In Luke 14:25-35, Jesus tells us, “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.” Some will dismiss Christianity altogether because of such a statement, much as they dismissed Jesus when he said they must eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6:48-58). But let us, instead, wrestle in faith with this difficult language.

Hate Your Parents?

While we are forced to wrestle with the harshness, we should wrestle equally hard to understand why Jesus put it so harshly. We are forced to wrestle with the word ‘hate’ because we know that the Law teaches us to love our families and our neighbors (Lev 19:17-18). And Jesus himself agreed with this (Luke 10:25-28). Of course he agreed. He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. And His Spirit, which he gave to the church inspired the apostle John to say, “whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (1 John 2:11 ESV) And He inspired James to say, “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household,” a clear expression of love, not hate, “he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Tim 5:8 ESV) So, however we understand Jesus’ statement, it cannot contradict the clear teaching of the scriptures. Love is an essential virtue of the life of every believer.

We get a clue to what Jesus meant in a parallel account of this teaching. In Matt. 10:25-27, Jesus expresses the same idea as loving family more than him. And this use of the word “hate” has precedent. In Genesis 29, we find that Jacob loved Rachel more than he loved Leah (Gen. 29:30). In the very next verse, we find that God regarded this preference of Rachel as tantamount to hatred of Leah (Gen 29:31). And we know that Jacob didn’t detest Leah with the psychological repulsion we generally associate with the word hate. After all, we know that they continued to lie together as husband and wife, since she began to bear children.

So there’s precedent for this use of the word, and the parallel in Matthew pushes us to see it in this comparative sense. Jesus is essentially saying, “You must love God, His kingdom, and His King more than you love anything else.”

Carry Your Cross

This preference for the kingdom over everything else is the essence of carrying your cross. To carry your cross is to take up the instrument of your execution and march toward death behind your Redeemer. If you love your life, or anything else, more than the kingdom, you will certainly not willingly follow the king to your death. But this radical abandon is an absolute requirement for discipleship.

Count the Cost

Far too few who confess the name of Christ grasp this fact. This sad reality is a result of unbiblical evangelistic practices, whereby we appeal to people’s emotions or present an unbiblical faith devoid of repentance. An “easy” gospel is a recipe for a wrecked faith. And nothing could be farther from the biblical presentation of the gospel (John 15:20; 16:33; 1 Thess. 3:3; 2 Tim. 3:12; Act 9:16; Mark 10:30; Luke 21:12; 22:28, 29; Rom. 8:17; Phil. 1:20; 2 Thess. 1:5; 2 Tim. 2:12; 1 Pet. 5:10; Rev. 1:9).

Note the context of this story. A huge crowd was following Jesus. But our Savior isn’t so interested in filling the church with bodies as he is with calling true disciples. Shallow confessors will be stunned by the reality of suffering, and will fall away from the faith, leaving the remnants of their brief confession behind, much like John Dylan’s album Slow Train Coming. Or, in Jesus’ imagery, like an unfinished tower, it will remain for all to see and mock.

Jesus has consistently taught these things. In Luke 8:1-15, he taught about some whose love of the world would choke out their faith, and others who do not have the necessary roots to withstand the heat of the sun. When persecution comes, they fall away. And in Luke 9:51-62, he taught about the urgency of the kingdom, and how it takes precedence over everything else.

Consider the Stakes

Discipleship is costly, but the next analogy (Luke 14:31-32) has more to do with the costliness of not becoming a disciple. Much as he called us to settle out of court in Luke 12:54-59, this analogy gives absolute surrender as our only recourse in the face of the coming judgment. When a king sent a delegation to ask for peace, he placed himself in the hands of the more powerful king. He was, quite literally, at the mercy of the other king. He might escape with only a hefty tax to pay. But if he forced the stronger king to take the city by siege and spear, he was assured of total annihilation. Similarly, the judgment approaches, and those who have not bent the knee have a brief opportunity to do so. Today is the day of salvation. The coming king is nearer than he was. The situation is urgent. It is time to surrender. Sue for terms of peace. But understand, you have nothing to barter with. Unlike kings in the ancient world, you do God no favor by surrendering. He doesn’t need to erect siege works. And so, having nothing to offer, your surrender is total. That’s why Jesus ends this analogy with verse 33: So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple..

Discipleship is costly, and the stakes are high. But the reward is greater:

Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life. (Luke 18:24–30 ESV)

This passage is instructive, not only for putting our “hatred” for parents and children and siblings in perspective, but also as it comes on the heels of another hard saying of our Lord. Seeing the rich young man walk away sad, Jesus remarks that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. The cost of discipleship was not lost on the disciples in this instance. They ask, “Then who can be saved?” To which, he answers, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

Brothers, it is undoubtedly frightening to be told that discipleship is out of reach if you cannot forsake everything in this world. But remember that the power behind your salvation is not your own. Even your faith is a gift of God. And He Who began a good work in you will carry it to completion.

Just be sure that you’ve signed on with the cost in mind. Sign the waiver, so to speak, so that when God calls you to sacrifice or suffer, you will not be surprised. He will give you the strength to pay. And he will richly reward you.

Stay Salty

But bear in mind that those who blindly rush in are not equipped to bring God glory as His disciples. And so they will prove useless. Like the fig tree that bore no fruit, so the salt that loses its savor, it is in danger of being discarded.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”