When teaching on salvation Jesus has a great deal to say about hell, the kingdom of God, his atonement, union with himself, conversion, faith, repentance, sanctification and discipleship. Surprisingly, he has little to say about justification. In the context of Protestant–Roman Catholic ecumenism, Harold O.J. Brown recently made an interesting observation about the teaching of Christ. Referring to liberal Protestants and Catholics he states:
It is true that they have reduced the old hostility between the confessions, but unfortunately, in order to hold them, as both of these groups…do, one has to ignore some of the most explicit teachings of Jesus Himself (Harold O.J. Brown, Unhelpful Antagonism and Unhealthy Courtesy. Found in Roman Catholicism: Evangelical Protestants Analyze What Divides and What Unites Us (Chicago: Moody, 1994), John Armstrong, Ed., p. 169).
These comments apply to our present study. In order to hold our personal or denominational views on salvation, do we ignore or reinterpret some of the teachings of Jesus? In any study of Jesus’ teaching on salvation what is striking is his constant focus upon himself as the source of salvation. ‘Come to me, follow me, believe in me, drink of me’ (Mt. 11:28–30; Mk. 8:34–38; Jn. 6:35; Jn. 7:38) are his constant cries. He says, ‘I am the way the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me’ (Jn. 14:6). According to Jesus, it is through a personal relationship with him that one comes into the experience of salvation. He preaches the absolute necessity for the new birth (Jn. 3:3–6), for conversion (Mt. 18:3) and for sanctification (Mt. 7:21–24). He tells men that it is only those who do the will of God who will enter the kingdom of heaven, that those who truly belong to him will manifest the reality of that relationship by bearing the fruit of obedience in their lives (Jn. 15:1–8; 8:31). He says that none can come to him except the Father first draw them (Jn. 6:44) and yet he calls men to repentance and faith (Mk. 1:15; Jn. 3:16; Lk. 13:3; Jn. 4:15–18). He teaches that justification is not by works but based solely on the mercy of God (Lk. 18:9–14). He emphasizes faith in himself and his atoning work as the sole basis for salvation and complete deliverance from judgment and condemnation (Jn. 3:14–16; 6:35, 47–58, 5:24, 10:27–29), but he also equally emphasizes his authority as Lord, as clearly seen in his call to discipleship. His teaching on discipleship is his definitive teaching on the kingdom of God and what it means to enter into a relationship with himself. There is perhaps no greater confusion within evangelicalism in our day, however, than that which relates to this subject. For this reason we need to look at it in some detail.
Christ’s Call to Discipleship
In Luke 14, Jesus gives the following conditions of discipleship:
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 (Lk. 14:26).
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple(Lk. 14:27).
So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions (Lk. 14:33).
It is clear that Jesus is not talking here about a process of discipleship, but a commitment of discipleship. While a biblical commitment to Christ results in a process of growth, in this particular passage Christ is talking about an initial commitment to himself. Jesus has enunciated unalterable and absolute requirements which he says must be met or one cannot become his disciple. Let us examine his words to see what exactly the Lord means by his teaching.
1.) Luke 14:26: ‘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.’ To properly interpret the meaning of the Lord’s words, especially his use of the word hate, we need to refer to Matthew 10:37: ‘He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.’
What Jesus is dealing with here is love and devotion. Jesus demands first place in the heart of an individual. He must be preeminent in the life. All other relationships are to take a secondary place in relationship to himself. William Hendriksen makes the following comments on this verse:
He tells the people that devotion to Himself must be so wholehearted that even attachment to parents and to other members of one’s family must not be allowed to stand in the way. Clearly the meaning of the word hate in the Lucan passage is to love less. In all things Christ must always have the preeminence (Col 1:18). That the word hate in Luke 14:26 cannot have the meaning which we generally attach to it is clear also from the fact that Jesus tells us to love even our enemies (Matt 5:44). What the Savior demands in Luke 14:26 and other passages is complete devotion, the type of loyalty that is so true and unswerving that every other attachment, even to one’s own life must be subjected to it. If a person is unwilling to tender that unconditional devotion, then says Jesus, ‘he cannot be My disciple’ (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), pp. 734-735).
2.) Luke 14:27: ‘Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.’ The issue in this verse is that of self denial. We will be looking at this concept in more detail but these words by G. Campbell Morgan adequately sum up what the Lord Jesus means:
What is self denial?. . .To deny self is to say no to every wish that comes out of the personal life. To deny self is radical. It goes down to the roots of things. A man may practice self denial all his life and never deny himself. A man may practice self denial in this and that respect, and all the while his self–centeredness is strengthened. Jesus did not say exercise self denial in externalities. He said deny self, have done with choosing, wishing, planning, arranging for self. Choose no more, will no more, except to will that God shall will…I deny self when I hand over the keys of the citadel to the king and say, Enter and reign in every chamber of the being, in all possibilities of the soul (G. Campbell Morgan, The Westminster Pulpit, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1954) Volume I, pp. 43-44).
So, Jesus must not only be first in one’s affections, but his will must come first in one’s life. An individual’s will must be submitted to the will of Jesus Christ.
3.) Luke 14:33: ‘So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.’ William Hendriksen explains the meaning of this verse in these words, ‘Wholehearted devotion, all–out loyalty, complete self denial, so that one places himself, his time, his earthly possessions, his talents etc., at the disposal of Christ, is what Jesus asks’(William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), p. 737).
