What is the price of being a Christian? What is the price of being a disciple? Our God is not an idol, whom we go to only in need. This faith is a relationship between ourselves and the Lord. We will in this study examine how hard it really is to truly be a disciple of Christ.
Jesus did not say, if Jews would come after me, or if men would come after me, or if adults would come after me, or if spiritual leaders would come after me. He said to them all – Matthew 16:32 may suggest that he was speaking to merely his disciples, but Mark 8:34 sheds more light – he was speaking to his disciples, along with the crowd of people who were with them. He wasn’t just speaking to his disciples, no, he was speaking also to the masses, to the multitude, to everybody. No, there are no pre-defined conditions based on your status, your titles, your reputation, your wealth, your age – anything. No, not any of these. But are there requirements that we must have before we are qualified to follow the Lord? Yes. It comes next.
Analysis: deny himself
We see this incident recorded in Matthew 16:32 and Mark 8:34 in almost exactly the same words. To deny yourself is to subservient yourself – to put down your worldly self, your sinful self, your own will, to let go of your wheel. It is easy to accept that we need to deny our sinful selves, but it is difficult a concept to accept that we need also to put down our wealth and pleasures – good things that are of the world. Things that compete for our time with the Lord. It is interesting how we feel attached to the good things of the world because we feel that we will be miserable without them, yet if we are able to truly put them down, we will attain true happiness, a happiness not just in this life but also for eternity with the Lord.
I allude here to the story of the ‘Rich Young Ruler’, an event recorded in Luke 18:18-29 and Mark 10:17-31. A young, accomplished man who followed the commandments religiously came to Jesus and asked what else he needs to do in order to follow Jesus. Jesus answered: “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” [Mark 10:21 or similarly in Luke 18:22]
The young ruler walked away, though the Bible did say that he was very sad. He wasn’t named in the Bible, very unfortunately. Have you ever had a moment when you thought, ‘aww, too bad for me then.’ That’s probably how he felt at that moment, just to a far larger degree. He wasn’t just sad. He was very sad. But as much as you are a saintly Christian, it’s another matter altogether to deny yourself. If you’re a pauper, I’m sure selling all you have won’t be too difficult. I’m a student, and to be honest, barely a dime to my name. But even a youngster like me has attachments to too many things in this world. We’re all called to do deny ourselves in different ways.
Analysis: take up the cross daily
Of course, denying ourselves alone wouldn’t bring us into that realm. Upon denying ourselves, which must be the first step, we ought to take up the cross daily – let us first put aside all the possible connotations that ‘taking up the cross’ have with respect to our cultural context, and think about it in its literal sense – are you able to face crucifixion? Are you able to die for God today, tomorrow, any day? Before you are too quick to say yes or no, let’s move on and try to apply it to our cultural context.
Suffering and difficulties will come your way when you choose to walk the Christian road. God will mould you, break you, test you in ways you may not desire. Are you able to truly submit to God’s will, whatever it is? I like the analogy of the wheel. If you’re a driver, surely you’ll understand this: do you dare to go to somewhere, sitting in the driver’s seat, feet on the pedals, but hands off the wheel? I’m not a fantastic driver, so lifting both hands away from the wheel for more than one microsecond scares me to no end. Imagine heading straight off a cliff, and you are in full view of it – can you not grab your wheel again and swerve away? A nasty analogy, admittedly, but I like it. We seem to think that taking up the cross is easy, because we’re not in the cultural context of crucifixions.
For many Christians I’m sure that at some point in their lives they’ll be so full of faith and passionate for God’s Kingdom – maybe they just returned from a Bible Camp; maybe they just experienced a miracle; maybe they just got inspired by a charismatic story – and I’m sure at that point in life, they will be truly able to say, Lord, I’ll deny myself and take up my cross daily. I’ll give up my all and follow you. But how many of us can do that daily? When life is stagnant and monotonous, when you’re striving to become outstanding; and yet stuck in the a routine of work, work and work. When there are so many things you want to achieve, when you have a bright future in front of you, when you have family obligations, when you have societal expectations; when you have promises to keep. Or when disaster strikes, when times are difficult, when your babies’ wailing keep you edgy and frustrated all year long?
Daily. You cannot just say, Lord, I’ll deny myself today and follow you today. Tomorrow, I’ll go back to my worldly life. It’s not a temporary thing. It’s a lifelong commitment. Ah, commitments. They are hard. We need to be reminded daily. We are Christians and disciples of God everywhere we go, anytime of the day. We’re not just Christians every Sunday, or every Christmas day.
Analysis: come after me; follow me
Let us follow Jesus, let us go after Him. He is our role model, our teacher, our example. Let us believe in his gospel, trust in his words, obey his commandments, uphold his cause; follow him in duty, following him to glory.
Luke 14:27 says, and anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Similarly, Matthew 10:38 says, and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Salvation is free for all who believes. You just need to confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead [Romans 10:9]. But discipleship has its attached duties and responsibilities. If the apostles are any indications… though it is not recorded in the Bible, according to other historical sources (like what, I don’t know, I’m just quoting off memory); the only apostle who did not die in martyrdom was John. But even so, he had a pretty nasty life, being exiled to a deserted island called Patmos (where he wrote the book of Revelation). Before that, he even survived a boiling cauldron of oil. Many of the apostles were crucified, some stoned to death, some beheaded… the list of martyrs in history is long, but perhaps what’s impressive isn’t their moment of death or how they died, but the life that they spent in defence of God’s glory before their death.
It’s not like you and I will surely be martyrs for the Lord – our circumstances could be vastly different, but the life of the apostles give us some indication of what it truly means to follow Christ.
Nobody ever said Christianity was easy. And if nobody ever told you that Christianity is difficult, then maybe you should read the Bible. In God’s eyes it is perhaps not difficult, since you’ll be unable to find such a blunt phrase in the Bible; but by human standards, it is a mountain to climb, a race to run – a never ending, lifelong race. At least, that’s in my opinion. I’m sure somewhere in this world there will be some unique individuals who live their lives for God easily. I hope you’re like that. If you’re more like me, living in a over-complicated life for my own good and allowing myself to get distracted by too many worldly things, then join me in a daily attempt to deny myself, take up the cross and follow Jesus.
Even if I only manage to drag myself one step with the cross today; even if I can barely lift up the cross tomorrow, it is my daily responsibility to pour my mind and soul and body into accomplishing this, and start on a clean slate the next day.
Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. [Hebrews 13:13]