In Luke 14:26, Jesus makes a statement which has the potential for misunderstanding and confusion. Jesus says,
“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.” (ESV)
While reading Tim Keller’s book King’s Cross, which has subsequently been renamed Jesus the King, I ran across this commentary upon Luke 14:26:
“Why does [Jesus] talk about hating? in a number of other places Jesus says that you’re not even allowed to hate your enemies. So what is he saying regarding one’s father and mother? Jesus not calling us to hate actively; he’s calling us to hate comparitively. He says, ‘I want you to follow me so fully, so intensely, so enduringly that all other attachments in your life look like hate by comparison.’ If you say, ‘I’ll obey you, Jesus, if my career thrives, if my health is good, if my family is together,’ then the thing that’s on the other side of that if is your real master, your real goal. But Jesus will not be a means to an end; he will not be used. If he calls you to follow him, he must be the goal.
Does that sound like fanaticism? Not if you understand the difference between religion and the gospel. Remember what religion is; advice on how you must live to earn your way to God. Your job is to follow that advice to the best of your ability. If you follow it but don’t get carried away, then you have moderation. But if you feel like you’re following it faithfully and completely, you’ll believe you have a connection with God because of your right living and right belief, you feel superior to people who have wrong living and wrong belief. That’s a slippery slope: If you feel superior to them, you stay away from them. That makes it easier to exclude them, then to hate them, and ultimately to oppress them. And there are some Christians like that – not because they’ve gone too far and been too committed to Jesus, but because they haven’t gone far enough. They aren’t as fanatically humble and sensitive, or as fanatically understanding and generous as Jesus was. Why not? They’re still treating Christianity as advice instead of good news.
The gospel isn’t advice: It’s the good news that you don’t need to earn your way to God; Jesus has already done it for you. And it’s a gift that you receive by sheer grace – through God’s thoroughly unmerited favor. If you seize that gift and keep holding on to it, then Jesus’s call won’t draw you into fanaticism or moderation. You will be passionate to make Jesus your absolute goal and priority, to orbit around him; yet when you meet somebody with a different set of priorities, a different faith, you won’t assume that they’re inferior to you. You’ll actually seek to serve them rather than oppress them. Why? Because the gospel is not about choosing to follow advice, it’s about being called to follow a King. Not just someone with the power and authority to tell you want needs to be done – but someone with the power and authority to do what needs to be done and then offer it to you as good news.