You Can’t Be A Christian Unless…

Three times in the scripture Jesus says, “You cannot be my disciple.”

“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” (Luke 14:26).

“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27).

“Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).

There is no doubt that these three statements are hard sayings, hard for many people to accept. Now, it’s reasonable for us to say that Jesus didn’t mean that we are literally to hate our parents or hate our family members or hate our lives as if we feel hatred for these as we do for something that we have intense feelings of hate about. No. Jesus is saying something more. He is drawing a contrast between how we feel about these things and how we feel about him. In fact, his three, “You cannot be my disciple” sayings have a root in an Old Testament passage that we often don’t think about. I’ll get to that in just a moment.

These first two sayings of Jesus paint what might be a glum picture. To be Jesus’ disciple we must surrender everything to him. We must surrender our family relationships to Jesus. And we must surrender to him whatever pleasures and things we have that keep us from taking up the cross, the cross of suffering. Why? Because Jesus is not looking for us to make a deal with him for our salvation. Jesus does not make deals. He is sovereign. He illustrates this with an example that at first seems out of place in this passage. After the first two sayings of, “You cannot be my disciple,” Jesus says this:

“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish” (Luke 14:28-30).

The tower builder is building in his own strength, using his own resources to get what he needs. But because he does not have enough, he fails to build his tower. So it is with our salvation. We do not have the resources we need to build a tower to God to attain salvation on our own. Any such effort will only be met with failure. And still, Jesus takes his illustrations further and says:

“What king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace” (Luke 14:31-32).

The phrase used here, “Asks for terms of peace,” is not to be misunderstood as if the weaker king cuts a compromise. No, what Jesus means here is that the weaker king surrenders before he goes to war so that he will not be wiped out. This is surrender, pure and simple. It is only after Jesus discusses the weaker king’s surrender that Jesus makes this bold statement:

“Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33).

Jesus isn’t making a deal. He is demanding your surrender. You must surrender your relationships to Jesus—relationships that can lead you away from Christ. You must surrender your troubles to Christ, which can also take us away from him should we be preoccupied with fixing our lives of our own accord. In summation, Jesus says, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” This brings back Old Testament imagery of Israelite kings who sued their opponents for peace and who were demanded to surrender their treasuries of gold, silver, wives, children, and precious items. In fact, this whole passage from Luke 14 is reminiscent of I Kings 20 when Samarian King Ben-hadad sent this demand to King Ahab:

“Thus says Ben-hadad: ‘Your silver and your gold are mine; your best wives and children also are mine.’ And the king of Israel answered, ‘As you say, my lord, O king, I am yours, and all that I have.’ The messengers came again and said, ‘Thus says Ben-hadad: ‘I sent to you, saying, “Deliver to me your silver and your gold, your wives and your children. Nevertheless I will send my servants to you tomorrow about this time, and they shall search your house and the houses of your servants and lay hands on whatever pleases you and take it away’” (I Kings 20:2-6). 

Did you notice the correlations? Jesus says you must hate your family members, reminiscent of Ben-hadad demanding that Ahab surrender his wives and children. Ben-hadad demands Ahab’s treasures, treasures that a king might use to build a tower or go to war. This is surrendering to the cross, giving up our own resources and our own efforts for salvation. And Ben-hadad finishes by saying he will take, “Whatever pleases you and take it away.” This correlates with Jesus saying he, “Who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”


What are you willing to surrender to Jesus’ lordship in our life? Carefully look at these heart possessions and ask yourself this question: What is left over? If there is anything left over, you must surrender that too. 

You can call yourself a Christian. And in the beginning of your relationship with the Lord you may not be aware of the real cost of following Christ. But as time goes by, the Holy Spirit works to bring more of your life under Jesus’ sovereign hand. If we want to truly be Christian, then every time we come to grips with the things we hold fast to, we must surrender these also.

Eventually, King Ahab defeated King Ben-hadad, but only because the Lord gave him help and instructions on how to do it. But for us, there is no defeating the Lord. He took our defeat for us on the cross and when we surrender to that cross, true victory awaits. And when we learn that, then we can truly be Jesus’ disciple.

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