What Are the Radical Demands of Following Jesus?

Without any doubt, there are a great number of the teachings of Jesus that are often easy to remember and even memorize, a bit more difficult perhaps to understand and discern, but then extremely challenging to live out in our daily lives.

Updated Apr 15, 2024
What Are the Radical Demands of Following Jesus?

"In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples."- Luke 14:33

Without any doubt, there are a great number of the teachings of Jesus that are often easy to remember and even memorize, a bit more difficult perhaps to understand and discern, but then extremely challenging to live out in our daily lives. These lessons are frequently, but not always, described by Jesus through parables, as was his way of teaching. For example:

And we could go on. “Turn the other cheek.” “Love your enemies.”

In these and many—perhaps most—of Jesus’ parables, he taught about the life we are called to live—the real terms of discipleship. He taught about what it would mean to truly follow him. Perhaps, though, one of the most compelling is when Jesus taught that we must count the cost of becoming his disciples.

“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. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-33)

Wait…what? Hate father and mother, wife and children? Hate our own life? If those are the terms of discipleship, then we would certainly each be smart to measure that cost, wouldn’t we? But…is that really what Jesus meant?

An Argument Against Cultural Christianity

During his ministry, Jesus had a great many crowds following him, often thousands upon thousands. Everyone had heard about the miracles, the healings, and free food! But Jesus knew their hearts were not with him. He knew they desired the benefits of what he did. They wanted to reap the rewards. They loved his gifts—but not him. They loved the idea of Jesus without understanding who he truly was. We see them even today.

Jesus is the one who is going to get us into paradise when we die, right? He died on the cross to pay for our sins and to give us our forever home in heaven. Right? That’s all, folks! We have our mansion in the sky waiting for us! Leave it to Jesus to mess up our comfortable lives. Jesus knows our hearts; clearly, a comfortable life here on earth was not his expectation.

How many today speak the words yet don’t live them out? How many today can memorize the teachings but not apply them to their lives? How many put on the show of performing deeds in and for church yet don’t know Christ in their hearts? We see them even in church. They have the verses memorized and repeat them as if they believe the words to be true. And maybe they do believe them – but the words don’t move from their heads to their hearts. But God will not be mocked, and Jesus will not be fooled:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ - Matthew 7:21-23

The lesson certainly seems directed at those who do the work and go through the motions but have never given their hearts to Christ. Or perhaps they made the claim, knowing the expectation, but had never actually lived out the words. After all, if indeed they had prophesied, cast out demons, and performed miracles in his name, then Jesus would indeed have known them. Either way, the lesson is that mere words or mere acts without faith—without heart—are not the discipleship Jesus is looking for. James, the brother of Jesus, put it this way:

"In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity." -James 2:17 CEV

In other words, if you claim to have faith but it has no impact on how you live your life, your faith is worthless. If your life isn’t following the teachings of Christ, then you are still lost despite your words. So many today say they believe. They love the idea of eternal life, escaping hell, and being able to pray whenever they need anything. But they are unwilling to give up their earthly desires and the life they now live. They are more in love with their sinful habits than with Jesus.

"Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.  For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world." - 1 John 2:15-16

The Cost of Discipleship

So what is it that Jesus expects of us…really? Jesus often uses hyperbole to make his point. Clearly, Jesus would not expect us to “gouge out our eye” or “cut off our hand” if they cause us to sin. (Matthew 5:29-32) Neither are we to truly “hate” our father and mother, our wife and children, or our brothers and sisters. We know this, as we are called to hate no one. But Jesus is unmistakable in what he does expect: He wants everything from us. He wants our full commitment, our entire hearts, and all of us.

"Then he said to them all: 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?'" - Luke 9:23-25

We often tend to understate the meaning of “bearing our cross.”  But when Jesus spoke those words, his listeners thought of the cross only as a means of execution.  We use it as a metaphor. Jesus was asking them to put to death their prior lives and follow him. To die to themselves, to life as they know it, to everything they hold near and dear – to follow him to the cross. 

Jesus often spoke volumes with just a few words – this being one of those times. When he calls us to “count the cost,” he does not want us to think we can go halfway naively or be surprised later with the expectations. And there is no negotiating. The gift of eternal life is free to anyone who asks and believes (John 3:16) – but it is not a free welfare program. It requires a commitment on our part – a transfer of ownership of our lives, if you will, to him. To follow him and follow his commands and teachings. We can no longer simply follow our own selfish desires – we must give up our “me-first” attitudes and approach to life. Jesus once described the kingdom of heaven in this way:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again and then, in his joy, went and sold all he had and bought that field.  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44-46)

In each parable, the man sold everything he had. Each gave up everything to gain the valuable treasure he had found. That is what Jesus asks of us – to give up all we have, all we are, to be called his disciple.

What Is the Reward?

The disciples of Jesus are either all in—or they are not in at all. Jesus has laid down some pretty high costs, but with those costs come some incredible rewards.

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, yet it did not fall because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

When we simply give lip service to giving our lives to Christ, the words become like political talking points written on cardboard. They have no strength, no foundation. Like a house built on sand and cardboard, Christianity cannot stand against the storms of life. But when we build the house—build our lives—on the rock of faith in Jesus Christ, we can withstand anything and everything that comes against us and will not fall. We will not fall because our faith is built on the foundation of Jesus Christ. By losing our lives, we save them. (Luke 9:24

When we give up ourselves and give up our lives, we will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. (Luke 14:14) In other words, what we think we lose here is nothing compared to what we gain with Jesus in eternity. Paul expressed it very well when he said:

"What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ." - Philippians 3:8

May we each say, “I consider everything I have lost garbage that I may gain Christ.”

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Everste

SWN authorGreg Grandchamp is the author of "In Pursuit of Truth, A Journey Begins" — an easy-to-read search that answers to most common questions about Jesus Christ. Was he real? Who did he claim to be? What did he teach? Greg is an everyday guy on the same journey as everyone else — in pursuit of truth. You can reach Greg by email [email protected]  and on Facebook


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