“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Mat 16:24.
The call to follow Jesus is a far greater undertaking than many of our churches preach. Ever since the reformation, the church has quite rightly developed in its understanding of salvation by grace rather than by works. This correction has been vital to a church which had become twisted in preaching absolution of sins through payments to the church and other similar falsehoods. However, as we move further into the 21st century, there has become a misunderstanding of what that grace is or how it works, to the point where the gospel that Jesus preached is barely recognisable to the one that is preached today.
It is by the grace of God, not by our works that our sins are taken away when we repent, but at the same time Jesus made it clear that if we are to follow Him, then we must also be prepared to give up everything that we are to be close to Him. The gospel that Jesus taught was not a simple case of saying a prayer where we “accept Him,” and then we are fine for the rest of our lives, but rather He taught that to be His disciple we must give up everything and follow Him.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Matt 7:21.
To take on the culture of Christianity, to go to church or to call Jesus Lord is straightforward. There is very little cost involved. However, Jesus does not require our words, He requires our hearts, and hearts that love Him will also obey Him. There is an expression that talk is cheap, and it is an expression that carries much truth. It is so easy to tell people what they want to hear as to be told such things pleases people, and it involves no cost to ourselves. However, I have learned through experience never to listen to what people say, if you want to know their hearts watch what they do. It is our actions that truly reveal our hearts, not our words. To call Jesus Lord means nothing in itself, what God is looking for is hearts that sacrifice themselves in order to seek and do His will.
The Bible tells us of a few instances where people asked what they must do to follow Him. To one man, Jesus instructed him to leave burying his father, (Matt 8:21,) another he told to give all his money away, (Matt 19:21,) and others He told to pick up their cross, meaning to sacrifice themselves, (Matt 16:24.)
It is a mistake and un-biblical to believe that Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins means that we do not have to sacrifice at all. This understanding does not negate Jesus’ atoning sacrifice upon the cross or His grace, and nor does it mean that it is a works based salvation. There is no other way to be forgiven of our sins than Jesus’ sacrifice, our works could never accomplish that. However if we are to come after Him, Jesus made it clear that we too must sacrifice. Jesus alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and the only way to follow Him is by picking up our cross
“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “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. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him..” (Luke 14:25-33.)
(Benjamin’s full book, “The Cost of following Jesus” is available on the book page here.)