Theme: The Third Difficulty
This week’s lessons press the importance that it is not enough to merely show an initial interest in following Christ; one must persevere in obedience to the very end.
Scripture: Luke 9:57-62
3. Determination to set one’s own terms. The third of these three individuals (like the first) also volunteered to follow Jesus. But he wanted to do so on his terms rather than on Jesus’ terms. He said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-bye to my family” (v. 61). On the surface this request is the closest of the three to Elisha’s request of Elijah, which Elijah approved. But here the man’s error is self-evident. He called Jesus, “Lord.” That is, he acknowledged Jesus’ right of command over himself. Yet he was trying to set the terms of his discipleship. He was calling Jesus, “Lord, Lord,” but he was not following Him in that capacity. This greatly hinders and often eventually destroys many persons’ discipleship.
Not long ago I was in a meeting of ministers in which one was speaking of our lack of accountability to one another. He said that in his opinion the problem with most so-called Christians today is that they want salvation on their own terms. They say they believe the Bible. They acknowledge Jesus’ lordship. But they will not make themselves accountable for how or when they actually obey him. They want to control that response. If it is convenient, they will obey. But if not, they do not want anyone telling them that they are disobedient and are therefore not actually following Jesus. I believe that this is an accurate statement.
In his classic treatment The Cost of Discipleship Dietrich Bonhoeffer has a careful analysis of Luke 9:57–62, in which he examines each of these excuses. He spends most time on the third since it is most critical. When Elisha went back to burn his farm equipment and kill his oxen it was to make that break clear and irreversible. He was a true disciple. In this case, it was the opposite. The man was clinging to old relationships and life patterns. Bonhoeffer writes:
The first step, which follows the call, cuts the disciple off from his previous
existence. The call to follow at once produces a new situation. To stay in the
old situation makes discipleship impossible. Levi must leave the receipt of
customs and Peter his nets in order to follow Jesus. . .The only right and proper
way is quite literally to go with Jesus. The call to follow implies that there is
only one way of believing on Jesus Christ, and that is by leaving all and going
with the incarnate Son of God.1
Disobedience is really looking to something in the world, and if we look back, we are not fit to be Christ’s disciples. Those who look back want to go back. Jesus will take no one on those conditions.
Although this third example is the closest to the situation between Elijah and Elisha, what is the error of the person’s approach to Christ?
What old relationships and life patterns need to be abandoned if one is going to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ?
Application: In what ways do people today try to approach God on their own terms?
1Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1966), pp. 66, 67. Original German edition 1937.