Here is one cluster of disciple qualifications, per Jesus himself:
“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.
And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.
It’s clear that we have to fulfill ALL of the above, to be his disciple. Trying to fulfill doesn’t count, either.
It’s the same as trying to fulfill the law. If you fail at one point, you are guilty of breaking the whole law. One big misapplication where we do ourselves a disservice is when we try to soften up Jesus’s very clear if-then propositions to mere suggestions with a certain fuzz factor, and then pick and choose which ones we are comfortable with at the moment.
Also – bearing the cross isn’t a metaphor of speech, if you examine the context. It’s talking about the only death penalty method that was authorized as legal in Judea at that time. So it’s not talking about a difficult life, or oppression, or a nagging wife, or a straying husband, or a disobedient child (I heard all those being put in the “bearing the cross” category multiple times) but literally taking your own cross (think “electric chair” for a more modern equivalent) and following Jesus. Following him where? Where people carrying their cross went back then – to a place of your own death.
Now let me ask this. Who HAS fulfilled all of the above? Not trying to fulfill, not doing their best to fulfill, not growing into fulfilling, but HAS fulfilled? Name one person. If you take these texts literally, there’s only 1 person who has ever qualified under those terms. That would be Jesus himself (not “Jesus being his own disciple” that is, but “Jesus fitting the discipleship qualification”, to be sure).
Yeah, so that’s Jesus, but what about “me” (assuming “me” has believed in Christ and is included in him)? For that, you have to fast-forward to when the New Covenant was established. That would roughly be the time between the 2nd-to-last chapter of each one of the 4 Gospels, and Acts 2. Sometime after that, Paul receives a private revelation from Jesus himself as to what happens, transformatively, to those who place their trust in Jesus (i.e., “new creation realities”):
19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.
Wow. I think I have died on the cross with Christ (i.e., on the same cross as he did). As far as that cross is concerned, he even carried it for me!
3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with (rendered inoperative, literally)
You see what’s just transpired?
So tick off Luke 14:27 as accomplished, for “me”. Do the same to the rest of the qualifications. Jesus most definitely has fulfilled all of the above. I have been baptized (immersed) into Christ, so whatever he did, that’s credited to me. That’s the “identification with Christ” part of the new creation experience. If you read Paul’s letters, it doesn’t describe “me” as a stand-alone unit, instead it described “me in Christ” – i.e., included into what Christ has done, and into who he is now.
It’s not what you do that gets you in, it’s who you are. It’s all about sonship and adoption by God through Christ.
Now, once you are in – that’s when you grow into the stature of Christ. It is your new nature now.
40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.
So here’s the growth part. And yes, there’s absolutely a great value of personal commitment and responsibility, and of persevering to see results, and of pushing the limits and running the race and finishing strong! Paul said plenty on those issues as well. The key difference is that we do all that because we ARE in Christ, and our new identity being the very foundation for growth, as opposed to achieving a certain level to BECOME included in Christ. If you examine Paul’s writings, that’s the general pattern that he’s basing his entire theology on, and he never stipulates any qualifications other than a personal belief in Christ:
Who you are – Romans ch. 4-8 – faith into promise, death in Christ (incl. death to sin), alive to God, walking in the Spirit, sonship, being dead to law, freedom from sin, God’s love for you – i.e., what happened to you in Christ.
What you do – Romans ch. 12-15 – based on your new identity, how your daily walk should look like. I.e., how to work out what’s already on the inside.
ch. 1-3 – who you are; ch. 4-6 – what you do
ch. 1-2 – who you are; ch. 3-4 – what you do
And so on.
There are 3 things to this way of looking at scriptures:
- You treat Jesus’s substitutionary work as a game-changer. In other words, you factor in his work on the cross into your theological equations.
- You don’t soften up Jesus words one iota, don’t “spiritualize” them, or treat them metaphorically. In fact, in treating his words literally, you appreciate the seriousness and severity of everything he said, be it good or bad.
- You appreciate more and more just how good the good news is! With this mindset, factoring in no. 2 from this list makes the good news not worse, but better!