Honest Evangelism & The Cost of Discipleship
Imagine yourself standing in front of a large crowd. They are eager to hear from you. They are interested in you. What would you say? I might struggle to say anything at all. If I did speak, I would want to make sure that I did not cause offense. After all, upsetting mobs seems unwise—though I admit that I am no Solomon! Now imagine that you knew you had to say something offensive. How would you say it? My goal would be to let them down as gently as possible. I would seek to gain their affection first. Then, and only then, I would present the hard news in the gentlest way possible.
Jesus frequently had eager crowds for whom he had difficult words. In Luke 14:25, we are told that “great crowds” were following Jesus and that he turned to address them. This was a great moment to pump them up and increase his own celebrity. Instead, he turned to them and said, “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 (Luke 14:26). Wait. What? No icebreaker? No funny introduction to establish a connection with his hearers? Why not start by laying out all the positive elements of discipleship? Will not this tactic scare people away? What is Jesus doing?
As one keeps reading Luke 14, it is clear that Jesus is wanting the crowd to consider the cost of discipleship. They need to fully consider the sacrifice that is necessary before they commit themselves prematurely. He compares it to how a builder will first make sure he has the finances to complete the project before he ever begins laying a foundation (v. 28). Similarly, people ought to know what discipleship will cost them before they claim to be a disciple.
There are a number of lessons to learn from Jesus’ example. One of them is that we must be honest and straight forward in our evangelism. Sometimes in our zeal to see people “come to Jesus” we might be tempted to soft-sell the cost, or rub off some of the rough edges of the Gospel—such as calling sinners to repentance. However, Jesus takes the opposite approach. This does not mean he was being rude or unloving. On the contrary, he demonstrates that it is loving to be clear and upfront about why sinners need Jesus and what it means to follow him!
The call to discipleship is the call to deny ourselves by bearing our own cross (v. 27) and renouncing all that we have (v. 33). A disciple of Christ is one who recognizes that they have nothing apart from Jesus. We are sinful wrecks that are deserving of God’s wrath. We desperately need Jesus’ forgiveness and righteousness. The answer to our biggest problem—sin and all of its effects—is not in ourselves, nor in anything that this world has to offer. If anyone or anything stands between a disciple and Jesus, the disciple chooses Jesus because only Jesus can save. Of course, disciples will often fail at putting Jesus above all else. Our failure in consistency only serves to reinforce our need for him and his grace!
Being honest in our evangelism also brings the benefit of necessarily relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to bring conviction to the sinner. We are not to try to win people to Jesus through our own cleverness, but like Paul, we are to present Christ plainly so that when people believe their “faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5).
John 6 provides another example of Jesus speaking the hard truth to an enthusiastic-but-misguided crowd. We are told that many disciples, who had evidently not counted the cost, turned back from him (v. 65). However, when he turns to the Twelve and offers them the chance to leave, Peter responds by saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (vv. 68-69). Peter’s words illustrate the mindset of a disciple. There were no doubt many things that Peter did not yet understand. He may well have felt some temptation to walk away. However, he knew that Jesus was the Messiah and that he had the words of eternal life. As a result, Peter knew that there was nowhere else to turn. Peter was not going anywhere!
As you consider this, take stock of your own discipleship. Have you renounced yourself by repenting of your sins to trust in Christ alone for your salvation? Or have you merely added Jesus to your life that is otherwise lived for your own purposes? If you have not repented, today is a great day to do so. The Bible makes clear that anyone who confesses their sin, repents, and puts their trust in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus will receive forgiveness and eternal life. While there is a cost to following Jesus, there is also great joy in salvation! You are meant to worship and obey Jesus. If you are trusting Christ, then let Luke 14 encourage you to stay the course regardless of what comes your way. Christ is worth it, and like Peter, you have nowhere else to turn for salvation!
Finally, as you set out to evangelize and make disciples, be honest and upfront about the cost of discipleship. This straightforward proclamation of Christ is the New Testament model. Help people see right away that Christ is their greatest need and is more valuable than any other thing or person. It is true that some may walk away as they did with Jesus, but those who believe, having counted the cost, will be set on the path of true discipleship.