CLAIM: Jesus clearly states, “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions” (Lk. 14:33). Some believers use this passage to claim that wealthy Christians are not true believers in Christ. Is this the case?
RESPONSE: We believe that Christ commands us to give up our possessions, but not necessarily give them away. We certainly believe that believers should be willing to give up everything to follow Christ, if God asked us to. This is Jesus’ message: discipleship to Christ can cost us everything. This is why he tells believers to “calculate the cost” of following him. However, not every believer is going to need to do this. We hold this interpretation of this passage for a number of reasons:
First, Paul wrote to rich believers in the church of Ephesus. Paul writes, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed” (1 Tim. 6:17-19). Therefore, if believers cannot be rich, then why would Paul write to them here? Moreover, the original disciples benefited from the hospitality and home owning of other believers at the time (Acts 28:7; Rom. 16:23; Lk. 8:1-3).
Second, Jesus was referring to discipleship here—not salvation. The Bible states that there are certainly “carnal Christians,” who are living wildly inconsistent with the teachings of Christ. For instance, while Paul called for church discipline for lazy believers in the Thessalonian church, he still called these believers “brothers” (2 Thess. 3:6, 15). In 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, Paul called certain members of the Corinthian church “carnal” (KJV; Greek sarkikos), but he still called them “brothers” (NIV). Paul used this same term (sarkikos) to refer to himself! (Rom. 7:14). So, while believers can be stuck in sin of any kind, they are still believers. Here Jesus is referring to the ideal commitment level of one of his disciples: complete commitment.
Third, if Jesus is saying that EVERY believer should sell ALL of their possessions, then I have never met a true believer. Common sense should have something to say in this discussion. Is it really possible that I have never met a true believer? This seems to stretch credulity.
Fourth, Jesus’ original disciples LEFT their possessions, but they didn’t necessarily SELL their possessions. Jesus was an itinerant (or travelling) preacher. Therefore, when he called them to follow him, this was a literal commandment (Mk. 1:16-20). They had to leave their cumbersome possessions in order to walk around Israel with Jesus. Alcorn writes, “To follow Christ, the disciples simply had to leave their boats and nets. The central point isn’t that they left their boats, but that they followed Jesus. Leaving behind their possessions was simply the inevitable byproduct of their new mission.”
In fact, just a few verses after their calling, Jesus went to “the house of Simon and Andrew” (Mk. 1:29), which means that they still owned a house. Only a few days after Jesus’ death, Peter went back to his fishing nets and boat (Jn. 21:1-3), which he had abandoned three years earlier. It is possible that he bought a new boat, but it’s just as likely he picked up his old one. Moreover, after three years of following Christ, the apostle John still had a home to take Jesus’ mother into (Jn. 19:26-27). Alcorn comments, “Peter says to Jesus, ‘We have left everything to follow you!’ (Mark 10:28). He doesn’t say, ‘We have sold everything,’ though they may have liquidated many of their possessions (Luke 12:32-33).’”
We, of course, are not arguing in favor of materialism (see our earlier articles). Instead, we are arguing against the ascetic view that we are not true Christians unless we are in poverty.