As a matter of summation, then, what Jesus is calling for in these verses is a forsaking of everything and the unconditional surrender of self to him as Lord if we are to become his disciple. These are the conditions he clearly sets forth for entering into a relationship with himself. It is a commitment that is necessary for entering the kingdom of God. Apart from this commitment to become his disciple we cannot be saved.
In order to show this is an accurate interpretation of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 14 it is essential that we look carefully at a number of additional passages that deal with Jesus’ teaching on discipleship. These are Mark 8:34-37, John 12:24-26, Matthew 11:28-30 and Mark 10:17-22. These passages reveal three general word pictures used by Jesus which are descriptive of his teaching on salvation and discipleship: the cross, the yoke and the grain of wheat. They each illustrate the attitude towards self we must adopt if we are to be rightly related to him. They teach us that a Christian is one who has died to his life, in this world, and given himself wholly to Christ, to love him supremely and serve him exclusively. We cannot follow Christ and possess eternal life unless these word pictures are descriptive of our lives.
Mark 8:34-37: The Cross
If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mk. 8:34–37. Cf. Lk. 9:23–27).
This is another foundational passage related to discipleship. In fact, Mark 8:34 is in principle the same verse as Luke 14:27. But in Mark 8 Jesus amplifies the verse, so we will understand exactly what he means. Whatever it means in Mark 8:34 is what it means in Luke 14:27.
These words of Jesus to his disciples and the multitudes follow the incident of Peter’s attempt to dissuade the Lord from the path of the cross. Peter appeals to him to spare himself. Peter’s admonition springs from loving concern, but it is met with a stern, severe rebuke from Jesus. His reply to Peter is both revealing and instructive for it reveals to us the master principle that governed the life of Christ. And it is this initial response to Peter which forms the backdrop to his additional comments to all the disciples and the multitudes. Jesus utterly rejects Peter’s suggestion, actually ascribing it to Satan, and then says to Peter: ‘You are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s (Mk. 8:33).’ Here Jesus sets forth a contrast between two life principles: God’s interests and man’s interests. And he reveals that the two are in conflict with one another. But he leaves us in no doubt as to which principle dominated his life. Jesus was controlled by one master passion: To know and do the will of God no matter what the cost to himself. Jesus’ life was not governed by his own interests, but those of his Father’s. As he himself stated over and over again: ‘For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me’ (Jn. 6:38). Self interest is the very antithesis of the life of Christ. His one holy passion was the will of God, for the glory of God, even if it meant persecution, suffering and death on a cross!
There is the stark contrast here between man’s interests and God’s interests. It forms the context in which Jesus teaches about the cross and what it means to follow him. Being his follower means adopting the same attitude towards my life that he had towards his. After calling the multitudes and the disciples to himself Jesus says that if any man would come after him he must do three things: deny himself, take up his cross, and follow him. What does this mean?
Deny self: This means a turning from self–will, renouncing living for self. John Stott says: ‘Self denied…is not to deny things to myself, but to deny myself to myself. It is to say no to self and yes to Christ; to repudiate self and acknowledge Christ’ (John Stott, Basic Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), p. 111).
Take up the cross: A cross is an instrument of death and is used in a metaphorical sense by Jesus. When the term is used in conjunction with the phrase ‘deny self’, it carries the idea of dying to my right to myself and of living to promote my own interests. John Stott comments: ‘To take up a cross is to put oneself into the position of a condemned man on his way to execution. In other words, the attitude to self is that of crucifixion. Everyday the Christian is to die. Everyday he renounces the sovereignty to his own will. Everyday he renews his unconditional surrender to Jesus Christ.’ (John Stott, Basic Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), pp. 111-112).
Follow me: The tense of this verb indicates that it means to continually follow. Thayer’s Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament states that the Greek word follow means ‘to join one as a disciple, to become or be his disciple.’ To follow Jesus therefore means a death to self to become his disciple. I cease to live for my sake in order that I might live for his sake.
Why the imperative call to deny self, take up a cross and follow Jesus? ‘For’, he says, ‘whosoever will save his life shall lose it, but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s the same shall save it’ (Mk. 8:35). The key to understanding the meaning of this verse is the word lose. The Greek ‘lose’ is precisely the same Greek word that is translated perish in other parts of the New Testament. It means to die eternally:
The Lord is not…wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16).
To insure that we fully understand the issues involved Christ further explains and emphasizes his point in verses 36-37:
For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
Jesus is saying that if a man does not deny self, take up a cross and commit to be his follower or disciple then that man will perish—he will forfeit his soul. Jesus makes this same point in John 10:27-28 where he once again uses the word ‘follow’ as a characteristic of his sheep:
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.
Who are the true sheep of the Lord Jesus? Who are the ones who hear his voice, to whom he gives eternal life and who will therefore never perish? It is those who follow him; those who commit themselves to him to become his disciples. The issue is one of eternity and salvation. Both William Hendriksen and R.C.H. Lenski make this point in their comments on Mark 8:34:
This is not self denial in the current sense of the word but true conversion, the very first essential of the Christian life (R.C.H. Lenski, Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1961), p. 348).
Together the three (deny self, take up a cross, and follow me) indicate true conversion followed by a life long sanctification William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1975), p. 330).
