The Paradoxical Nature of Fulfillment

“If you want to be my follower you must love me more than your own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, more than your own life” (Luke 14:26, NLT).

One of the biggest lies Satan wants you to believe is that fulfillment in life is self-created. Thankfully, Jesus loves us enough to tell us the truth. While his words in the text quoted above may seem incredibly unloving, harsh, and downright crazy, they aren’t. In truth, they are liberating.

A few weeks ago during our family Bible reading time, I read Jesus’ words above to our children. You should have seen their faces and heard their questions. Consider the paragraphs that follow an extended mediation on Luke 14:26. Here goes:

In the immediate context, Jesus reveals his longing for the kingdom to be filled with all kinds of people—people from every tribe, nation, and tongue (14:12-24). Still, he wanted the crowds that followed him (v. 25) to understand the cost of discipleship. Thus, although multitudes of people traveled with him throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus was not primarily interested in popularity. His words comforted the afflicted as well as disturbed the comfortable.

If you place Jesus’ words within the larger narrative of Scripture, they sound quite similar to the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). But even as you read the first commandment, keep in mind what God says just prior to this: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (v. 2). Thus, because God created us, he owns us. He rightly demands our service and worship. While we must honor our mothers and fathers (v. 12)—and others in positions of authority—we do not accord them the same honor we do God (Acts 5:29).

Additionally, while we may recoil at Jesus’ words, consider the fact that by nature we’re all worshipers anyway. We can’t not worship. We will give ourselves to something or someone totally, even if that person is ourselves—which comes most naturally to us anyway. As Owen Strachan rightly observes, “The human heart in its natural state is not generous to competitors.”[1] In a real sense, therefore, we can say: Whatever rules your heart, rules you. You are a worshiper whether you realize it or not.

But here’s where the problem comes. If I give myself to something within creation, I’m doomed to disappointment. God created human beings in such a way that nothing within creation can fully satisfy us. Thus, as writers for centuries have noted, there exists within all human beings a “God-shaped abyss.” And as Pascal noted, “the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.”[2]

And so we come full circle to Jesus’ words in Luke 14:26. Here’s the paradoxical truth: In calling us to give our lives away in service to him, Jesus shows us the way to supreme joy. True life is found in not living for myself.

Given that we’re created in God’s image this makes complete sense. God is fundamentally “other-oriented” at the core of his being, hence his invitation to us to commune with him—an invitation extended to us so that we might partake in the joy he has in himself.[3] This is why the Father sent the Son. And as Calvin noted: “to devote himself completely to saving us, Christ in a way forgot himself” (Institutes 2. 17. 6).

So, when you think about it, Christ’s words in Luke 14:26 are gracious words coming from the Savior who knows us better than we know ourselves.


[1] Owen Strachan, The Colson Way: Loving Your Neighbor and Living with Faith in a Hostile World (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015), 2.

[2] Blaise Pascal, Pascal’s Pensees (trans. W. F. Trotter; New York: E. P. Dutton, 1958), 113.

[3] The language of “other-oriented” comes from Tim Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (New York: Dutton, 2014), 68.


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