Perhaps the hardest words ever spoken by our Lord on earth are in Luke 14:27: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
I can recall late nights with my college roommate wrestling with this passage, searching desperately for a theological silver bullet that would kill any tension between the freeness and the costliness of God’s grace. Luke 14 is a weighty text on the back of the child of God that no man should dare lift.
I returned to this passage a few nights ago, wanting to trace through Christ’s logic. I reached this conclusion: what we perceive determines the way we pursue.
What follows the oft-quoted verse 27 is a set of slightly unusual analogies. Christ likens someone unwilling to suffer for Him to three things: (1) a builder who runs out of funding mid-project and leaves an unfinished tower, (2) a king who goes to war against an enemy who has twice as many troops and he, and (3) salt that has no salty flavor.
Perhaps, like me, you’ve asked, why did Jesus not simply say something more like, “You must pick up your cross and follow me because that’s what I’m doing for you; I require the same”? Certainly such a statement is true. But Christ’s goal in these words is not to produce a guilt-ridden sympathy for Him that will compel us, albeit unwillingly, to follow in His footsteps. Rather, He is making a tremendous claim about the weightiness of His Gospel.
The analogies in Luke 14 frame the issue of “followers” unwilling to suffer loss of all in two ways: (1) a lack of preparedness for discipleship (the construction and warfare analogies in vs. 27-33) and (2) a lack of the essence of discipleship, that is, willingness to pick up the cross and follow Christ (the saltiness analogy in vs. 34-35).
Unwillingness to suffer for following Christ is like leaving for a road trip knowingly on an empty gas tank; your actions convey two errors: (1) you aren’t prepared, because (2) you don’t know what a road trip really is! It is an error of contradiction; it is a non sequitur (lit. it does not follow). It is like baking a batch of raisin cookie and leaving out the raisins, then wondering why these “raisin cookies” taste weird. It is like marrying a wooden post and wondering why your love life is lacking.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul asks rhetorically, why do I die daily if the dead are not raised (v. 31)? The implication is that there is no reason to suffer as a Christian for the sake of the Gospel if the dead are not raised. (Question for application: Would you be willing to suffer for your concept of the Gospel if the dead will not be raised?) The fuller explanation for this is in verse 19, in which Paul says that the hope of the Gospel is in the resurrection of Christ, guaranteeing our own resurrection. It is in such a hope that we can know our work for the Lord is not in vain (v. 58).
One who improperly views the essence of following the Gospel as bringing comfort for this life only or primarily will be ill equipped to pursue it for what it truly is (a hope beyond this brief lifetime—Christ’s resurrection guaranteeing our own resurrection).
The Bottom Line
If you are having difficulty enduring the sufferings of discipleship, the problem is that you have been viewing discipleship as a means of blessing for this life.
The nature of the Gospel requires this kind of sacrifice. Jesus was not preaching works-righteousness, but explaining the simple definition of a life that has received God’s salvific grace: it suffers. By God’s grace, it even suffers willingly and joyfully.
In the words of one user (named Shelton Brown) on The Gospel Coalition website, “Living has no meaning until death has lost its power.” Brown then described a certain public figure this way: “Her perspective is solely based on the fear of losing everything rather than already possessing everything.”
The context of Brown’s comments is unnecessary, because the attitude he described has always a certain symptom of an unbelieving heart. Earlier in Luke 14, the parable of the wedding feast describes people excusing themselves from the great, heavenly banquet in favor of such trivial things as as oxen, fields, and a few hours of family time. These people did not effectively perceive the value of the feast; their decision to pass up the invitation was, in their minds, most logical, but in actuality they forsook the greater treasure. Likewise, we Christian will have difficulty paying the price of obedience Christ when we forget how great a prize He is.
If you’re at the end, wondering why you should continue suffering as you are as a Christian, hear this exhortation: do not lose your saltiness. Your saltiness—the willingness to suffer—is the inherent “flavor” of a disciple, who both knows the value of eternal joy with Christ and lives in full, active trust in that future hope.
Suffering saint, do not just white-knuckle your way through your sufferings in hope that you will somehow earn your worth; look to the promise of eternal joy, life, and peace with God through Jesus Christ as your worth! Don’t merely plow ahead; glance upward. Know that these present afflictions, however heavy they seem, are light and momentary compared to the eternal weight of glory awaiting us when we finally see Christ face-to-face (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Endure until that glorious Day. It is only this kind of belief that is worth its salt.
Image credit: Flickr/Ell Brown, U.S. Army, SoraZG; edited