How would you respond if someone asked you: “How do I become a Christian”?
There are two ways to reply when asked this question: 1) Tell someone how easy it is: just acknowledge a few truths about God and then pray a prayer and you’re set! 2) Tell the person that the call to discipleship is a call to die so that they can live.
So, which of these is correct? What does it mean to truly, biblically follow Christ? Does it look different in a third world country as opposed to America? What does it mean to know Jesus and identify your life with His? In other words, what does it mean to be a Christian?
The first lesson outlined the two elements of the call to discipleship (repentance and belief) and then defined the call to discipleship as initiated by God towards rebels dead in sin unto adoption as sons. This lesson will focus on answering the question “What does it mean to follow Christ?”
Three Costs of Discipleship
In Luke 14:25-33, Jesus addresses three costs associated with being a disciple:
- Love family less than Christ (v. 26; Mark 3:31-35)
Jesus demands our undivided allegiance and devotion. Of course, this devotion doesn’t mean that we should literally hate our family members or forsake those in our physical family. What a disciple must do though is to always pursue Jesus’ call above all else. As we saw last night, once we begin to follow Jesus, we are adopted into a new family comprised of “whoever does the will of God.” This gospel family is the body, bride, and building of Christ known as the church. Paul describes the relational aspects of this new family, with Christ as the Head, in 1 Timothy 5:1-2 and Titus 2. As we pursue the One who pursued us together, we should do what the writer of Hebrews said and “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. “
- Bear the cross and follow Christ (v. 27; Matthew 16:24-26)
What does Jesus mean when He tells us to take up our cross? In short, He is calling us to crucify our sinful flesh nature. Often we underestimate the danger of our flesh and would rather try to tame it instead of completely kill it. We forget that our flesh and self-will are opposed to the Spirit and God’s will. John Piper describes cross-bearing this way: “Putting to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit – the daily practice of killing sin in your life – is the result of being justified and the evidence that you are justified by faith alone apart from works of the law. If you are making war on your sin, and walking by the Spirit, then you know that you have been united with Christ by faith alone. And if you have been united to Christ, then his blood and righteousness provide the unshakable ground of your justification. On the other hand, if you are living according to the flesh – if you are not making war on the flesh, and not making a practice out of killing sin in your life, then there is no compelling reason for thinking that you are united to Christ by faith or that you are therefore justified. In other words, putting to death the deeds of the body is not the way we get justified, it’s one of the ways God shows that we are justified. And so Paul commands us to do it – be killing sin – because if we don’t – if we don’t make war on the flesh and put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit – if growth in grace and holiness mean nothing to us – then we show that we are probably false in our profession of faith, and that our church membership is a sham and our baptism is a fraud, and we are probably not Christians after all and never were.” A disciple must deny his flesh and self-will, take up the cross of embracing God’s will, and follow Jesus. If we fail to do this, we run the risk of losing our life and forfeiting our soul even if we save our earthly life and gain the whole world.
- Relinquish everything (v. 33; Philippians 3:7-11)
What is the most important thing to you in your life? Your friends? Academic ability? Social status? Passion for good works and justice? Comfort and safety? None of these are bad things, in fact they are things I would encourage you to strive for. However, these things often become idols for us: we seek after them as the ultimate source of our joy. They were never designed to fill that need in our lives and so will always leave us disappointed in the end. Solomon recognized this truth and it resonates throughout the book of Ecclesiastes. Perhaps inspired by Solomon, Paul encouraged the believers in Philippi to “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus.” Notice that Paul also uses the gain/loss language that Jesus did in our last passage from Matthew. Was Paul ashamed of his background and education? Not at all (in fact he often uses them to his advantage when sharing the gospel and escaping severe punishment from the Roman authorities—see Acts 16, 22, and 23)! But if Paul had to choose what to base his identity, joy, and hope on, it wasn’t his accomplishments or desires, but on the righteousness imputed to him by Jesus. He had done a careful accounting of the cost of his discipleship and found Christ to be worth more than anything he could achieve on his own.
The Great Exchange
Peter, Andrew, James, and John believed that following Jesus was worth the cost, even though it meant leaving everything. But why: what did they gain in return? They received Jesus. He exchanged their lives for His life, an exchange completely in their favor. In Christ, they discovered a peace that surpassed understanding, a love and joy that exceeded comprehension, a satisfaction that superseded circumstances, and a purpose higher than any other pursuit possible in this world. These four men willingly and gladly lost their lives in order to know, follow, and proclaim Jesus Christ.
Like the original disciples, when Jesus says, “Follow me,” He expects you to be willing to leave everything behind (family, friends, job, even life) in order to be His follower. The more we can comprehend what Jesus meant when He said “Follow me,” the more we’ll discover that there is far more joy, pleasure, and satisfaction to be experienced in Him than in anything the world can offer. As we grow in this knowledge, we are freed to eagerly, willingly, and gladly lose it all in order to know and proclaim Christ.
For more on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, check out David Platt’s book Follow Me: A Call to Die. A Call to Live.