We live in a world where everyone wants to be part of something. They want to be a member, fan, or follower of things that are popular, hip, or current. Sadly, there are some who view the Christian church the same way. Whether for social prominence, being part of something that offers great music and entertainment, or seeking what Dietrich Bonhoeffer once called “cheap grace”, people will associate themselves with a church that promises them a sense of self-fulfillment without requirement or commitment. In Luke 13 and 14, Jesus tells us something very different: not everyone who claims to be a believer will be recognized as such.
In Luke 13:23 someone asks Jesus, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”. His answer is instructive and rather chilling. “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” The message is unmistakable and very unpopular to anyone who thinks there are many paths to find God. Jesus makes it clear there’s only one, and it’s very narrow in scope and difficult to find. Even some who are looking will miss it. Elsewhere Jesus clearly states, “I am the door” (John 10:7). He claims to be the exclusive path to God; a very narrow door, indeed.
In Luke 14, Jesus makes it clear that casual discipleship is unacceptable and misguided. He makes what, on the surface, appears to be an outrageous statement: “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” (14:26). It appears to contradict everything else taught throughout scripture. But what Jesus is saying is this: Your first allegiance is to me. If anyone or anything is more important in your life than Me, you can’t be mine. My claim supersedes any other relationship. Being mine sanctifies and enriches other relationships, but my claim remains primary. If there should come a time where you must choose between us, only those who love Me first and foremost are mine.
He goes on to say that there must be a serious evaluation before we commit ourselves to following Christ. “Whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (14:27). Jesus then tells two parables, one about a man building a tower and the other about a king preparing to go to war. In each case, the principal character has to evaluate whether they have the money, men, or materials necessary to accomplish the task. He ends with this: “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (14:33).
We need to understand exactly what it means to become and live as a Christian. Christ’s requirements are stringent and exclusive. He will accept nothing less than our whole submission and surrender of ourselves. He won’t tolerate divided loyalty. If we consider anything more important than our love and devotion to Him, even control of our own lives, we cannot be His. Yes, it is discrimination, and very demanding. But Jesus has the authority to make such demands because of Who he is and what he has done. He is the sacrifice for our sins, the one who paid the price because we couldn’t. He is the living embodiment of God’s grace toward us. He is Lord.
Rather than discourage us from following Christ, these verses should encourage us to be very sober about what it means to be a Christian. If you’ve never counted the cost of being in Christ, you need to do so. You need to fully understand what belonging to Christ means. It’s demanding, it’s exclusive, and it promises the potential for persecution and possible loss of life. But the reward for faithfulness far outweighs the cost. It’s much more than worth it.