“Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Salvation is free…but discipleship will cost you your life.” I’m pretty sure he was quoting Jesus on that one.
Does Christ’s call to self-denying, cross-bearing discipleship seem a little extreme in comparison to the “easy believism” that passes for some brands of discipleship today? You will likely hear a lot more about a life of comfort, security and success these days from spiritual leaders than the straight talk Jesus laid on his would-be followers.
Jesus made no promises of an easy, breezy, carefree Christianity. Rather, he demanded complete obedience, costly sacrifice, and selfless servanthood from those who wanted to be on his team. He told them that they would have to “eat his flesh and drink his blood” if they wanted a part in him. (John 6:53) He said people would hate them, misunderstand them, reject them, persecute them, and put them out of the synagogues. And he even promised that people would kill them, believing that in so doing they were helping God out. (John 16:2)
Yet the eleven disciples (one of them, Judas, got cold feet) fully bought into Christ’s call to costly discipleship. They gave up everything they had and left everything they knew for a life that promised nothing except a chance to advance God’s kingdom in a resistant, hostile world. They fully understood that the overwhelming bulk of their rewards would come only afterwards, in the afterlife.
Despite Christ’s less than appealing recruitment campaign, however, these first disciples, followed in the years to come by countless thousands of other hungry seekers, flocked to this self-denying, cross-bearing brand of Christianity. Jesus was a tough act to follow, to say the least, but these disciples eagerly signed up—and they changed the world.
How? Simply by doing what Jesus had asked: They denied themselves, took up their crosses, followed his way daily and laid down their lives for his sake— literally in many cases. Without a political voice, financial resources, social standing, and military might, this unlikely ragtag band of followers conquered the Roman Empire in less than three hundred years.
Such was the radical power of this brand of fully committed discipleship.
Do you worry, as I do, that Christ’s call to costly discipleship would empty most churches of its people in our day? Though most believers give mental assent to cross-bearing and self-denial, in reality there is very little evidence of it in their lives, or in their churches.
A.W. Tozer commented that “it has become popular to preach a painless Christianity and automatic saintliness. It has become part of our ‘instant’ culture. ‘Just pour a little water on it, stir mildly, pick up a gospel tract, and you are on your Christian way.’”
If Jesus rebuked Peter (Matthew 16:23) — “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” — for suggesting Christianity without a cross, what do you suppose he would say to us who have suggested Christian discipleship without cross-bearing?
If Jesus rebuked Peter — “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:23) — for suggesting Christianity without a cross, what do you suppose he would say to those today who have suggested Christian discipleship without cross-bearing? Jesus made no promises of an easy, breezy, carefree Christianity. Rather, he demanded complete obedience, costly sacrifice, and selfless servanthood from those who wanted to be on his team—and with that, a chance to change the world now and unending, indescribably joy in the world to come.
We must aggressively and boldly reject that brand of faith, because that is not the discipleship to which Jesus has called us. And that is not the discipleship that I want for my life.
How about you?
“The first mark of a disciple is not a profession of faith, but an act of obedience.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer: