Be sure of one thing: following Jesus is hard. It requires you to lay down everything. You can make claim to nothing for yourself when following Jesus.
Jesus talked about a lot of things in code. He wasn’t always explicit about what he was saying. We see this most clearly in Matthew 13:13 when he says, “This is why I speak to them in parables: ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.’ He followed up several parables by saying, ‘Let those with ears to hear let him hear.’” There was even a point when the disciples pleaded with Jesus to speak plainly because they were struggling to understand his teaching (Lk 8:9).
One thing that Jesus was very clear about, however, is that following him requires you to give up everything. In Luke 14 Jesus tells a parable about a great banquet. A rich man invites all his friends to come to the feast but they all have excuses as to why they cannot attend. “The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come’” (Lk 14:18–20). The result is that the master throwing the great banquet invites those who are willing to come to the banquet, even undesirables. Those who have excuses not to obey are not fit for the Kingdom. It is only those who are willing to give up everything that are welcome at the great banquet of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Immediately following the parable Jesus launches into talking about the cost of discipleship. He says, “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. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:26–27).
Jesus is saying that following him means making everything second to his lordship. Another way to put it is that there is no such thing as partially following Jesus. Anything less than radical commitment to Jesus is less than Christian. There can be no excuse but to follow Jesus completely.
We’re not used to this. Normally things in life that demand a commitment don’t demand all of us. You don’t have to give up your life for the gym, you can go when you want and the gym will take you that way. The same goes for work. Your boss doesn’t expect you to give up your life for the sake of your job. These have limitations. Walking with Christ there are no limitations. He demands it all.
There’s a reason for this.
Giving your life to Jesus is a life or death situation. The cost of discipleship is serious because sin is serious. Following Jesus requires everything precisely because sin pervades us. Christianity is not about turning over a new leaf, it’s about death, burial and resurrection. You have to change everything because sin has effected everything. The cancer of sin has spread to the entire body so the entire body needs done away with; not just some of it, but all of it. Anything we withhold from Jesus will mean allowing the quickly growing infection to spread to the rest of the body. We have to arrive at the point where Paul was before his conversation when he said, “I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:23–24) It is then that we will not only be willing to give up everything for Jesus, but we will be running to do so.
Suggesting that you don’t have to give Jesus everything is to imply that sin is really not that bad. This is a lie.
Lastly, in Luke 14 Jesus tells his listeners that they have to understand the cost of discipleship before following him. Have you counted the cost? Is it worth it to you? I will say that while the cost of following Jesus is great, it is much less than the cost of not following him. This is why on the one hand, yes, following Jesus costs us everything, but on the other hand Jesus can say, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28–30).