Based upon the meaning and contextual interpretation of the words Jesus used one can only conclude that Mark 8:34 is stating a requirement for salvation. This scripture clearly says that one cannot become a Christian without a commitment to Christ as a disciple. In Luke 14:27, the parallel passage to Mark 8:34, Jesus also relates discipleship to salvation. In Mark 8 Jesus says one must become his disciple or he will perish. In Luke 14 he amplifies for us the conditions which must be fulfilled if one would become his disciple. It is obvious from our study of the above passage that when Jesus uses the term ‘disciple’, he uses it as a synonym for the term Christian. To become a disciple, therefore, is to become a Christian. To become a Christian is to become a disciple. Thus, the whole passage in Luke 14 is the setting forth of his conditions for entering the kingdom of God. William Hendriksen’s comments on the importance of obeying Christ’s demands in Mark 8:34 and Luke 9:23 to deny self and take up a cross are worth noting:
In the next three verses…the obligation to be converted, etc., and the reward that results are brought into sharp contrast with the loss experienced by those who refuse to deny themselves, to take up their cross, and to follow Jesus…Accordingly, with an implied ‘Let him not refuse,’ there follows…For whoever would save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, he shall save it. Meaning: the individual who would—or ‘should wish to’—save his life shall lose it. Exactly what is it that he wishes to save? Answer: his life, that is, himself…This man clings to that sinful life of his, holding on to it tenaciously…On the other hand, whoever loses his life ‘for my sake,’ he shall save it. One loses his life in the present sense by devoting oneself completely to Christ, to the service of those in need, to the gospel (Cf. Mark 8:35). Note that Christ lays claim to absolute devotion. This proves that he regards himself as Lord of all, and that the evangelist was fully aware of this! The person who offers this devotion saves his life, that is, his soul, or as we can also say, himself…It is only by losing oneself—looking away from self in order to serve the Master and his ‘little ones’ (Cf. Matt. 25:40)—that one can ever be saved…For the sinner salvation is impossible apart from obedience to this rule (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978), pp. 498-500).
In light of these passages it is clear that Jesus never taught that an individual could become a Christian and then at a later time make a secondary wholehearted commitment to him as a disciple. Jesus does not separate being a Christian from being a disciple. They are interchangeable terms. According to Jesus, if one is not a disciple he is not a Christian. When he calls men to himself to be saved he calls them to a discipleship commitment—to the taking up of a cross to crucify self to become a follower. And scripture teaches that all who truly belong to Christ have done that: ‘Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires’ (Gal. 5:24). There are a number of other examples which amplify and highlight this emphasis in the teaching and evangelism of Jesus.
Matthew 11:28-30: The Yoke
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy–laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.
In Mark 8 and Luke 14 Jesus uses the image of the cross to communicate the conditions of discipleship. Here he refers to a yoke. What does Jesus mean by his yoke? In Jewish culture the yoke was used to harness animals, to control them and bring them into submission to one’s will, so that they could be used in labor. In this passage (Mt. 11), Jesus issues an invitation to men to come to him to find rest for their souls. He sets forth an invitation, a condition and a promise. The invitation is ‘come to me’. The promise is rest and the condition is ‘take my yoke upon you.’ Man is restless and burdened. Why? Because he is ruled by self and not by God. What Jesus is saying is that he can give us rest but it requires a certain kind of commitment. We must bend our necks under his yoke and come into submission to his authority and teaching. We must be willing to adopt the same heart towards self that Jesus himself has. He tells us in this passage that he is meek and humble in heart. His whole life is dominated and governed by God and his will and interests. If we would come to him and find rest we must repudiate self and selfish interests and submit ourselves to Jesus as Lord—to yield to his yoke, his authority and control. James Montgomery Boice makes these observations on the meaning of Christ’s yoke:
In one of Jesus’ most important sayings about discipleship…the Lord pictures discipleship as putting on a yoke. This suggests a number of things, but chiefly it suggests submission to Christ for His assigned work. It is the picture of an animal yoked to others as well as to a plow. A yoke is also the connection between submission and subjection. ‘Submit’ comes from the two Latin words sub (meaning ‘under’) and mitto, mittere (meaning ‘to put’ or ‘place’). So submission means putting oneself under the authority of another. ‘Subject’ also comes from two Latin words, in this case sub (meaning ‘under’) and iacto, iactare (meaning ‘cast’ or ‘throw’). It means being put under the authority of another. In other words, although the first word has an active sense (I put myself under another’s authority) and the second word has a passive sense (I am placed under that authority), the idea is nevertheless essentially the same. Moreover, it is connected with ‘yoke’ in this way. In ancient times it was customary for a ruler, when he had conquered a new people or territory, to place a staff across two upright poles, perhaps four feet off the ground, and require the captured people to pass under it. By this act they passed under his yoke or submitted to his authority. When Jesus used this image He was saying that to follow Him was to submit to Him. It was to receive Him as Lord of one’s life (James Montgomery Boice, Christ’s Call to Discipleship (Chicago: Moody, 1986), p. 19).
John 12:24-26: The Grain of Wheat
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant also be; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.
Jesus gives us yet another word picture here which is descriptive of both his own life and that of the Christian. Again he is illustrating what it means to come into a saving relationship with himself. First of all, he depicts himself as a grain of wheat in describing his death on the cross. He is using a principle drawn from the physical world to teach a spiritual truth. What is that truth? Fruitfulness and life is born out of death. It is only as the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies that it produces fruit. Just so, unless the Son of Man goes to the cross there will be no fruit, but if he dies there will be much spiritual fruit for the kingdom of God. Through this word picture Jesus tells us the attitude he has towards his own life. His life is not lived unto himself but totally for the sake of others—first and foremost for his Father and then for people. He constantly gives of himself even to the point of death.
