“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be My disciple. . . . Every one of you who does not say good-bye to all his possessions cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26, 33).
The bar Jesus set for being his disciple is high, extremely high, inhumanly high. According to his words, there can be no rivals seated on the throne of our affections if we are going to follow him. If Jesus does not occupy that seat, you cannot be his disciple.
I wonder if this extreme statement of Jesus is why we’ve created a two-step process in the Christian experience: the first step is to become a Christian (by that, I mean one who has believed the gospel and professed faith in Jesus Christ), and the second step is to become a disciple (one who follows Jesus). In this arrangement you have Christians, and then you have a subset of Christians called disciples. As I’ve observed this twofold division, I’ve noticed that it offers a pathway to heaven that avoids actually following Jesus. In this scenario, Christians can theoretically love their families, possessions, and their own lives more than Jesus on this earth, and yet still be confident of heaven at the end of their journey. They profess to love Jesus and look forward to being with Jesus one day, but in the meantime they are occupied with other loves. They never quite make it to the kind of abandon Jesus is talking about, and, well, in the long run, that seems to be okay because though they may not technically be following Jesus, they’re still saved and if you’re saved you’re not going to hell. Hallelujah, praise the Lord, and pass the offering plate!
There’s a lot of talk these days about “nominal Christianity” here in America. What is a nominal Christian? We say it is someone who is a Christian in name only. But what does that mean? It seems to me that a nominal Christian is a Christian who doesn’t really follow Jesus. That’s a problem. Look at Christendom in our country. Look at the church in our nation.
As I read the New Testament, I come away believing that when we put faith in Jesus for salvation we become followers of Jesus, and from that day forward we are either obedient faithful followers or disobedient unfaithful followers. Without a doubt, every true Christian is in the process of growing as a follower (i.e., maturing into the likeness of Jesus). Self does not automatically disappear from our lives, sin does not leave us alone, and the world still holds some attraction (this is where we live after all). I am not talking about some golden-haloed walk of perfection. But I’m pretty sure these words of Jesus mean if you don’t love him with a love that would cause you, if necessary, to abandon all for him, then what’s really true is that you love someone or something more than him, and yes, that includes family. Such misdirected love is called idolatry. According to Jesus, you cannot be an idolater and follow him. This begs the question then, can you be an idolater and be a Christian?
I absolutely believe in grace. Grace is what enables us to do what is humanly impossible. Following Jesus is a work of God’s grace. Abandoning all to follow is the result of grace changing our affections. As John Newton said, “Grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”
Perhaps this week as we remember the passion of Jesus Christ, it might be good to reflect on what it means, according to his definition, to follow him. And then ask yourself whether there is anyone or anything you love more than you love Jesus.