In examining the New Testament standard for discipleship, it would appear that Jesus had many believers and followers, but few disciples. Luke 14:25-33 records three principles of discipleship given by Jesus.
First, there can be no rival in the life of the disciple: “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sister—yes, even his own life—he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26). Such a statement sounds strange especially to those of us who come from close families. But what Jesus is stating is that our love for Him must be supreme and all other loves secondary. We have a divine paradox here, for when we love Christ to this degree, we love father, mother, wife and children even more.
We must recognize that Jesus holds one of three places in the life of every believer. He is either present, or prominent, or preeminent. He is present the moment you are born again. He becomes prominent when you become deeply involved in His service. Until Jesus becomes preeminent and reigns supreme, we may be His followers, but we cannot be His disciples.
The second principle of discipleship is that there can be no refusal to bear the cross: “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:27). Note that it is a cross of which Jesus is speaking and not a burden. Sometimes people say, “If only you knew the cross I have to bear,” and begin to talk of problems of finance or health or family. But these are not crosses; they are burdens. A burden is something we bear because we must. A cross, however, is voluntary. Until we are prepared to take up the cross, and thus experience a voluntary death to the old life and the life of the world, we may be believers, but we cannot be His disciples.
The third principle of discipleship is that by God’s grace there must be no return: “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33). Everything must be surrendered and nothing kept back. This principle became the motivating force in the life of the Apostle Paul: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).
Can we say that in our life there is no rival in our love for Christ, no refusal to bear the cross, and by God’s grace there will be no return?
Bramwell H. Tillsley, The Salvationist Pulpit