“And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23 , ESV
If you are reading this, you probably call yourself a “Christian”, but what does it mean to be a real follower of Jesus? Better yet, what did He say was required to be one of His followers? And what did He say that it would cost to follow Him?
The short answer is that according to Jesus, to follow Him requires everything. I don’t hear that being preached very often. But if we give in all that we are and abandon all to Him, what will we receive back? More than we can fathom, hold, imagine, or hope for.
We fail in the area of discipleship more than anywhere else in the modern church, I think. We are called to follow Him, pick up our cross, and , yes, to be perfect, but we don’t talk about it very much. Instead we dither about getting more of God’s blessings and then talk and talk about what to do with those blessings.
Jesus calls us to be His disciples and to be perfect. Are we listening to Him. And what did Jesus mean by being “perfect”? His point was not that we would actually be flawless human specimens, but rather that we soberly accept and agree that perfection was the reason for Him coming; our salvation comes with the understanding that we are prepared for Him bring about perfection within us. “We might want something else in coming to Christ, but He is offering nothing less.” (CS Lewis)
It’s like going to a doctor for because of a headache or back pain. A lot of us don’t want to go because we’re afraid of what the physician might find, or what they might prescribe for us to do, or what we will have give up, or a new diet we might have to take. He might really mess up all our habits and lifestyle if he starts fiddling around with our blood pressure, our liver, our lungs, and so on. But if the doctor is good, he’s going to look after our total health—not just our aching back or a headache. In fact, he knows that our total health affects our back and head. If you come to Jesus, the Great Physician, He’s not simply going to tell you how to be good, He’s going to give you a diet, regimen, and the vitamins required to become a perfect man or woman. THAT is His goal……nothing less.
Jesus calls us to follow him in discipleship, and reminds us that it’s like going to war and then realizing you don’t have enough soldiers to win the battle and defeat the enemy. These are His analogies. We’re called to discipleship—-and “discipleship is not an offer that man makes to Christ.” (Bonhoeffer)
So Jesus told us clearly that His goal was the creation of the whole, complete, perfect child of God—- for which we were imagined and created. It’s the intended life for which He gave His life. So we can choose to push Him away, and delay this process, or decide that it costs too much and we don’t want it, but if we submit to Him, He will begin that process of making us holy—-with the ultimate goal of making us perfect. He will see it through if we have truly counted the cost and trust ourselves to His Hand. “The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with. Christ.” (Bonhoeffer). Has that happened in your life yet?
But we must be encouraged—-our Father is happy and pleased even with our failed attempts to be holy. George McDonald reminded us that just like a father is pleased with a baby’s first faltering steps, so our Father is happy with those first steps we take in following the Master. It’s been said that “God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy”. We determine to please Him—-He helps us become the sons and daughters He is satisfied with. Following Jesus in discipleship is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.” Have you heard that call?
He remarked in Matthew 13:44: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” A man sees and sells everything he has — everything he has! — to get that treasure. All the costs and all the losses — everything — are nothing compared to the gains of having Jesus, the greatest treasure. So yes, we must count the cost in order to be a disciple. Paul says: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). Something better than all the great things we can envision is coming!
So why is then that after we have made the choice to follow Jesus, and after we have counted the cost and given our lives to Jesus, that there always seems to follow difficult times of sadness, or disappointment, or troubles? It’s not because He’s punishing us or trying to get our attention (though that might be the case if we’re living in sin) but rather because this process of being made perfect requires being pushed to a higher step on that ladder and being brought to an even more profound dependency upon Him. Your affliction are not an accident.
You might have the idea that in being born again that God was simply going to save you from hell and make your life easy and help you become a better person. But we’re not simply saved to escape hell and be made better, we’re reborn for heaven and He is going to make us into the very image of Christ and into glimmering examples of His true sons and daughters.
Yet some Christians draw a sharp distinction between salvation and discipleship. Salvation, they reason, is God’s free gift, but discipleship is costly. They would also say that while every believer ought to pursue discipleship, it is not linked to saving faith. In other words, there are some who are truly saved, but who never commit themselves to being disciples. They say that it is possible to receive Jesus as Savior, but not to follow Him as Lord.
But show me any basis for such teaching in the New Testament—-you can’t find any Scriptures that support such teaching. To believe in Jesus Christ as Savior necessarily entails following Him as Lord. Salvation is not just a decision that a man makes, but it is the mighty power of God in raising a dead soul to eternal life. God, who began that good work in you, will perfect it unto the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6). The new life God imparts inevitably results in a new way of life in accord with its nature, namely growth in holiness. The seed of the Word will bear fruit unto eternal life.
While believers must grow as disciples and while we never perfectly arrive in this life, if a person claims to be a believer, but has not bowed to Christ, he is fooling himself. He is saying, “Lord, Lord,” but on that fearful day, he will hear the awful words, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt. 7:23). In Paul’s words, “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed” (Titus 1:16). “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” (Bonhoeffer)
It is possible to claim to know Jesus Christ superficially but it is to such followers that Jesus lays out the cost of discipleship. He knows that the battle will be intense and He doesn’t want to recruit anyone under false pretenses.
In the spring of 1945 a 30-something Lutheran pastor awaited execution in a Nazi concentration camp. Dietrich Bonhoeffer had spent two years imprisoned, yet he published letters on spiritual wisdom, delivered Sunday sermons and shared the Gospel with his prison mates and prison guards. That Bonhoeffer was focused on others’ redemption in the midst of his own challenges is a stirring reminder of the cost of discipleship. Here was a true disciple of Jesus Christ.
And on April 9, 1945 Bonhoeffer was hanged at Flossenbürg concentration camp for his involvement in a small Protestant resistance movement and conspiracy to defeat Hitler and his regime. Even so, Bonhoeffer’s legacy endures. Today he is considered one of the most esteemed Protestant theologians out of the twentieth century.
Sometimes the unexpected troubles in our own lives tempt us to ignore the spiritual and physical needs of others and maybe we question, “Lord, are you really there?” But we need only look at Bonhoeffer’s passion and sacrifice as a blunt reality check for what it means to follow Jesus Christ. It’s not easy and it’s costly. Sometimes painful.
If we let Him He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature—true sons and daughters of God—- pulsating with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly His own boundless power and delight and goodness. (Mere Christianity).
Are you and I ready to be made perfect?
1945 Vineyard Road
Westfield, NC 27053
336 351 2070