Jesus said, “Which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:28). Jesus wanted to prevent people from starting to follow Him and then stopping later. Expectations shape experiences. When you know the cost involved in following Christ, there’s a better chance of persevering. So, He used two illustrations that both involve foresight: building a tower and going to war.
Table of Contents
- Jesus Wants Unbelievers to Count the Cost So They Don’t Start and Then Stop
- Two Metaphors Illustrating Counting the Cost
- Jesus Wants Believers to Count the Cost So They Persevere
- Is There Anything You Won’t Renounce?
- Christians Share Similarities with Salt
- Only Apostates Lose Their Saltiness
- Apostates’ Saltiness Can Never Be Restored
Consider the duality of the Gospel. Gospel means “Good News” and there’s much good news:
- Jesus takes the punishment our sins deserve
- We’re given the very righteousness of Christ
- We will spend eternity in heaven with the Lord
We don’t have to spend eternity in hell. I’ve heard people say, “Don’t tell people about hell, because that’s the bad news.” I don’t think it’s bad news to learn that you don’t have to go to hell. To me, that’s great news.
But there’s also a cost associated with all this good news, or a cost associated with being Christ’s disciple:
Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters yes, even their own life such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Following Christ can be hard! Jesus said, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14). Jesus himself said following Him is hard.
So, guess what could happen? People can start following Christ, but then stop. They begin, but don’t finish.
Jesus Wants Unbelievers to Count the Cost So They Don’t Start and Then Stop
If you are like me, when you think of the parable of the soils you think of three bad soils and one good soil. That’s true, but it’s also true that three of the soils started off well, and two of them stopped, leaving only one good soil:
Luke 8:6 And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it (grew up with the plants, meaning the seed started growing) and choked it.
Jesus interpreted the soils:
Luke 8:13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.
One soil “believes for a while,” which is to say begins, but doesn’t finish. This is apostasy, which we’ll talk more about in a moment. The other soil grows up enough thorns choke it, which is to say it also begins, but doesn’t finish. Two of the three soils start and stop
Jesus wants to prevent unbelievers from starting and stopping, so He preached the following:
Luke 14:28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?
This introduces an interesting balance. On one hand we have 2 Corinthians 6:2, quoting Isaiah 49:8, which says, “Now is the day of salvation.” This sounds like people should make a decision today! But in these verses Jesus tries to prevent people from making a hasty decision by telling them to first count the cost. How do we explain this?
I think the balance is, press people to make a decision, but make sure they understand what’s involved. Tell people to repent and turn to Christ, but encourage them to count the cost.
Two Metaphors Illustrating Counting the Cost
The spiritual application from both metaphors is that it is best to figure out as early as possible whether we really want to follow Christ.
First, Count the Cost When Building a Tower
I don’t think we see this much in our day, because of the financing people receive for building projects. What typically happens is people build something and it ends up being much more expensive than they initially thought, but it seems like at least it gets built. But in Jesus’s day people couldn’t go to the bank and get a big loan. So, if they ran out of money the building would stop, even if they were right in the middle of building.
To prevent this, people should first sit down, take out their pencil and paper, and do all the math to see if they have enough if to complete the project. If they don’t, they could end up with a building that is half completed and Jesus described what happens:
Luke 14:29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’
We know Jesus isn’t trying to give us construction advice. These illustrations, like all of Jesus’s teachings, use physical examples to teach spiritual truths. He is discouraging people from starting to follow Him, but stopping later. He said, “all who see it begin to mock him.” If you start a building but don’t finish, you’re going to look silly and people will make fun of you. They know you ran out of money because you didn’t plan well enough.
Spiritually speaking, picture people who talk about their relationship with Christ, tell others that they should repent and put their faith Christ, maybe even criticize other people’s religion. But then they stop following Christ. How does that look? It looks bad and people might mock them: “You said you are a Christian. You are supposedly thankful that Jesus died for you, but now you say you’re not a Christian anymore? It would’ve been better if you never claimed to be a Christian in the first place than to have made that claim and stopped following Him.”
Second, Count the Cost When Going to War
Luke 14:31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.
If kings are wise, when they go to battle, they first sit down and determine whether they have enough soldiers to win the fight. If they don’t, they lose. Many of their soldiers are killed, their cities could be plundered, and their nation could be conquered.
