, "But He [Jesus] said to him, 'Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.'" Now you may scratch your head and think that our Lord is being insensitive and unreasonable. Surely, it would only take a few days for this person to bury his father (most likely the father was still alive); at most, a few weeks, and then the man would be able to preach about the kingdom unhindered. Yet Jesus puts the preaching of the kingdom before family obligations and responsibilities.

Jesus says that those who are spiritually dead, those who really do not know God, should attend to the mundane and familial affairs, but those who are spiritually alive should attend to the affairs pertaining to the kingdom of God. The spiritual has priority over the temporal. Jesus is not being unreasonable or cruel, much less insensitive, but is stating a fundamental principle that we must understand, again: the obligations and responsibilities to our families are secondary to the obligations and responsibilities to Christ and His kingdom. The needs of the family are subordinate to the needs of the kingdom.

Jesus is not advocating irresponsibility. He is not teaching neglect of the family. He is teaching unrivaled and unremitting allegiance to Himself. All other loyalties must give way to our loyalty to Him, regardless of the nature of the other loyalties. True disciples have to forfeit the priority of the family. Have you let your family responsibilities and obligations prevent you from living for and serving Christ? Have you been more preoccupied with looking after your family, than in serving Christ? Is Christ really first in your life? Have you come to that point in your life where you have surrendered your family to the Lord?

The demand of primary commitment

Third, discipleship demands forfeiting all others ties and relationships. We read, "And another also said, 'I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to all those at home.'" The situation with this third would-be disciple was similar to that of the second one. Again, the request sounds reasonable and legitimate. This person wanted to leave his house in order. Elisha, the prophet, had a similar experience. We read, "And Elijah threw his mantle on him [Elisha]. And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, 'Please let me kiss my father and mother, then I will follow you'...So he returned from following him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave it to the people and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him" (1 Kgs. 19:19ff.). Elisha was neither judged nor condemned for his actions. However, we are not called to follow Elijah; we are called to follow Jesus, and Jesus will take second place to no one and to nothing. If He does not have first place in your life, He does not want any place in your life.

When Jesus calls someone to discipleship, excuses become meaningless and weightless. Jesus brooks no excuses in His kingdom because He is Lord. When He speaks, He speaks with authority, and our only response is that of obedience. Jesus responded pointedly and uncompromisingly to this third would-be disciple, "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." This would-be disciple was pulled between the claims of Christ and the concern of his family. He had a divided heart. Often the Lord is pleased to present us with hard choices, choices which reveal our heart's treasure. If you look back, if you hesitate in your commitment, Jesus says you are not fit to serve Him. In effect, Jesus says, "If you want to look back or are pulled between others and Me, then go home, for you are not fit for the kingdom of God."

I wonder how many of us today would receive that exact reply from Jesus: "Go home; if you want to go home, go; and when you get there, stay there; you are not suitable for the kingdom." To be sure, that kind of language sounds rather cruel and harsh, but, again, Christ's standards are incredibly high. Half-heartedness is unacceptable in His kingdom. Christ requires a total, absolute commitment; if you are halfhearted, go home. Have you forfeited all other ties and relationships? Now, this passage does not teach that we cannot have other ties and relationships, but all other ties and relationships must be subordinate to our relationship with Christ and His kingdom. Jesus wants us to enjoy our families, enjoy various community activities, but never at the expense of Him and His kingdom. Never!

Jesus may be calling you into service and you may say to yourself, "Maybe I should get a degree first; then I would have credentials and be more productive." If Jesus Christ calls you into service now, forget about the degree. Or maybe you are saying, "I would really like to get involved in Christian service, I would like to get involved in the church. Maybe when my family is a little bit older and they are on their own, then I will be freed up to serve Christ." If Jesus is calling you now to be involved in the Church, you have no choice but to follow now. Or maybe Jesus is calling you to train in some avenue of Christian service (it may not be full-time Christian service) and maybe you are thus saying, "Well, Lord I want to work for a few years and make a little money and then I will come and train." No, when Jesus calls you, He wants your response now, and if it is not now, it will not be then. He bids you to go home. Those who put their hand to the plow and look back, are not fit for the kingdom.

Do you really understand what Jesus is saying? He is saying that it is all or nothing. There is no middle ground. What do you think about the demands of Jesus? They are incredibly high, aren't they? As mentioned above, they are impossible, yet real. But faithful is He who has called you, who also will do it; and that is the good news. Remember, after labouring for Christ, a reward awaits the people of God. The apostle Paul said that the sufferings of this present age are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us when Christ returns. Your sacrifice and self-surrender now will amount to precious little in light of what you will receive in return; and so it was said of Jesus, that for the joy that was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame and is set down at the right hand of God. This same Jesus now says to you, "Follow me."