Jesus then applies this principle to all who would be his followers. He says there are two fundamental attitudes that we can adopt towards our life in this world: that of love and that of hatred. Jesus says that if we love our life we will lose it, but if we hate it we will keep it to life eternal. We must understand the word hate here in the same way that Jesus used it in Luke 14. He means that nothing is to take priority over himself and the kingdom of God in our hearts. Everything else is to be loved less. Our lives are not to be our highest priority. We are not here to live for ourselves but for our Lord. We are not to literally hate ourselves but our love for God and his kingdom must take absolute priority over our lives. If we love our life more than Christ we will lose it. This word lose is the same word Jesus uses in Mark 8 which means to perish. He is speaking here about eternal death and eternal life.
He then states that to be his servant we must follow him. If we would gain eternal life and truly know Christ there must be a death to self. I must become, in a figurative sense, a grain of wheat which falls into the ground and dies. I must come to an end of living for myself and this world. I commit myself unreservedly to Christ to be his follower—to love him supremely and to serve him exclusively. If I do not do this Jesus says I will perish. He says the same thing in Mark 8. We die to ourselves that we might live for God and his will and the result is fruit. The apostle Paul writes of this in Romans 12:1 where he exhorts believers to continually offer themselves to God as a living sacrifice: ‘I urge you therefore brethren by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.’ F.F. Bruce makes these comments on the meaning of Jesus’ teaching about the grain of wheat in John 12:24:
The principle stated in verse 24 is of wide application; in particular, if it is true of Jesus, it must be true of his followers. They too must be prepared to renounce present interests for the sake of a future inheritance. This is a Johannine counterpart to the Synoptic saying about the disciple’s obligation to take up his cross and follow his Master (cf. Mark 8:34-38). To love one’s life here means to give it priority over the interests of God’s kingdom; similarly to hate one’s life is to give priority over it to the interests of God’s kingdom (F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), p. 265).
The New Testament scholar, D.A. Carson, gives these insightful and sobering observations in explaining the essence of Jesus’ teaching:
But if the principle modelled by the seed—that death is the necessary condition for the generation of life—is peculiarly applicable to Jesus, in a slightly different way it is properly applied to all of Jesus’ followers…The movement of thought in this passage runs from Jesus’ uniquely fruitful death (the death of one seed producing many living seeds) to the mandated death of Jesus’ followers as the necessary condition of their own life. The person who loves his own life will lose it: it could not be otherwise, for to love one’s life is a fundamental denial of God’s sovereignty, of God’s rights, and a brazen elevation of self to the apogee of one’s perception, and therefore an idolatrous focus on self, which is the heart of all sin. Such a person loses his life, i.e. causes his own perdition. By contrast, the one who hates his life (the love/hate contrast reflects a semitic idiom that articulates fundamental preference, not hatred on some absolute scale…) will keep it for eternal life (cf. Mk. 8:35 par…). This person denies himself, or, to use another of Jesus’ metaphors, takes up his cross daily (Mk. 8:34 par.), i.e. he chooses not to pander to self–interest but at the deepest level of his being declines to make himself the focus of his interest and perception, thereby dying.
A second contrast emerges in v. 25. The man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life…These choices cannot be acts of mere self–abnegation. Self must be displaced by another; the endless, shameless focus on self must be displaced by focus on Jesus Christ, who is the supreme revelation of God (D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), pp. 438-439).
The theme of Jesus’ teaching in John 12 is that of fruit. This is an important theme throughout the New Testament:
- Romans 7:4 states that a believer is united to Christ with the ultimate purpose of bearing fruit unto God.
- In John 12 Jesus defines what conditions are necessary for union with Christ to take place that fruit might be produced: a death to self with a corresponding commitment to Christ to be his follower or disciple.
- John 15:8 says that we are to bear much fruit and so prove to be Christ’s disciple. Only a disciple can bear fruit. And a true disciple is one who has met the conditions set forth by Jesus in Luke 14, Mark 8, Matthew 11 and John 12.
- Romans 6:22 states that fruit can only come from a heart and life that is wholly consecrated to God
Discipleship is the essence of true Christianity. All who would come into the kingdom of God must submit their lives to Christ as his disciple to be his follower. This is evident in the commission that Christ gives to his disciples in Matthew 28:19-20 in the preaching of the gospel:
All authority in heaven and hearth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you, And lo I am with you always even to the end of the age.
This passage of scripture is known as the Great Commission. It is the Savior’s commission to his followers to go into all the world and ‘make disciples.’ The Lord himself has already defined the word disciple in Luke 14. Therefore the word is going to retain the same meaning in Matthew 28. He is commissioning his followers to carry on the same ministry he has been engaged in—that of bringing men and women to himself through the preaching of the gospel. To ‘make disciples’ is to bring men and women to the kind of commitment that is defined by Jesus in Luke 14. Such people then become disciples or true converts. Then we are told to baptize them and teach them. Who does the word them refer to? Clearly to those who have been ‘made disciples’. We are to baptize and then teach those who have become disciples. This passage is not dealing only with a process of growth in discipleship, but with that point of commitment where an individual becomes a true follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord is commissioning his disciples to carry on the same kind of evangelism he has been involved in throughout his ministry. One clear example of this is seen in the incident of the rich young ruler.
The Rich Young Ruler
And as He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him and began asking Him, ‘Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ And he said to him, ‘Teacher I have kept all these things from my youth up.’
And looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor and you shall have treasure in heaven, and come follow Me.’ But at these words his face fell and he went away grieved, for he was one who owned much property (Mk. 10:17-22).
This passage of Scripture is very important as it relates to our present study. This man comes to Jesus earnestly seeking the way of eternal life. He specifically asks the Lord what he must do to be saved. And Jesus tells him that he lacks one thing. He must sell all he possesses, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow him. Again we are confronted with this key word—follow. This is the same condition Jesus lays before the multitudes in Luke 14: ‘Whoever does not take up his cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple…No one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions’ (Lk. 14:27,33). The Lord places this condition before the young ruler as a condition for salvation. If he would enter the kingdom of God and inherit eternal life he must forsake all and follow Christ. As we have already seen the word ‘follow’ means to become a disciple. He can gain eternal life if he is willing to become a disciple. This means unreserved surrender to Christ as Lord. Walter Chantry makes the following comments:
Often Christ turned crowds away by insisting that ‘whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple’ (Lk. 14:33). He was not speaking of abundant life nor of ‘victorious’ giants of the faith…He demanded this turning from everything to himself as a condition of discipleship for everyone. The young ruler would turn from earthly riches to heavenly or he would cling to earthly riches and perish…The sinner must know that Jesus will not be a Savior to any man who refuses to bow to him as Lord…Christ knew nothing of the man–made twentieth–century suggestion that taking Jesus as Lord is optional. For him it was no second step which is essential for great blessings but unnecessary for entering God’s kingdom. The altered message of today has deceived men and women by convincing them that Jesus will gladly be a Savior even to those who refuse to follow him as Lord. It simply is not the truth! Jesus’ invitation to salvation is, ‘Come, follow me’…Practical acknowledgment of Jesus’ Lordship, yielding to his rule by following is the very fibre of saving faith…Believing is obeying. Without obedience, you shall not see life! Unless you bow to Christ’s scepter you will not receive the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice. That is just what Jesus said to the ruler(Walter Chantry, Today’s Gospel – Synthetic or Authentic? (Edinburgh: Banner, 1970), pp. 55, 59-60).
Christ preached the law to the rich young ruler to bring him under conviction and to repentance. He put his finger on the young man’s idol and demanded a forsaking of that idol if he would inherit eternal life. Jesus did not tell the rich young ruler simply to ‘believe’ in him. He commanded him to become a disciple. This is Jesus’ message in evangelism, a call to discipleship. Thus, in Matthew 28:18–20 he is commissioning his disciples to follow his example.
It is clear from these passages that Christ taught that salvation requires a commitment to him as Lord. To understand why this is true we need to understand how Jesus’ teaching relates to the gospel message itself.
Matthew 7:13-24: Beware of False Prophets
Enter the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it. Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves(Mt. 7:13–15).
Christ warns that the gate is strait and the way is narrow that leads to life. It is narrow because Christ is the only way and because the conditions required for those who would enter are difficult. We do well to heed Jesus’ words of warning in Matthew 7: ‘Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves’ (Mt. 7:15). False prophets proclaim a false message resulting in false assurance. They dilute the demands of the gospel by making the gate wide and the way broad. Such teachers and preachers may acknowledge Christ as Lord, by affirming his deity, but deny that a commitment to him as Lord is necessary for salvation. But acknowledging the title or position of Jesus theologically and submitting to him as Lord are very different. Jesus tells us that those who profess his deity without a corresponding submission of life will not enter heaven. Only those who do the will of God will enter heaven:
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’ (Mt. 7:21-24)
The people Jesus mentions are sincere and orthodox in their view of Christ but they are lost. Jesus says the reason is that they practice lawlessness. 1 John 3:4 says, ‘Sin is lawlessness.’ Lawlessness is a heart of rebellion against God. A heart of self–will and self–rule. These people profess Christ as Lord but they do not submit to him as Lord to do his will. In preaching the gospel we must call men to Christ, but in doing so, we must impress upon them what that will mean. If we minimize Christ’s demands for repentance and faith we will in effect be wolves in sheep’s clothing—false prophets declaring to men a wide gate and a broad way of salvation. Martyn Lloyd–Jones gives this warning about the false prophets of Matthew 7:
We are told at the very outset of this way of life, before we start on it that if we would walk along it there are certain things which must be left outside, behind us. There is no room for them because we have to start by passing through a strait and narrow gate…The first thing we leave behind us is what is called worldliness. We leave behind the crowd and the way of the world…Our Lord is warning us against the danger of an easy salvation, against the tendency to say—Just come to Christ as you are and all is going to be well. No, the gospel tells us at the outset that it is going to be difficult. It means a radical break with the world…Yes, but still narrower and still straiter, if we really want to come into this way of life, we have to leave our ‘self’ outside. And it is there of course that we come to the greatest stumbling–block of all. It is one thing to leave the world, and the way of the world, but the most important thing in a sense is to leave our self outside. Have no illusion about this…for he who would enter by this gate must say goodbye to self. It is a life of self-abasement, self humiliation. ‘If any man will come after Me’—what happens? Let him deny himself (the first thing always), and take up his cross and follow Me. But self denial, denial of self, does not mean refraining from various pleasures and things that we may like. It means to deny our very right to ourself. We leave our self outside and go through the gate saying, ‘Yet not I but Christ liveth in Me.’