But kings don’t always know the size of the enemy army until that army is heading toward them. At that point if the king recognizes he does not have enough soldiers to win, then he tries to make peace. He also tries to do this as early as possible: “while the other is yet a great way off.” The king seeking peace doesn’t want the other king to get very far and be angry about the long trip he unnecessarily took with his army. The earlier the king seeks peace the better chance the approaching king will give him favorable terms. But if the opposing king makes it very far, he might say, “No, you wanted to go to battle and I came all this way, so we are going to fight.”
Only foolish people go up against a king that they can’t defeat. Wise people pursue peace before they face the king. There’s a King we are going to face, and we don’t want to go to war with him. It’s a battle we would lose. Instead, we should seek terms of peace, and “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
If you’re not a Christian then you will face God as a terrifying king at war with you. If you are a Christian, you will face God as a loving Father, who welcomes you as one of His children.
Jesus Wants Believers to Count the Cost So They Persevere
There are two sides to Jesus’s teaching. He is discouraging unbelievers from following him so they will not start and then stop. But He is also encouraging believers to follow Him so we persevere. As much as these illustrations let unbelievers know what is involved in following Jesus so that they don’t try to, they also let believers know what is involved in following Jesus, so that we don’t end up falling away. Expectations shape experiences.
When you know the cost involved in following Christ, there’s a better chance of persevering. That’s why both illustrations involve foresight, or looking ahead. Jesus wants us to have the foresight to not be like the failed tower-builder. Instead, he wants us to have the foresight of the king who knows ahead of time not to go to battle, but to seek terms of peace instead. It’s like Jesus says, “I don’t want you to start and then stop, so think about what’s involved so you can persevere.”
Is There Anything You Won’t Renounce?
Luke 14:33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
The word “therefore” causes us to look back at what was just said. Those who are not willing to count the cost will not be willing to renounce all that they have. The Greek word for renounce is apotassō, which means “bid farewell.” Here’s one example of its use:
Luke 9:61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell (apotassō) to those at my home.”
Jesus says, “Figure out ahead of time if there’s anything you would not be willing to bid farewell to for me.” The Rich Young Ruler is a good example of what it looks like when someone is not willing to bid farewell to everything for Christ.
Christians Share Similarities with Salt
Luke 14:34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35 It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Jesus makes what looks like an abrupt change in his teaching. He moves from counting the cost to salt. Although these seem unrelated, they fit together. The phrase, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” means Jesus is talking to everyone who has ears, not just those interested salt. This is similar to Jesus’s words in the sermon on the Mount:
Matthew 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
Jesus says we are salt. Salt used to be one of the most useful commodities on earth. It was far more important in Jesus’s day than in our technologically advanced day of electricity and refrigeration. Salt was so useful it was traded ounce-for-ounce with gold, which reveals one of its other uses: serving as currency. People were paid in salt (solarium argentum). This is where we get our English word salary and the phrase “worth his salt.”
Let me help you understand what salt was like in Jesus’s day, so you can understand why Jesus compared us with salt.
First, Salt Flavors
Salt provided flavor in a day when there was less seasoning and food was blander. Like salt seasons food, Christians season their environment, or influence it spiritually for Christ: “Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, that you may know how to answer every man” (Colossians 4:6).
Second, Salt Preserves
Salt was one of the few preservatives available. It preserved fish, meat, olives, cheese, and pickled vegetables throughout the year everywhere in the world. In the Middle East, salt was even more essential, because it was a hot climate and without refrigeration food wouldn’t last. Like salt preserves food, Christians “preserve” others for eternity by spreading the Gospel.
When salt is removed, food spoils, and when the church is removed the earth will be “spoiled.” Paul describes it: “The mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed” (2 Thessalonians 2:7).
Third, Salt Heals
Salt healed and served as an antiseptic. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “pouring salt on a wound.” Before the days of iodine and other antiseptics, salt was used to protect people from infection.
Like salt heals, Christians help people spiritually heal when we point them toward Christ, the Great Physician.
Fourth, Salt Nourishes
Our bodies need nutrients to remain healthy, and salt is one of them. With too little salt our bodily systems get out of kilter, but with the right amount our bodies retain enough water to maintain equilibrium. Like salt nourishes, Christians provide spiritual nourishment when we share God’s Word with people.
Only Apostates Lose Their Saltiness
One of the themes in the verses is it sounds like Jesus is saying people can lose their salvation. For example, the seed in two soils starts growing and then stops. People start building, but then stop. Salt can lose its taste as though people were salty, or saved, but then lost their saltiness, or salvation.
Does this mean they were saved and then stopped being saved? Pure salt cannot lose its effectiveness or taste, but the salt that was common in Jesus’s day came from around the Dead Sea. It was contaminated with gypsum and other materials that could cause it to be ineffective and lose its taste. If that happened, it created a disposal problem, which Jesus described in verse 35: it couldn’t be put on the soil because it would destroy vegetation, and you couldn’t be put on the manure pile, because that could be used for fertilizer, also destroying vegetation. Instead, as Jesus said, it had to be thrown away, which is a euphemism for going to hell.
The final similarity between salt and people is just like pure salt can’t lose its taste, true believers can’t lose their salvation. This allows us to connect the dots between verses 26 through 33 and verses 34 and 35. Here’s the flow of thought: If Jesus was talking about believers, they wouldn’t stop. They wouldn’t be salty and then stop being salty. They would persevere. If Jesus isn’t talking about believers, who is he talking about? He’s talking about apostates.
Luke 14:25 says, “great crowds accompanied Him.” Even though these people looked like disciples, Jesus knew many of them would fall away. This is apostasy. Apostates are not people who have never heard the gospel. Apostates are people who heard the gospel, looked like followers of Christ, and then fell away. Apostates are soils that grew, but then stopped. They started building, but then stopped. They were salty, but then lost their saltiness.
Apostates Look Like Believers
1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
They looked like believers until they went out. It was only them going out that revealed they did not really belong to us. They’re unbelievers who have been involved in Christian activity, but then turned from Christ. They committed apostasy, or started and then stopped, or lost their saltiness. We can probably all think of people who looked like they were Christians, involved in the church, even being used by God in wonderful ways, but then turned away. Hebrews 6:4-6 describe these people:
Hebrews 6:4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
Some people consider these verses to be some of the most confusing in Scripture. The important thing to know is they look like they describe believers, but they describe apostates. Because apostates look like believers, it makes sense these verses about apostates look like they’re describing believers. John MacArthur said, “There is no mention of [the people in these verses] being saved and they are not described with any terms that apply only to believers, such as ‘holy,’ ‘born again,’ ‘righteous,’ or ‘saints.’”
means they received biblical truth. Understanding the Gospel is not the same as believing the gospel. Many people can explain the Gospel but are not converted.
“Tasted of the heavenly gift”
Tasted means experienced. The heavenly gift is Jesus. Many people experienced Jesus during His earthly ministry, but they weren’t saved.
“Shared in the Holy Spirit”
The Holy Spirit works on people, but some people resist or blaspheme His work. In Acts 7:51, Stephen told the religious leaders, “You always resist the Holy Spirit.” They shared in the Holy Spirit’s work, but resisted it.
“Tasted the goodness of the word of God”
This means people heard God’s Word, were encouraged by it, but stopped believing it later.
“The powers of the age to come”
This refers to God’s supernatural power which some experienced during Jesus’s earthly ministry when He performed miracles.
After all they experienced it says, “they have fallen away.” This is apostasy. The beginning of verse 4 says, “For it is impossible.” The word impossible means just that. We are not talking about something difficult. We are talking about something that cannot happen. It is impossible “after they have fallen away to restore them again to repentance.”
Apostates’ Saltiness Can Never Be Restored
People who have committed apostasy can never be restored to repentance, or salvation. Both of the times Jesus talked about salt losing it saltiness, he said the saltiness couldn’t be restored:
- Matthew 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?
- Luke 14:34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?
When people have committed apostasy, they can’t be saved later. People who believe people can lose their salvation cite Hebrews 6:4-6. But I’ve never heard anyone say that if people lose their salvation, it is impossible for them to get it back again. We can’t lose our salvation, but if people think Hebrews 6:4-6 teaches we can lose their salvation, these same people must also acknowledge that these verses teach “it is impossible” for people to be saved again.
The best way to understand the impossibility is forgiveness is only found in Christ. To fall away, or commit apostasy, leaves it impossible to be renewed to repentance, because forgiveness can’t be found anywhere else. If you turn from Jesus, you can’t be saved any other way:
Acts 4:12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”