I want to address the teaching that is popular today among many evangelical teachers, a teaching that I believe is incorrect, that is, a teaching that says a person can be a born again Christian without being a disciple. The idea, separate from the clear teachings of Scripture, is that salvation is a free gift, a statement with which I agree, and in God’s economy, He calls us to believe that Jesus Christ is God, and then, once we have believed, we are invited into the process of discipleship. I have previously written on the mark of a genuine disciple and in this article, I lay out the reasons why I believe that a person cannot be a Christian without being a disciple.
In this article, I would like to examine Luke 14 to demonstrate that Jesus teaches that a person cannot be a believer without being a disciple. Take a moment to read Luke 14 and then let’s think through this teaching that Luke records. Jesus is the teacher and He gives a call to follow Him in this passage. He gives a call to discipleship. He gives a call to enter into the kingdom of God.
I. The Pharisees are neither believers nor disciples
The chapter begins with a teaching moment that Jesus uses to show the Pharisees, and others, that their priorities are messed up and that they need to become disciples of Jesus Christ. Jesus spent chapter 13 in Luke demonstrating to people their need for repentance. They needed to have their minds changed about who they really are and their desperate need for God’s salvation. The Pharisees fall into this category, as all people do.
1 It happened that when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely.
2 And there in front of Him was a man suffering from dropsy.
3 And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”
4 But they kept silent. And He took hold of him and healed him, and sent him away.
5 And He said to them, “Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?”
6 And they could make no reply to this.
Jesus had been invited to the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees. While there, He shows them that their priorities are all wrong because they care more about animals than they do people. The Pharisees were more than willing to work on the Sabbath if it meant saving the life of an animal that was useful to them but cared little about the suffering of the people around them. Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, something that the Pharisees condemned. Jesus is showing the Pharisees their need for repentance. They need to have their minds changed by God so that they can have proper priorities and care about people. The 10 Commandments, something that the Pharisees were very familiar with, teach that when we connect with God properly, we begin to treat the people around us correctly. The Greatest Commandment in the Bible is to love the Lord with all that you are and then love the people around you with God’s love. Obviously, the Pharisees were not connected to God and they revealed this by the way that they treated others. The Pharisees need to repent. This falls right in line with Jesus’ teachings. He went about teaching repentance for the kingdom of God is at hand and for those who repent, they are called to follow Him. Jesus was inviting people into the process of discipleship at the very beginning. Part of the process of discipleship was to repent, believe that He is God, and follow Him. It was a packaged deal. Jesus did not separate the process into distinct parts, as some seem to do today. Jesus further illustrates this idea in the parable of the guests in verses 7-14. The Pharisees treated the people who were useful to them nicely/correctly, but they looked down on people who were not useful to them. Again, this was done to help the Pharisees understand their need for repentance so that they could connect with God and love/serve all people with God’s love.
II. The Pharisees are invited to join the kingdom of God
After Jesus just finished demonstrating the need for repentance in order to connect with God, one of the hearers of the teaching reveals that all of them missed the point of what Jesus had just taught.
15 When one of those who were reclining at the table with Him heard this, he said to Him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
This man considered himself as being part of the kingdom of God. In other words, he felt that he, along with his friends (the Pharisees and lawyers) were connected to God. That is why he mentions what he does in verse 15. Jesus, being the wise teacher, does not want to leave them in their ignorance, so He goes on to tell another parable in verses 16-24.
16 But He said to him, “A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many;
17 and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’
18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’
19 “Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’
20 “Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’
21 “And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’
22 “And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’
23 “And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled.
24 ‘For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.’ “
The invitation that is given to the people is an invitation to enter the kingdom of God, or, in other words, to connect with God. Jesus has been giving this invitation during His public ministry. His message is repent, believe that I am God, and follow Me. The Pharisees’ response was the same response of the people invited to the wedding feast. One was too busy with life because he had just bought a piece of land and needed to tend to it. Another was too busy with life because he had just purchased some animals and needs to put them to work to make money. The final person was also too busy with life because he had just gotten married and needed to take care of his family. In other words, each person had a good excuse why he could not answer the invitation. Jesus’ invitation was to repentance, faith, and following, the entire process of discipleship. The majority of the people who heard this call declined. Their minds had not been changed about their need for the kingdom of God. They are not just refusing to be disciples. They are refusing the entire package.
III. The crowds are invited to join the kingdom of God
After the Pharisees refuse the kingdom of God by refusing to repent, to believe that Jesus is God, and to follow Him in discipleship, Jesus turns to the crowds and gives them the opportunity to answer the call. The crowds are following Jesus but they are not believers. They want to see a miracle or get another free meal. John tells us in his Gospel that at one point, all who are following Jesus walk away from Him except the 12 disciples. They are not believers who refuse to become disciples. They are nonbelievers who reject the words of life because they feel that Jesus’ teaching is too harsh. He teaching is that they need to repent, believe that He is God, and follow Him moment by moment as His disciples. This is just too radical for them. They do not reject part of the teaching, the call to discipleship; they reject all of the teaching. They are the first group mentioned in the parable of the wedding feast. They are not part of the kingdom of God. Jesus lays out very clearly what it means to enter the kingdom of God.
25 Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them,
26 “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.
27 “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
The call is, if you want to enter the kingdom of God:
- Jesus needs to be the number 1 priority in your life. He is your Master. I believe that this is where repentance takes place. You have to change your mind about who the leader of your life is. Your spouse is not your number 1 priority, even though you are to love your spouse with God’s love. Your children are not your number 1 priority, even though you are to love them with God’s love. Your parents are not your number 1 priority, even though you are to love them with God’s love. Your own life (your goals and dreams) is not your number 1 priority. Jesus illustrates this with two earthly teachings about the importance of counting the cost. Realize what entrance into the kingdom of God means, count the cost, and then make a choice. Jesus does not tell them that they can enter the kingdom yet choose to reject discipleship. It is a packaged deal.
- Give up your own life and choose to follow Jesus moment by moment, day by day until the day that you die.
Based on these two teachings, are you a member of the kingdom of God? Have you been deceived with a teaching that claims that you can accept salvation without becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ? Is this what Jesus presents in this passage? I believe that verse 34-35 are a warning to those who think that they can receive entrance into the kingdom of God and choose not to be disciples.
34 “Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned?
35 “It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
When you claim to be a part of the kingdom of God, like the man in verse 15 does, yet you have never answered the call to repent, believe that Jesus is God, and follow Him as a disciple, then you are like tasteless salt. You claim to be salt but you are good for nothing. That is a dire warning and Jesus ends the teaching with sobering words, “he who has ears to hear, let him hear (and understand).