Monday, April 27, 2009

Come and Die with Me

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26-27

What if I was in an interchange with an unbeliever and I said to him, “Unless you want to suffer and die, you shouldn’t become a follower of Jesus”? People would object that I am chasing off unbelievers. They would object that no one is going to want to come to a church with that teaching. Jesus makes the very same statement, yet we rarely hear it discussed. We often hear this verse read, but we often neglect the radical nature of what Jesus says. Somehow, we have perverted American Christianity into some kind of feel-good, milk toast, doctrine of how God wants to confirm us in our worldliness. We seem to believe that Jesus died to sanctify our useless middle class existence and to call us into an even happier pursuit of our own American dream. What happened to the radical call to discipleship? What happened to the belief that following Jesus means death to self? What happened to carrying our cross?

It is my belief that we have turned Christianity into just another religion in which man gropes for a way to make himself better. Jesus has become the Savior of self-help. He has become the gatekeeper to the American dream. We have not counted the cost of Christianity. We might agree that Jesus is a pearl of great price, but we would trade him for enough success in this life. Or, we mistakenly think we can buy the pearl and not sell everything we have (Matt. 13:45-46). In other words, we think we can have Jesus as our treasure and pursue the treasures of this world at the same time. The fact is that we cannot! We cannot serve both God and money.

As believers, we must meditate on three truths if we are going to overcome our tendency to pursue a happy, healthy, wealthy and ultimately useless middle class American life. We must meditate on the suffering and death of Jesus as our example to follow, on the resurrection of the dead as our hope to trust in, and on Jesus as our ultimate reward and treasure. If you are like me, you already feel that you have failed. So, as you read the rest of the article, cry out to God, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”

Jesus told his disciples that he was going to suffer and die to bring salvation to his church. He then told them that they also must suffer and die (Matt. 16:24). People often object that the Christian is not called to suffer and die. They believe that is a radical call that just does not make sense in the American context. Some even go so far as to argue that God actually wants us to prosper, not suffer. The problem is that they fail to believe in the clear testimony of Scripture. Jesus promises us we will suffer (John 15:19-20). The apostles celebrated when they were “counted worthy to suffer for the Name” (Acts 5:40-41). Paul tells us we were appointed to suffering (Phil. 1:29). Paul even states that he desires to share in Christ’s sufferings (Phil. 3:10), and calls other Christians to suffer with him for the sake of the Gospel (2 Tim. 1:8). Paul also assumes that those who are children of God will by nature suffer with Jesus (Romans 8:17).

Why must we suffer with Jesus? We must suffer and die with Christ for the same reason he did. He suffered and died to save his body, the church. We suffer and die for the same reason (Col. 1:24). We do not make provision for salvation through our suffering and death. Jesus has already provided all that is needed for the salvation of his church. Instead, we help the Gospel progress. We suffer and die to bring about the progression of the gospel! Our lives are to be poured out to death for the sake of God’s elect!

In order to follow Jesus as our example, we must hope in the resurrection of the dead. If we believe that this life is all there is, then we will live accordingly. The other day I was contemplating how much my life betrayed my lack of faith in the resurrection. In spite of all of the apologetic reasons I can give for the resurrection and all of the theological importance I can provide for it, the bottom line is that I really have very little faith. I am willing to bet that many others struggle with the same lack of faith. There are many in the Christian world that claim the Christian life is worth living even if we find out we were wrong in the end. This is the complete opposite of what Paul says. Paul is clear that without the resurrection we are to be “pitied most among men” (1 Cor. 15:19). Apart from the resurrection, we are really wasting our time and money.

If the resurrection is not true, then our church is useless, your giving is in vain, your personal restraint is often wasted, and my whole life as a pastor is a complete joke. Paul goes on to say that “…if the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’” He is not arguing that we should become gluttonous and drunkards. He is arguing that we should enjoy our lives as much as possible. We should choose the path of least resistance and pursue our own happiness. Most people know that holding down a good job, being wise financially, exercising, eating right, remaining in a good marriage, taking nice vacations, planning for a good retirement, seeking good medical care, and supporting your government in building a strong national defense and a good domestic police force are the keys to a long and happy life. In other words, if the dead are not raised, “Let us pursue the American dream, for tomorrow we die.”

Finally, we must meditate on Jesus as our ultimate treasure and reward. If we are seeking our reward on earth, we will live for this life. Where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also (Matt. 6:21). If we ever hope to follow Christ’s example and rejoice in sufferings for the sake of furthering the Gospel, we must believe that Jesus is worth giving up everything on this earth. We must believe he is the great treasure for which we will sell everything. We should no longer seek the material wealth, comforts, and pleasures of this world. We should seek Christ and the glory of his kingdom. He is a far more enduring treasure.

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