Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the 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 to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.
An Implicit Denial of Sola Fide?
Not too long ago, I encountered a man who told me that becoming a Christian would cost an individual a lot, since the Gospel is a call to follow Christ and be obedient to His call. “Faith,” he said very loudly, “is not enough!” I was taken back, for the man claimed to be reformed in his theology and yet was stating something very similar to what the Council of Trent teaches in Canon XIX, where we read:
If any one saith, that nothing besides faith is commanded in the Gospel; that other things are indifferent, neither commanded nor prohibited, but free; or, that the ten commandments nowise appertain to Christians; let him be anathema.
The Roman Catholic church teaches that the Gospel is a call to obedience, rather than the proclamation of all that God, in Christ, has done for His people and which He gives freely to them which believe. And that is what this “reformed” teacher was also stating. In his statement that “faith is not enough,” the claim he was making was simple: People do not come to Christ, because it is hard for them to do so. Well, I agree and disagree – it is not simply hard, it is impossible for a man to come to Christ unless, of course, it is the Father who is drawing him to Jesus (cf. John 6:44)! So, he was right in this sense: Salvation is humanly impossible to attain, for it is only by the grace of God that a sinner comes to see himself as worthy of nothing but the properly earned wrath of an infinitely holy God. If he does not see this, if he does not see what a wretch he is, then he is lost.
And that is where Luke 14:24-33 enters the scene. For this man, as for the Roman Catholics and other salvation-by-faith+works-heretics, this passage is used as a proof text showing that it costs and individual something to become a Christian – that is, to be justified. Have you heard someone say this? If you have, it is your job to tell them what Scripture says about the free gift of God, which is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord! Justification is not given after one has proven himself worthy by abandoning all that he owns, etc. No. It is a free gift, given by God in His amazing grace to whomever He wills. And this is what the legalists would see, if they just continued reading into the next chapter. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Looking at the passage, we need to remember that the Gospels were not divided into chapters and verses, so ripping these words out of their context in order to subtly deny justification by faith alone will not serve to honor the Word of Christ. Rather, a contextual reading of these verses show us that Christ’s address is not to those who are not following Him. Hence, verse 25a reads:
Now great multitudes went with Him.
The text does not say: “Then Jesus randomly approached a man on the street who had no familiarity with His teaching…” No. It says that “great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them…” The significance of this should not be overlooked, for it shows us the necessity of distinguishing between Law and Gospel. The Lord Jesus is here preaching the Law to those who had begun to follow Him. He was not preaching evangelistically, but preaching the first commandment – You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength – to those who followed Him. This is not a sermon about coming to know Jesus Christ personally as one’s Savior; this is a sermon calling His followers to examine themselves. Why were they following Christ? Were they, like the Rich young ruler, hoping in their riches and following Christ in order to receive eternal life thereby? Were they self-righteous, not seeing that it is only those who know themselves to be unworthy of any of God’s blessings that are declared worthy (i.e. righteous) to enter the kingdom by God’s grace alone (shown to sinners) through the instrument of faith alone (which is itself His gift to His chosen ones)?
What do we read of in Luke 14:1-14? We read about the self-righteous and rich who exalt themselves, but who will be humbled on the day of judgment. We read also of those who are outcasts, sinful, and humbled by the depth of their sin before God, who will, by God’s grace, be raised up to a place of honor. We read of men who think that they are worthy, and who are, consequently, told that, in fact, they are the least worthy. We read of Christ saving the unworthy, and rejecting those who are smug, self-righteous, and worthy in their own eyes.
Is Christ, then, calling men to do in order to be given eternal life? Is He calling men to keep the commandments if they will enter into life? Not at all. He is telling those who are following Him to examine themselves. And He makes this emphatically clear when, in v.35b, He declares:
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
Are you among the self-satisfied and self-righteous throngs of men who follow Christ for gain? Who see Christ not as their Savior but as a means to an end? Then He tells you to consider this: Those who have truly turned to Christ in faith, do not hope in themselves for salvation, nor do they hope in the things of this world for salvation, but the rest solely in Christ, seeing their jobs, families, monetary possessions – “yes, his own life also” – to be nothing. And they see in Christ what they desire: Salvation and restoration to fellowship with God.
