II. What it means to those who have obeyed the gospel:
The Lord has commanded his followers to “proclaim the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15b), the aim of which is to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19a).1 But what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus? Before Luke included accounts of the Great Commission in his two-volume work (Luke 24:46-49; Acts 1:8), he recorded these words spoken by Jesus: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters; yes, and also his own life, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple …. every one of you who does not give up all that he possesses, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-33, emp. added KLM).
These statements admittedly sound rather extreme, but let’s put them in perspective. The term translated “hate” (v. 26) is the Greek miséō, which essentially means to “esteem less” but is magnified to stress the absolute importance of one’s priorities.2 Jesus must take precedence over the closest of human relationships. Otherwise, my family cannot save me and I would be unable to direct them to God. But if Jesus is at the top of my priority list, not only will I be saved and in a position to help my family go to heaven, I will be a much better son, spouse, parent, and sibling.
The idea of a “cross” (v. 27) had absolutely no religious connotation at this time. Although Jesus had informed his disciples that he would be “killed” (Matt. 16:21), he had not yet specified the manner of his death,3 so what was their frame of reference? Long before the words in question were spoken, Palestinian Jews were all too familiar with the cross as an instrument of public execution.4 The Romans in particular had perfected this form of capital punishment as a means of humiliation and torture and a deterrent to insurrection. The condemned was forced to carry the implement upon which he would die to the place of execution, and seeing that an entire Roman cross weighed over 135 kg (300 lb.), it was the crossbeam, weighing approximately 35-60 kg (75-125 lb.), that was typically carried. Jesus seems to be implying that discipleship is anything but easy, and a lifelong commitment must be made as one dies to self.5
The “counting the cost” illustrations that follow (vv. 28-32) indicate that this lofty decision is to be made before even starting the journey. We do a grave disservice to prospective converts when we fail to inform them of what the Lord expects after baptism and the gravity of the commitment they are being called to make.
The third exhortation, about giving up all that one possesses, is again a matter of priorities. The Lord does not expect his followers to physically impoverish themselves. Otherwise, how could we help the needy (Rom. 15:26), support ministers of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:14), give to the Lord’s work (1 Cor. 16:1-2), and provide for our families (1 Tim. 5:8)? The fundamental requisite, then, is an inner detachment from earthly ties. Absolute loyalty to Jesus as Lord ought to surpass one’s connection to all worldly possessions.6
The Lord has instructed that we are to “make disciples of all nations” by the twofold process of (a) “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and (b) “teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19). One cannot be a disciple of Jesus without baptism, and one cannot be a disciple of Jesus without having been sufficiently taught. So what is expected after baptism? Does obedience to the gospel end?
Our initial response is to “hear” (listen to, understand, heed) the gospel message, but we must continue hearing, receptively and responsively (Rom. 10:17; Eph. 4:21, 29; Phil. 4:9; Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29). We are to believe the gospel message, and keep on believing while increasing in faith (Rom. 3:22; 4:11, 24; 10:4; 2 Pet. 1:5-7). We are to repent of sinful attitudes and behaviors, but we can’t stop repenting (Acts 8:22; Rom. 6:1-18; 2 Cor. 7:9-10). We must confess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and keep on confessing (Rom. 10:9-10; 2 Cor. 9:13; Heb. 4:14; 10:23). Baptism for the forgiveness of past sins (Acts 2:38; 8:36-39; 22:16) is the one act of obedience that doesn’t continue, because it is the inaugural step that places us in Christ and his emblematic body, the church, the community of the saved (Acts 2:41-47; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:26-27; 1 Pet. 3:20-21). We are then raised to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2:11-13; 3:1-3) by remaining faithful (Acts 2:42; 14:22) as active members of Christ’s body (Rom. 12:3-13; 1 Cor. 12:12-27), even unto death (Rev. 2:10).
What does it mean to obey the gospel? To those who have not yet obeyed, it means to welcome God’s word with open, receptive, truth-seeking hearts and eagerly respond to its directives with obedient faith. To those who have already obeyed the gospel, it means to be faithful to the lifelong commitment made to the Lord and keep on obeying until death.
--Kevin L. Moore
1 Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
2 In Romans 9:13 Paul quotes Malachi 1:2-3, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” Here the concepts of “love” and “hate” are not emotional expressions (as per modern westernized concepts) but are demonstrated actions (cf. Dan. 9:4; John 14:15; Rom. 5:8; etc.). In the 5th-century BC context of Malachi, “Jacob” represents the descendants of Jacob/Israel (1:1, 5) and “Esau” stands for Esau’s descendants, the people of Edom (1:4). The Israelites were being reminded of their special role in God’s scheme (“Jacob I have loved”), despite the persistent abuse of their privileged status, while the defiant Edomites were destined for destruction (“Esau I have hated”).
3 It was not until the following year that Jesus would reveal his impending death by way of crucifixion (Matt. 20:19; 26:2).
4 As far back as the second century BC, Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes crucified Jews who resisted his oppressive decrees (see Josephus Ant. 12.5.4).
5 See “Cross Bearing: the Cost of Discipleship,” <Link>.
6 See “Leaving All to Follow Jesus,” <Link>.
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