In the New Testament Jesus’s followers most frequently were designated “disciples” (Gk. mathetes, μαθητης; disciple/disciples is used 269 times, according to Strong’s). At minimum a disciple is a learner, a pupil, or a follower of someone – in this case particularly, Jesus. A disciple accepts the teachings of Jesus, follows his commands, and transmits these to others. Contrary to the often loose usage of the word today, Jesus himself emphasized its restrictions. Discipleship of Jesus is primary, difficult, costly, and hazardous.
Luke 14:25-33 And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.
Speaking to his would-be disciples, Jesus uses four illustrations that emphasize the seriousness of following him. Three times he speaks of one who “cannot be my disciple.”
Give up the dear (verse 26)
This discipleship or follow-ship is not merely following him around to see what he will do or say next (cf. John 6:66). The disciple of Jesus renounces self and all that goes with it. Jesus asks for nothing less than all (Luke 5:28). That which is dearest to the disciple is an encumbrance to approaching and following Jesus Christ. Affection for Jesus Christ must reign supreme!
Pick up the heavy (verse 27)
This discipleship or follow-ship is not merely taking the light and easy tasks. The disciple of Jesus (cf. Matthew 16:24) must bear up the cross, the heavy instrument of crucifixion and death. The disciple of Christ is crucified with Christ (1 Corinthians 15:30-31, Galatians 2:20).
Count up the cost (verses 28-30)
This discipleship or follow-ship is not giving or doing that which costs little or nothing (cf. 2 Samuel 24:24). It is serious business not to be undertaken lightly, as the parable of the king going to war also teaches. Discipleship is building, and building requires skill and planning (Matthew 7:24-27, 1 Corinthians 3:9-11, Psalm 127:1). He who counts not the cost is like the seed sown in stony and thorny places, which do not end well. See Matthew 13:20-22.
Weigh up the risk (verses 31-33)
This discipleship or follow-ship is not seeking and finding that which has no risk (cf. Acts 15:26, 2 Corinthians 11:25-27). Christian discipleship is at war against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Those who are ready to raise the white flag are not ready to be Jesus’s disciples (1 Timothy 6:12).
The true disciple enters on a journey that is totally committed, arduous, expensive, and filled with the perils of war. In the midst of it all, he finds that those who commit all receive all (2 Timothy 1:12, Matthew 6:33, Mark 10:28-31), that Jesus’s yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:29-30), whoso loses his life shall find it (Matthew 10:38-39), that he has freely received (1 Corinthians 2:12), and that Jesus has already won the victory (Revelation 19:11, 21, 1 Corinthians 15:57)!