What did Jesus mean when He said that unless we renounce all things, we can’t be His disciples?

The Gospels record the instances when Jesus approached someone and invited him to come. One by one the people left their livelihood to travel with Him. To fishermen Simon, Peter, and Andrew He said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:18-20). The disciples literally left all — jobs, homes and families — to follow Jesus. Is that the call Jesus is making to us? For He said, “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33).

Question: Are we to be followers who leave our jobs, homes, and relationships for Him, literally walking or driving away from all that is familiar to us? Answer: It means that we are to renounce those aspects of ourselves that would prevent us from learning of and obeying Him.

In the same talk, Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow Him (Luke 14:27). So to follow Him, we crucify the flesh’s attachments to those things, people, and ideas that hinder our taking on Jesus’ values and being obedient to Him. “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). We won’t get the blessings Jesus had if we work against them.

I remember a woman at work who was adamant about doing things her own way in the shipping department. While she persevered in her way, she could not be proficient in how the company operated, nor could she be a faithful representative of the company. So it is with those who will not be disciples.

The aim of God is to undo the work of sin in our lives, rooting out the selfishness prevalent there, so that we may obey Him like Jesus did. Where the flesh is at work, Jesus is not. “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Colossians 3:8-10). Jesus did not behave in these ways while God used Him, so neither can we.

It’s no use jettisoning things like hobbies, wealth, and possessions if our hearts will still hunger after them. But when we saturate ourselves with the things of God and the practice of obedience to His Word, then the other things will lose their charm and we’ll rely on them less. So the cross is one of the most important teachings a Christian needs to learn if she is to grow.

The greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:36-37). Whatever prevents these capacities from attaining their fullest apprehension of glorifying God needs to go. I can’t love God with all my heart if I love something else more. I can’t honor Him with all of my mind if I’m thinking of things I can’t praise Him for.

A disciple is, literally, a learner. Ideally, a disciple learns by imitating Christ, not merely by studying books about Him. The Lord leads us to a crossroads where we must make a choice for Him or for something else. This is done again and again with value after value. Our allegiance will be tested repeatedly, and where we find a hesitation or rejection of His way in ourselves, we have found an enemy in the land of the soul that needs to be crucified. We offer it up to God for forgiveness so the blood will cleanse it of its impurity. We run to the throne of grace to obtain help.

Many people are afraid that if they really surrender then God will send them where they do not want to go. But I say, rather than give up completely and regretfully live half a life, to give God what you do have, and give Him permission to work in you in a way that frees you up to give Him the rest.

When it comes to abundant life, being a disciple of Jesus is not an negotiable. God desires to show Himself strong on behalf of those who are devoted to Him (2 Chronicles 16:9). God is looking for people to populate places of responsibility in His coming kingdom (Matthew 19:27-29). He will not do it with those who deliberately love this world and its comforts more than Him.

Refusing the call of discipleship does not automatically mean we will lose our salvation. Jesus tells us to count the cost, whether we will be able to follow through with it (Luke 14:28-33). Nevertheless, I am convinced that those who choose to be disciples (knowingly or unknowingly) will bear the greatest fruit. They will also find the promises coming true in their lives in a greater measure, obtain a deeper relationship with the Savior, and experience a greater freedom from sin and weakness while increasing in the strength of God.

A disciple is someone who wants to learn of Jesus and imitate His life. If you are tired of the constant stresses of life as you labor in your own strength, and never have rest and peace in your mind from all the cares in your life, Jesus offers relief: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

The yoke of discipleship is hard, but rewarding. A yoke is an implement joining two beasts of burden together so the larger and stronger animal continues plodding along the field while the younger and less experienced beast (that’s you and me) struggles against the confines of the yoke until it finally accepts it, ceases its struggles, and is trained in the ways of being useful to the farmer.

But Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden is light. He will treat us with dignity as human beings, not beasts of burden. He will point us where we need to go, but will not push us along. He will bring us to the crossroads that we may learn, but won’t force us to choose. In the end, after we have grown in the ways of the Master, we can truly say with the Psalmist, “Your gentleness has made me great” (Psalm 18:35). God did the work; we merely followed along.

About Steve Husting

Steve Husting lives in Southern California with his wife and son. He enjoys encouraging others through writing, and likes reading, digital photography, the outdoors, calligraphy, and iced coffee. He has written several books and ebooks, and hundreds of Christian devotionals. Steve is also having a great time illustrating God's Word with calligraphy.
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