We are often misled by people trying to win us for their cause. They want us as long as we can be of benefit to them; then they drop us. An engineer in middle age tells a sad story: he had graduated from the university with a high grade point average. Several corporations were recruiting him for their organization. He had a great personality and a strong work ethic. His talents had every indication they would be of great value to any organization that hired him. The engineer had not been with a corporation long before realizing he had been misled by the recruiters; working conditions were very unpleasant. Finally, he was given a pink slip. His comment was, “Had I been given the full picture of what would be demanded of me, I would not have taken the job.”
Jesus could never have been accused of misleading the twelve men He trained to be fishers of men. When He had completed teaching the disciples, Jesus returned to His Heavenly home. However, He left behind the textbook, which has become the inspired word for all those who want to be His followers. In this book, our Lord makes it clear that, while our salvation is free by grace through faith in Him, being His disciple can be very costly.
It was unbelievable news when one day Jesus said to His disciples, “I must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elder, chief priests, and teachers of the law. Then I must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21).
“What kind of talk is this?” Peter asked the Lord. The disciples were entertaining thoughts of a different kind of future than Jesus was outlining to them. Hadn’t the angel told Mary her Son would establish a kingdom that would have no end? James and John dreamed of a glorious day when they would occupy positions of great prestige. They requested that when this Kingdom was fully established they would have the two most important chairs. One would sit on the right, and the other on the left of the King. Judas, on the other hand, was more interested in the money that would be a part of the Kingdom.
Now Peter asks Jesus, “Has something changed? Have we been misled?”
Then Jesus makes this announcement: The future is not only going to be difficult for me, but also for you. He had no intentions of misleading them by letting them think that being His disciple would assure them of a carefree life. Hear His words: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).
The Kingdom is not described as one of ease, wealth, and popularity. “My Kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus said. A life committed to Christ could be described as one that included difficulties, poverty, and hatred. This was descriptive of Jesus’ life, and a disciple could not be above his teacher.
This remains a basic teaching as Jesus continues to train his disciples to be fishers of men. Over the centuries Christianity has not seen discipleship get any easier. Martyrdom is with us today as it was when Jesus walked on earth. If this is true, we must ask ourselves why it is that our version of the Christian faith has become so acceptable and respected? The answer is clear: we have become masters at adjusting Biblical teachings to coincide with our culture. Let’s use one illustration as it applies to our day.
The Church today wrestles with the practice of homosexuality. Should we ordain practicing homosexuals to be ministers in the Church? Should we bless same-sex marriages? Now many of us have friends and relatives who practice the gay lifestyle. We love these people and do not want anything to destroy our relationship. What shall we do? These people not only want us to accept them, which we do, but they also want us to condone their behavior as an alternate lifestyle.
Here is an answer coming from some theologians: Once we said our only authority in matters of faith and life is the Word of God. Now there are those who will teach us that culture must also be considered. In other words, we interpret scripture in the light of culture. If culture is changing its position and becoming more acceptable to the homosexual lifestyle, should the church not also make this adjustment? Will culture reject Christianity if it does not make this adjustment? It would be a crushing blow for us to experience if some of our dearest friends and relatives would reject us.
It is in this setting that Jesus’ words apply: “Take us your cross and follow me. You must remain true to my word if you want to be my disciples.” In our society we are not dying physically for the cause of Christ. However, there is plenty of social dying if we are faithful to our Lord’s commands. The Bible makes it clear that such adjustments of God’s Word will not be acceptable to the faithful follower of Christ. It is better for us to understand this now than to be deluded by a false theology that tries to teach in error that Christianity can be adjusted to meet the whims of culture.
“Well,” the person seeking to know more about the Christian faith says, “if all of this is true, I guess the Christian faith is not for me. Life is tough, and there is no need to make it tougher.” What a temptation it is to water down faith in the hopes of keeping a person open to an adjusted version of Biblical teaching. While compromising Biblical truths might be the easy way out at the present time, such a presentation of the Christian faith will not long endure. Soon we will have nothing distinct to offer our culture when it is completely destitute.
This is only one side of true discipleship. While Jesus talks about taking up your cross and following Him, he also taught this great truth: “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). You must wonder if this not a contradiction. The answer of every committed Christian I have ever met is, no.
While the Christian faith can be difficult, it is always full, abundant, and brings with it an inner peace and joy. However, our Lord tells us what the full life is. Here are some of these eternal truths that are a part of the abundant life.
The Bible teaches that we can live without the fear of complete rejection. God says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Think what joy and peace this can bring to a human heart. No longer do we need to fear being ostracized by those who cannot accept us if we are, in their minds, “religious radicals.” It is not easy to experience the hostility of these people, but underneath all of the hurts, we are assured that God has not rejected us. This is a part of the abundant life.
Think of the comfort in these words: “The Lord is my keeper. I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Let me share with you an experience I had a month ago.
Eight years ago my wife had a major stroke, and from that day on, I have always been concerned she would have another stroke. All has gone well, but on Friday evening a few weeks ago, just as we were preparing our dinner, Eunice was unable to speak to me. This spell lasted for only a couple of minutes, but it was repeated again and again. Finally, we went to the hospital. Over the next few hours I was very frightened. At 5:00 a.m., after being with her in the longest and hardest spells, I threw myself on the cot provided for me in the room and poured out my heart to God in prayer. I turned over my wife to God completely. “Lord, I ask that you spare her from more disabilities. Do not send her home unable to talk, swallow, or see. Please, Lord, if she can’t be spared these difficulties, take her home to be with you. She trusts you. We know there is a heavenly home awaiting her. I don’t want her to leave, but if that be your will, take her home.”
Suddenly there was peace. I fell asleep for a couple of hours and from that time on, she did not have one spell. The doctors continued their work, and on Tuesday afternoon we received the good news that she had not had strokes, but silent seizures, which can be controlled by medication. However, even before any medicine entered her system, Eunice had been seizure-free for 84 hours. The doctors have now prescribed the medicine, which she is taking faithfully.
This is the abundant life. We can have peace even in some of our most torturous moments, because God is our helper. He will sustain us. This is part of being a disciple of Christ. Such peace far surpasses any suffering we might endure.
It is He who tells us “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all of our sins.” Guilt can drive us wild. We have our ways of trying to explain why we sin. We go so far as to think up a few excuses for acting as we do, but it brings no peace. God does not condone sin, but he will forgive it. That’s a part of the abundant life.
That is a summary of life with Jesus.
No, I have never heard anyone say they have not been happy since Jesus became a part of their life. The going will have its rough days, but life will always be abundant.