Identifying “He” Who has Ears to Hear..
That is why chapter 15 begins:
Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.”
When the Lord Jesus cries out “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” This is a cry to those who have searched and found out that all is vanity. They have been shown, by God’s great mercy and grace, that they are hopeless sinners who cannot find hope in this life – neither in things, nor in others, nor in themselves. See the difference between what the legalist preaches and what the text actually shows us? The legalist would quote Luke 14:25-33 as Gospel, when it is really Law. The legalist would add deep repentance and obedience to faith alone. But the Christians sees Luke 14:25-33 as Law. It is not a call to follow Christ in order to find eternal life. It is, rather, a call to examine oneself.
The legalist loves removing Lk 14:25-33 from its context in order to promote a monstrous hybrid law-gospel monster that he masquerades as the pure Gospel, but the Christian sets forth what is truly happening here: Christ is calling to Himself sinners convinced by God that there is absolutely no hope for life in their possessions, in other people, or in themselves. This is why the tax collectors and the sinners draw near to hear Him, while the Pharisees and legalists deny them a place at the Lord’s table because they are not holy enough.
Irony of ironies – the very text that legalists use to corrupt the simplicity of the Gospel and to condemn those who are not as pure as themselves in their habit of conduct, well, it is this same passage that damns the legalists, counting them unworthy of following Christ, and declaring them to be outside of His eternal kingdom. They are the ones who ask how to enter life, and are met by the demands of the Law, and yet are too blind to see that the Law cannot justify anyone! They hear the Lord state: “If thou wilt enter life, keep the commandments” and they, despising the absolute purity and eternally binding nature of God’s Law, attempt to do so, and they mark their progress in so doing! And they mark yours as well!
But we can see here that the Lord is not preaching the Gospel in Luke 14:25-33; the Lord is preaching the Law. And we can see that those who have ears to hear, are the sinners and the tax collectors, and the harlots and the scum of society that know they are accursed by God apart from the righteousness of a Savior who is perfection itself.
So, then, how are we to understand Luke 14:25-33? Are we to preach that there is a high cost to being justified by God? No. That is pure heresy, if by the high cost we means something other than the cost of the life of the unblemished Son of God. Rather, we are to understand this passage for what it is: Law directed at those who are following Christ. And what is its intended purpose? To expose the self-righteous, the self-indulgently Pharisaical, and to draw desperate sinners who have no other hope, not even in their own state of desperation or deep contrition, but the mercy of the Savior who “eats with” – that is, forgives, washes in His blood, clothes with His righteousness, and communes with – sinners, harlots, tax collectors, mongrels and villains.
He leaves the ninety nine sheep to look for the one that is lost (cf. 15:1-7).
He lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and searches dilligently for the one that is lost (cf. 15:8-10).
He forgives, washes, robes in royal garments of righteousness, and embraces fully the one who returns to Him (cf. 15:11-32).*
He rejects the self-righteous and proud, and He gives grace to the humble.
[*As a Calvinist, I had to point this out: Luke 15 presents us with three parables. These are (i.)the Lost sheep, (ii.)the lost coin, and (iii.)the lost son (or, the prodigal son). In the first two parables, it is the owner who does the searching, in the last parable it is the son who comes back home. He “was lost and is now found.” And yet, we don’t see anyone searching for him. Consider that. Not to delve too deeply here, but is it too much of a stretch to say that the Lord intended for us to see that while the lost son “came to himself” and while he decided to go back home, it is his father who found him? Consider, here also, the case of Philip in John 1:43 & 45, where John tells us that Jesus found Philip, but Philip tells Nathanael that he himself found Jesus!]