34 When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 35 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34–35, NKJV)
Multitudes crowded around Jesus to be healed and to hear Him teach (Matt. 12:15; Mark 2:13; 3:7-9; 5:24). Undoubtedly many were caught up in the excitement of the moment. With compassion, Jesus taught, healed, and blessed the crowds (Mark 6:33-34; 8:1-9). Today’s passage teaches us what the Lord requires when we want to come to Him (Matt. 11:28). (1) Self-denial. We must tell ourselves “no” when we desire to go to Jesus. To follow Jesus, we must put away sin, not continue to live in it (Rom. 6:1-2; Gal. 2:20). We must love Jesus more than everyone else, including ourselves (Luke 14:26). (2) Take up our cross. The cross is a symbol of pain, shame, and suffering. To follow Jesus, we must accept the suffering that comes with being His disciple (John 15:18; 1 Pet. 4:12-13). (3) Follow Jesus. We do this by following His teachings. Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed” (John 8:31). Following Jesus is a lifelong commitment, not a momentary exuberance that fades as emotions subside. Jesus said, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). Let us count the cost and pay the price of coming to Jesus and being His disciples (Luke 14:28-32). “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33).
But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say (Luke 6:46, NKJV)?
Why do you say yet not obey? That is the penetrating question Jesus asked those who followed Him from place to place during His ministry. Disciples (followers) learn and live the training received from their Master (Luke 6:40; John 8:31). Jesus is not our ‘Lord’ unless we obey Him. Like them, the Master challenges us to investigate our motives for saying He is Lord while disobeying His word. The Scriptures help us examine ourselves to discover and remove obstacles preventing salvation and hindering discipleship. (1) A hard heart (John 12:37-40). An open, receptive, and responsive heart accepts the word of God and is fruitful by doing the Lord’s will (Luke 8:15; Acts 17:11-12). (2) Fear and favor of men (John 12:42-43). Fearing rejection from others, many still prefer men’s favor over God’s approval. (3) Love of the world (1 John 2:15). Genuine love for Jesus obeys His commands (John 14:15). When we misplace our love and disobey Jesus, we deceive ourselves to think we love Jesus. (4) Deceived by false teaching (Luke 8:15). A popular doctrine convinces many souls that Christians cannot fall from grace (be lost). Yet, the gospel warns disciples against falling away (Gal. 5:4; Heb. 3:12-13). This false doctrine opens the door to complacent, neglectful faith (Heb. 6:11-12; 10:39). Jesus said it is foolish to hear His words and do nothing (Luke 6:49; Matt. 7:26-27). But it is wise to hear and do His words (Luke 6:47-48; Matt. 7:24-25). Yes, we must do more than say, “Lord, Lord,” to be a disciple and enter the kingdom of heaven. We must hear and do the words of Christ (Matt. 7:21-23).
46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:46–47, NKJV).
The Scriptures show a distinction and separation between the collective activity of a local church (assembling “in the temple”) and the individual action of its members (“from house to house”). Specifically, this passage teaches the local church is not a mess hall designed to feed stomachs. It is the house of God, intended to feed souls the word of God (1 Tim. 3:15; Acts 20:7, 28). People have turned local churches into little more than community centers offering all sorts of social, recreational, political, and other secular-based activities that Scripture does not assign to churches. Such things are left to individual disciples to do when and how they please (Gal. 6:10). The Scriptures reveal the local church does not automatically have the Lord’s approval to do whatever individual Christians may do. Notably, in 1 Timothy 5:16, the church is not charged with an action expected of certain Christians. Since the Lord adds saved ones to the church, the individual and the church are not the same thing (Acts 2:47). Do not assume “whatever the individual Christian may do the local church may do.” Such an assertion does not withstand the scrutiny of Scripture.
20 Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. 21 Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 9:20–22, NKJV)
Saul’s conversion from persecutor to preacher was exemplary. His transformation of heart and life demonstrates the change of heart and life to which Christ calls every disciple (Eph. 4:20-24). 1) The immediacy of a disciple (v. 20). Saul immediately changed his life of sin against Jesus after being baptized to wash away his sins (Acts 22:16). He began preaching the gospel without delay. One does not become a Christian in phases. It is not a decision to be different, “one of these days.” Salvation in Christ brings an immediate change of faith and conduct (Rom. 6:4-6). 2) The identification of a disciple (v. 21). People recognized the change in Saul. Becoming a Christian means making drastic and dramatic changes in character and conduct. People will see the difference. 3) The increase of a disciple (v. 22). Saul grew in strength and vigorously preached and lived his faith that Jesus is the Christ. Christians must not shrink back into sin’s destruction, but “press forward toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).
