The Cost of Discipleship.
Leviticus 25-26, Luke 14
“If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:26-27 NLT
As is clear from a reading of the book of Leviticus, being a child of Abraham, one of the chosen people of God, was costly. That distinction came with a great number of conditions. It was not easy to live up to the standards to which God had called them. There were rules, regulations and requirements of all kinds. And God took them quite seriously. They were not suggestions, but commandments. And in chapter 26, He made it quite clear that disobedience to His commands had dire consequences. In a series of “it…then” statements, God let the people know what would happen if they obeyed, and what would happen if they disobeyed. Obedience would bring prosperity, power, peace, protection, and the abiding presence of God. But disobedience would result in disease, defeat, drought, destruction and eventual deportation. And everything God predicted and promised in these verse took place. As long as they were obedient, God blessed them. During the reigns of King David and his son, Solomon, Israel became a prosperous and powerful nation. He gave them victory over their enemies and during the days of King Solomon, He allowed them to live in peace and prosperity. Until King Solomon disobeyed God. In spite of his great wisdom, King Solomon disobeyed God and married foreign women. He ended up with 700 wives and 300 concubines. But it got worse. “So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods” (1 Kings 11:6-8 ESV). He disobeyed God. He broke God’s commandments. And as a result, God split his kingdom in two. The days of prosperity and peace were over. And from that point forward the two divided kingdoms of the people of God found themselves on a downward spiral of disobedience that led to their eventual destruction and deportation.
What does this passage reveal about God?
God had made the terms of His covenant quite simple. Yes, it was going to be difficult, and virtually impossible for the people to keep all the commands He had given them. But He had provided ample means by which they could receive atonement and forgiveness for their sins. But they would have to refrain from turning to false gods and turning their backs on the one true God. He had told the, “I will live among you, and I will not despise you. I will walk among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt so you would no longer be their slaves. I broke the yoke of slavery from your neck so you can walk with your heads held high” (Leviticus 26:11-13 NLT). He promised His presence. He reminded them about His powerful works of the past and assured them that there was more to come – if they would simply obey Him and remain faithful to Him. Yes, it would be costly. His blessings came with requirements. They would have to practice justice. They would have to treat one another with respect and dignity. His will would have to supersede their own. His requirements, however unreasonable or ridiculous they may have sounded, would have to be followed. The very idea of the Sabbath Year and the Year of Jubilee had to have come across as totally nonsensical to the people. Releasing someone from paying you what they owed you had to have seemed unfair and unreasonable. And all indications are that the people never really obeyed these laws. In fact, God seems to intimate that once the people were deported as slaves into foreign countries, “the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it” (Leviticus 26:34-35 ESV). God had a reason behind every rule and requirement. Ultimately, it was so the people would know that He was God. He wanted them to grow in their dependence upon Him and recognize their need for His presence and power among them. They couldn’t keep these rules without Him. When they broke them, they needed His forgiveness, made possible through the sacrificial system He had provided for them.
What does this passage reveal about man?
We love the blessings of God. To a certain degree, we believe we somehow deserve the blessings of God. He owes them to us. But His blessings were directly tied to obedience. Faithfulness was an essential quality for those who wanted to experience God’s blessing on their lives. And yet the people of God became lazy and lax in their relationship with Him. They continued to expect His blessings in spite of their disobedience and refusal to keep their part of the covenant. They failed to remember that their was a cost and commitment to being the people of God. They began to believe that God’s rules were optional, not required. They began to take short-cuts and create loop holes. They compromised and cut corners. All the while believing that their status as His chosen people somehow guaranteed them His blessings, regardless of their conduct or the condition of their hearts. Repeatedly God forewarns them, “But in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me” (Leviticus 26:27 ESV). The word “contrary” carries the idea of open hostility or opposition. They would live their lives in direct opposition to God, rather than in obedience to Him. And as a result, God warned them, “then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins” (Leviticus 26:27 ESV).
They were going to fail to keep God’s laws, and He knew it. They were going to reject Him as their God, by the way in which they conducted their lives – in disobedience and unfaithfulness.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
And yet, God remained faithful. I am amazed at God’s unfailing love and unwavering commitment to His covenant. In spite of them, He would bless them. Yes, He would lovingly discipline them, but He would also restore them. He provided a way back. He told them that “if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land” (Leviticus 26:40-42 ESV). All they would have to do is confess and God would restore them to the land. But amazingly, they would fail to do that as well. Nowhere in the story of the people of Israel do we see them confess and return to God. Even in the midst of their exile, they remained unrepentant and unwilling to return to Him. And yet, God would restore them – in spite of them. “Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God. But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 26:44-45 ESV). My God is faithful.
He has called me to live in obedience to His indwelling Spirit and in keeping with His Word. He has set me apart as His child and commanded me to grow in increasing likeness to His Son. He has provided me with His Word to guide me and His Spirit to empower me. But life as a disciple of Jesus Christ is not without its costs. Jesus said, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27 NLT). Following Jesus was not going to be a cake walk. There are tremendous blessings that come with a commitment to Christ, not the least of which is eternal life. But there are also costs. We must put off our old lives and leave behind our old loves. We cannot attempt to love God and love the world at the same time. Our conduct must line up with our confession. Our behavior must reflect our beliefs. Our new nature, provided for us by Christ through His death on the cross, must show up in our everyday lives. But our old natures will be an ever-present problem. We will be prone to cling to our old way of living, to live according to the ways of this world. We will find ourselves holding on to old habits and compromising our conduct rather than dying to self daily. There will be times when our light will dim, our saltiness will diminish, and our faith will waiver. But God is faithful. He will do His part. He will continue to lovingly discipline us, patiently perfect us, and relentlessly conform us into the likeness of His Son. He will finish what He started. He will complete what He began. He will accomplish everything He has promised. And all He asks is that I do my part and remain faithful.
Father, I want to live for You. I don’t want to compromise my life and let this world distract me from living in faithfulness to You. But I need Your help. I need Your Holy Spirit’s power. Thank You for making the Christian life possible. Thank You for providing me with everything I need to live the life You have called me to. Keep me increasingly more dependent on You, not only for my salvation, but my sanctification – my ongoing transformation into Christlikeness. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men