In the same way it (the false prophet’s teaching) does not emphasize repentance in any real sense. It has a very wide gate leading to salvation and a very broad way leading to heaven. You need not feel much of your own sinfulness; you need not be aware of the blackness of your own heart. You just decide for Christ and rush in with the crowd and your name is put down and is one of the large number of decisions reported by the press.
Repentance means that you realize that you are a guilty vile sinner in the presence of God; that you deserve the wrath and punishment of God, that you are hell–bound. It means that you begin to realize that this thing called sin is in you; that you long to get rid of it, and that you turn your back on it in every shape and form. You renounce the world whatever the cost, the world in its mind and outlook as well as its practice, and you deny yourself, and take up the cross and go after Christ. Your nearest and dearest and the whole world may call you a fool, or say you have religious mania. You may have to suffer financially, but it makes no difference. That is repentance. The false prophet does not put it like that. He heals ‘the hurt of the daughter of My people slightly, simply saying that it is all right and that you have but to come to Christ, ‘follow Christ,’ or ‘become a Christian’ (D. M. Lloyd–Jones, Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), Vol. 2, pp. 221, 224-225, 248-249).
Jesus’ Definition of the Word Disciple
The yoke, the cross, the grain of wheat, a follower, a servant —these are all terms used by Jesus to describe his radical teaching on what it means to truly know him. But much of his teaching is misinterpreted, misunderstood and misapplied. Many evangelical teachers today view discipleship as a process of sanctification or as a second, deeper commitment, not having anything to do with the conditions for entering the kingdom of God. The word disciple is the Greek word mathetes, which means a learner. However, this definition is inadequate when used in relationship with Jesus Christ for he amplifies the term far beyond its basic Greek meaning. Just as the word for love, as normally used in Greek culture, was expanded and redefined by the writers of the New Testament, so the term disciple is given a whole new depth of meaning by Jesus. The normative meaning of the term in the Jewish and Greek cultures of Jesus’ day was that of one who committed himself to a teacher to become a learner. But when scripture uses the term in relation to Jesus Christ it gives an expanded meaning to the term for the obvious reason that we are not merely dealing with a human teacher in Jesus, but with the incarnate God! Our concept of discipleship must be according to Jesus’ definition and his words must be the standard by which we define the term. It is true that a disciple of Jesus will be a learner. But a disciple of Jesus is more than a learner, he is a follower who has denied self, taken up a cross and forsaken all to live for Christ and his kingdom. And according to Jesus, only a disciple is a true Christian.
The Demands of Discipleship and the Gospel
The call of Jesus is a call to repentance and conversion. As was pointed out at the beginning of our study, we were created by God to fulfil a specific purpose. All things have been created ‘by Him and for Him’ (Col. 1:16). He, himself, is to be the supreme purpose for our existence and the object of our love (Ex. 20:2–3; Mt. 22:37). Man was created to live under God’s authority, to love him supremely, and to live in obedience to his will. Our fundamental problem, however, is that we do not live this way. We have rebelled against our Creator and do not live to fulfil his will but our own. The bible calls this sin. In the chapter on sin we noted that the first and foremost issue in defining sin is not with particular acts of behavior but the disposition of the heart in relation to the person of God himself. Therefore, since repentance means turning from sin, the first issue to deal with in turning will relate to our heart relationship with the person of God and then specific issues of sinful behavior.
In the passages we have looked at, Jesus is defining and applying the truth of repentance. He explains what it means in practical terms. The specific issues mentioned in Luke 14—other relationships, one’s own life, possessions—are potential idols which can displace God from his rightful place of preeminence in the heart. They must be torn down and cast away. Jonathan Edwards underscores this when he says: ‘One great thing he (Jesus) aimed at in redemption, was to deliver them from their idols, and bring them to God’ (Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh: Banner, 1974), Volume 2, Discourse: Men Naturally are God’s Enemies, pp. 132, 138-139. Therefore, any man who comes to Christ must forsake all (Lk. 14:33), submit his life to him as Lord and First Love and follow him. This is the nature of repentance. It underscores again that salvation means more than deliverance from the guilt and condemnation of sin. It is restoration to a relationship with God so that we may fulfil the purpose for which we were created: to love, worship, serve, obey and glorify him. J.I. Packer makes this point about Christ’s call to repentance:
Repentance is more than just sorrow for the past; repentance is a change of mind and heart, a new life of denying self and serving the Savior as King in self’s place…More than once Christ deliberately called attention to the radical break with the past that repentance involves. Luke 9:23,24—‘If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me, whosoever will lose his life for My sake the same (but only he) will save it’. Luke 14:26,33—‘If any man come to Me and hate not his father and mother and wife and children and brethren and sisters yea and his own life also (i.e., put them all decisively second in his esteem) he cannot be my disciple. . .whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple.’ The repentance that Christ requires of His people consists in a settled refusal to set any limit to the claims which He may make on their lives (J.I. Packer, Evagelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1961), p. 72).
Christ’s call to discipleship is in principle the same call of God given to lost men and women during the Old Testament days of Ezekiel. It is a call to repentance—a turning from and forsaking of idolatry and sin:
Then some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat down before me. And the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts, and have put right before their faces the stumbling block of their iniquity. Should I be consulted by them at all? Therefore speak to them and tell them, Thus says the Lord God, Any man of the house of Israel who sets up his idols in his heart, puts right before his face the stumbling block of his iniquity, and then comes to the prophet, I the Lord will be brought to give him an answer in the matter in view of the multitude of his idols, in order to lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel who are estranged from Me through all their idols.
Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God, Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn your faces away from all your abominations.’
Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct declares the Lord God. Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies, declares the Lord God. Therefore, repent and live (Ez. 14:1-6, 18:30-32).
This word of the prophet is echoed in the New Testament by Jesus when he says, ‘Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’ (Lk. 13:3). Jesus is saying is that to become a Christian, one must become a disciple. The two are synonymous terms. The Bible knows of no such concept as that taught so widely today that a person can be a Christian and yet not be a disciple. The Lord Jesus forever nullifies such a concept by his teaching. If a man does not become a disciple by denying self and enthroning Jesus as Lord, he will perish. Acts 11:26 tells us that ‘the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.’ Before they ever received the name Christian they were called disciples.
The essence of sin is self–will and self–rule. In other words living for self. Sin is defined in 1 John 3:4 where we are told ‘sin is lawlessness.’ Vines Expository Dictionary says that lawlessness is ‘the displacement of the will of God with the will of self.’ Therefore sin in its essence is self–will. Or as John Stott puts it, ‘sin is self.’ Repentance means turning from sin. Dr. Thiessen says:
In conversion faith is the turning of the soul to God as repentance is the turning of the soul from sin (Henry Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), pg. 271).
Therefore since the essence of sin is self–will, repentance is turning from self–will or self–rule and submitting the life to Jesus as Lord, thereby becoming his disciple. If a man has not dethroned self and enthroned Jesus as Lord, he is still living in self–will and self–rule and has therefore not truly repented. He will perish. Repentance is towards God. It is a change of mind toward God as the rightful ruler and authority in one’s life. The Scriptures emphasize salvation as a total concept. Justification is but one aspect of salvation. Salvation is in Jesus Christ. He is the Savior. He has done the work. It is by his merits and his alone that any individual is forgiven and accepted by God. His righteousness is imputed to the believer. But salvation becomes the personal possession of an individual only when Christ becomes the personal possession of the individual and he is in turn possessed by Christ. Salvation is applied to an individual through union with Christ when an individual receives Christ as prophet, priest and king through repentance and faith. I trust him as Savior and commit myself to him as Lord. In the article on sanctification we noted that The Westminster Confession says:
The principal acts of saving faith are, accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace (XIV.2) (Found in The Confession of Faith by A.A. Hodge (Edinburgh: Banner, 1958), p. 204).
The Confession states that saving faith involves receiving Christ for justification and also for sanctification. In the same article it was also noted that what it means to receive Christ for sanctification is described by the Puritan theologian John Owen in these words:
Obedience unto Christ does not consist merely in doing the things which He requireth…All obedience unto Christ proceeds from an express subjection of our souls and consciences unto Him (The Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Banner, 1965), Volume I, pp. 134, 136).
What Owen is saying is that the process of sanctification will begin when there is first acommitment characterized by submission to Christ. The process flows out of the commitment. It would be helpful at this point to reference again John Murray’s comments on the nature of sanctification which were cited in the article on that subject. He points out that the term sanctification in Scripture has two meanings: an initial commitment and consecration of the life to Christ from the world and sin, which he calls ‘definitive sanctification’, and the process of growth in the Christian life. He describes it in these terms:
When we speak of sanctification we generally think of it as a process by which the believer is gradually transformed in heart, mind, will, and conduct, and conformed more and more to the will of God and to the image of Christ, until at death the disembodied spirit is made perfect in holiness, and at the resurrection his body likewise will be conformed to the likeness of the body of Christ’s glory. It is biblical to apply the term ‘sanctification’ to this process of transformation and conformation. But it is a fact too frequently overlooked that in the New Testament the most characteristic terms that refer to sanctification are used, not of a process, but of a once–for–all definitive act. We properly think of calling, regeneration, justification, and adoption as acts of God effected once for all, and not requiring or admitting of repetition. It is of their nature to be definitive. But a considerable part of the New Testament teaching places sanctification in this category. We are…compelled to take account of the fact that the language of sanctification is used with reference to some decisive action that occurs at the inception of the Christian life, and one that characterizes the people of God in their identity as called effectually by God’s grace. It would be, therefore, a deflection from biblical patterns of language and conception to think of sanctification exclusively in terms of a progressive work…What is this sanctification?…The person who lives in sin, or to sin, lives and acts in the realm of sin—it is the sphere of his life and activity. And the person who died to sin no longer lives in that sphere. His tie with it has been broken, and he has been translated into another realm…This is the decisive cleavage that the apostle has in view; it is the foundation upon which rests his whole conception of a believer’s life, and it is a cleavage, a breach, a translation as really and decisively true in the sphere of moral and religious relationship as in ordinary experience of death. There is a once–for–all definitive and irreversible breach with the realm in which sin reigns in and unto death…This means that there is a decisive and definitive breach with the power and service of sin in the case of every one who has come under the control of the provisions of grace (emphasis mine) (Collected Writings of John Murray (Edinburgh: Banner, 1977), Volume 2, pp. 278-280).