101 I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Your word. 102 I have not departed from Your judgments, for You Yourself have taught me. (Psalm 119:101–102, NKJV)
Self-discipline is essential in keeping the word of God. Discipleship requires discipline, both to order one’s life after the Master’s teachings and to refrain from conduct that is against the Master’s instruction (Lk. 6:40; Jno. 13:13-17). Pride is ever ready to puff up our confidence in ourselves. It deceptively assures us we could never deny our Lord (Matt. 26:35; cf. Prov. 16:18). Therefore, since “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” we must continually “watch and pray, lest (we) enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). Utter commitment to God’s judgments (determinations) must governor our choices to refrain from evil and pursue good (1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22; 1 Pet. 3:8-11). When we argue with God’s word to justify our sinful choices and conduct, we have allowed personal judgments to control us instead of the decisions of God. (That’s pride at work.) Jeremiah said, “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jer. 10:23). God does not delight in those whose evil (sin) is called good (Mal. 2:17). Self-disciplined faith in God helps us guard against reversing God’s judgments and calling good evil, and evil good (Isa. 5:20-21; Prov. 17:15). God is our teacher, and His word shows us what is evil and what is good. Walking in God’s word is how we “watch” and avoid entering into sin.
“After these things He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he left all, rose up, and followed Him.” (Luke 5:27–28, NKJV)
Just like He saw Levi (Matthew), Jesus observes us going about our daily business. He sees and knows where we are putting our attention, our energy, and our goals each day. Like us, Levi was doing his job (which happened to be collecting taxes). Jesus fixed His gaze on this tax collector and said, “be following me” (Lenski, 307). Whatever job you are doing, Jesus calls you to be following Him. He must be your priority above all else. Levi undoubtedly experienced financial loss when he followed Jesus – which he did without hesitation. Do you have that resolve? Are you prepared to follow Jesus, whatever it costs you? Faith compels us to do what Jesus says. We cannot legitimately claim to have sufficient faith in Jesus without readily doing what He says. Jesus acknowledged this when He asked, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say” (Luke 6:46)? Resolve to be like Levi. Jesus is calling you. Be following Him.
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24, NKJV)
Divided loyalty dooms one to failure. Jesus laid down this simple, yet profound principle, which plays out in our lives every day. We establish priorities that reflect our values, our motives, our goals, and our aspirations. We will either serve the spiritual, or the material. We will either serve God, or riches. Attempts to serve both God and the world lead to spiritual demise. Double-mindedness prevents effective faith and wisdom (Jas. 1:5-8). Christians cannot successfully live by faith with one foot in the world, and one foot in the church. “Limping between the two sides” will never lead to heaven (1 Kings 18:21). Disciples of Jesus must wake up from spiritual apathy, clean up lives that have been defiled by sin, and grow up in Christ by abandoning every vestige of the flesh (Rom. 13:11-14). Love and serve the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30). Commit yourself to being God’s servant every day, with all your being.
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26, NKJV)
Many want to follow Jesus until they learn of the sacrifice He requires. Then, many turn away (John 6:60, 66). Does Jesus really expect those who follow Him to hold hatred in their hearts for their closest family members? No, Jesus is not demanding hatred as a requirement for coming to Him. Jesus is demanding that we love all these, including our own lives, less than we love Him. This is a repetition of what Jesus taught in Luke 12:49-53, where “father will be divided against son and son against father…” Christ must be your preeminent priority, including your family and yourself, otherwise, you cannot be His disciple. That is what Jesus said. This kind of devotion to Jesus demands the kind of sacrifice that few possess. Perhaps this is why Jesus said there are many who seek to enter the narrow gate that leads to life, but only few who find it (Lk. 13:23-24; Matt. 7:13-14). When you must choose between pleasing your family member or pleasing Jesus, who do you choose? Following Jesus comes at a price. Count the cost, and pay the price of discipleship.
A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. (Luke 6:40, NKJV)
By definition, the disciple is not superior to his teacher. A disciple is one who learns; a pupil, a student. A disciple is not content with obtaining knowledge; he trains in order to be like his teacher. Even so, faithful disciples of Jesus not only learn His teachings, they also put into practice what they learn. His disciples do not assert themselves above Jesus Christ; they willingly submit to His instruction. Disciples of Jesus (Christians, Acts 11:26), live what they learn. Those who claim to be His disciples, but do not obey Jesus, are not truly His disciples (John 8:31-32). Jesus asked rhetorically, “But why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Lk. 6:46) Disciples of Jesus let the word of Christ dwell in their richly (Col. 3:16). Then, they obey their Teacher in order to be like Him.