A saved man is a man who has received Christ as Savior and Lord. He is both justified and sanctified. He is regenerated and converted. Because of union with Christ and a new nature, he lives a life in conformity to Jesus Christ in the power of his resurrection by the enabling of the indwelling Spirit. Where there is no submission to Christ as Lord there simply is no true Christianity. James Montgomery Boice offers this sober warning regarding the salvation teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ:
There is a fatal defect in the life of Christ’s church in the twentieth century: a lack of true discipleship. Discipleship means forsaking everything to follow Christ. But for many of today’s supposed Christians—perhaps the majority—it is the case that while there is much talk about Christ and even much furious activity, there is actually very little following of Christ Himself. And that means in some circles there is very little genuine Christianity. Many who fervently call Him ‘Lord, Lord’ are not Christians (Matthew 7:21)…There are several reasons that the situation I have described is common in today’s church. The first is a defective theology that has crept over us like a deadening fog. This theology separates faith from discipleship and grace from obedience. It teaches that Jesus can be received as one’s Savior without being received as one’s Lord…Discipleship in not a supposed second step in Christianity, as if one first became a believer in Jesus and then, if he chooses, a disciple. From the beginning, discipleship is involved in what it means to be a Christian….Is ‘faith’ minus commitment a true biblical faith?…If faith without works is dead—how much truer is it that faith without commitment is dead…True faith involves these elements: knowledge…heart response…and commitment, without which ‘faith’ is no different from the assent of the demons who ‘believe…and shudder’ (James 2:19) (James Montgomery Boice, Christ’s Call to Discipleship (Chicago: Moody, 1986), pp. 13, 14, 16, 21).
A.W. Tozer makes these comments:
The sinner is actually a rebel against properly constituted authority. That is what makes sin—sin. We are rebels. We are sons of disobedience. Sin is the breaking of the law and we are in rebellion and we are fugitives from the just laws of God while we are sinners. The root of sin is rebellion against law, rebellion against God. Does not the sinner say, I belong to myself. I owe allegiance to no one unless I choose to give it. That is the essence of sin. Thus in repentance, we reverse that relationship and we fully submit to the Word of God and the will of God as obedient children. We have no basis to believe that we can come casually and sprightly to the Lord Jesus and say, I have come for some help, Lord Jesus. I understand that you are the Savior so I am going to believe and be saved and then I am going to turn away and think about the other matters of lordship and allegiance and obedience at some other time in the future.
I warn you, you will not get help from Him in that way for the Lord will not save those whom He cannot command. He will not divide His offices. You cannot believe on a half Christ. We take Him for what He is, the anointed Savior and Lord who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords (A. W. Tozer, I Call It Heresy (Camp Hill:Christian Publications, 1974), pp. 9, 14-16. 18-20).
The Bible makes it very clear that submission to the Lordship of Christ is a necessary condition for salvation. This is seen not only in Mark 8:34-37 but also is clearly stated or implied in the following verses:
For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living (Rom. 14:9).
That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved (Rom. 10:9).
But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life (Rom. 6:22).
He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf (2 Cor. 5:15).
For they themselves report about us what kind of reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God (I Thes. 1:9).
The Issue Of Works
The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is a gift of God and not of works lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8,9). Conservative evangelicals emphasize and rightly so, that no man can work his way to heaven. They preach consistently and forcefully against good works as a basis for salvation. They preach the need of turning by faith to Christ alone as the Savior, resting in his finished work and in the merits of his shed blood and righteousness. We commonly hear, ‘Baptism will not save you, church membership will not save you, tithing, witnessing, your moral life, your good deeds, your fastings, your prayers, indulgences, etc. None of these things can give you a standing before God.’
There must indeed be a turning from all self–righteousness if one is to come to know Jesus Christ as Savior. However, many of the same evangelicals who preach the need to turn from self–righteousness in order to be saved will not preach repentance from self–will and self–rule. Why? Many wrongly believe that demanding men to turn from self–will adds works to the gospel of grace. The question is this: What is the difference between turning from self–righteousness to Jesus as Savior and self–will to Jesus as Lord? If the one is a form of works then so is the other. The fact is, neither of them is works. Repentant, saving faith is a gift from God. Faith is a gift from God (Eph 2:8) as is repentance (Acts 11: 18): ‘When they heard these things, they held their peace and glorified God saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.’
Jesus Christ is both Savior and Lord. He cannot be divided. If a man comes to Jesus he comes to him as he is, as both Lord and Savior. There must be a turning from self–righteousness for Jesus to be Savior and there must be a turning from self–will or self–rule for Jesus to be Lord. This is not a form of works but true biblical repentance which is a gift from God. True repentance is turning from self, while faith is turning to Christ. The result is conversion. As A.W. Pink says:
Repentance is the negative side of conversion. Conversion is a whole hearted turning unto God, but there cannot be a turning unto without a turning from. Sin must be forsaken ere one can draw nigh unto the Holy One. As it is written, “Ye turned to God from idols to serve (live for) the living and true God” (I Thessalonians 1:9) (A.W. Pink, The Doctrine of Salvation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), p. 60).
We need to distinguish between discipleship as an initial commitment and discipleship as a process, for it is both. Much of the confusion about commitment to Christ as Lord as ‘works salvation’ comes from a failure to distinguish between the two. When Christ calls men to himself he calls them to a commitment of discipleship, as we have seen. From that commitment issues a life of good works in discipleship or sanctification. But unless this initial commitment is made there will be no new life of holiness because there is no union with Christ. The Holy Spirit does not indwell the heart. The individual is not converted. Many do not make the biblical distinction between an initial lordship or discipleship commitment and the process of sanctification. If we understand the distinction between the commitment of discipleship and the process of discipleship which is growth in sanctification, the confusion can be avoided.
The salvation teachings of Jesus encompass the great themes of divine sovereignty, union with himself, justification, sanctification, regeneration, adoption, repentance, faith and conversion.