Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Mark 8:34)
Think about what Jesus asks of his followers in the verse above, and ask yourself if A, B, or C is true in your experience:
B) About half... C) A few...
of the Christians I know are devoted followers of Jesus who regularly deny themselves in order to follow Him and put the needs of others before their own. They are known for their love for people and their devotion to God, and they routinely give to those in need and generally go out of their way to “love their neighbor,” “go the extra mile,” and “turn the other cheek” by helping out others in any way they can and forgiving anyone who has let them down or hurt them.
So which is it in your experience? Are most Christians serious followers of Jesus? Or are about half of us serious about following Jesus? Or is it only a minority who are serious about following the commands of Jesus?
Think about that for a minute and let me rephrase it for you: Are most people who consider themselves Christians true followers of Jesus? Do they follow the teachings of Jesus 24/7? Do the teachings of Jesus impact how they spend their time and money, how they treat other people, and how they do business? Does knowing Jesus and following Him shape their personality and change how they behave? Do they have the love, the joy, and the peace that marks a follower of Christ?
In my experience, most Christians do not. Only a few endeavor to be sold-out radical followers of Jesus. Even in churches that are full of life and are passionately persuading people to follow Jesus, it seems like only about half the people are actively endeavoring to live like Jesus taught us. And, sadly, in many churches, people attend for years without being challenged to pick up their cross and follow Jesus or to live according to what Jesus taught. Denying oneself for the sake of Jesus or for the benefit of others has gone out of style not only in our culture but also in our churches.
In other words, there are many Christians and even churches who are Christian in the sense that they teach Christian morals and values but they don’t see the need to be “followers of Christ” as the word “Christian” implies. Many if not most of us Christians – me included for many years in the past – have bought into a consumer-driven Christianity that is shaped by the culture around us rather than a Christ-centered Christianity that is shaped by the teachings of Jesus.
"We are afraid that if we boldly proclaim the truth of the Gospel we might offend people and they will go to the church down the street"
We try to persuade people to become Christians and come to our churches by being sensitive to what they want and offering them entertaining experiences rather than telling people that they are sinners in need of a Savior. We are afraid that if we boldly proclaim the truth of the Gospel we might offend people and they will go to the church down the street.
As a result, church services have become places where we sell our ministry skills to finicky consumers who go elsewhere as soon as the preaching becomes a little less entertaining or the worship singing a little less to their liking. The idea that the church is the family of God made up of people who are loyal, faithful, and committed to one another is a foreign idea in many churches today. Most people don’t even know each other, and if they do, they are quick to move on to another church if someone offends them. Forgiving one another and working through their differences is seen as too much work when they can just go to another church instead.
As we go to prayer today, examine your life – how you spend your time and money, how you treat others, etc. – and search your heart as to how much love you have for others and how devoted you are to Jesus and to following His teachings. Ask yourself if you are really picking up your cross and following Jesus on a daily basis. This is not an easy task, and it will likely result in you realizing that you are as broken as the rest of humankind, and that you need a Savior who will rescue you from the sin that trips us up over and over again.
Let’s Pray Together: Lord, forgive me, for I have not always given You the rightful place in my life that You deserve. I give You my life, just as You gave yours for mine. Help me to deny myself and live for You. Help me to pick up my cross and follow You by doing the things you did and by following Your teachings. Teach me how to go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, and love my enemies just as You did. Show me what those things look like in my life in this modern world in which I live. Help me with these situations that I bring before You now….(continue praying as you feel led….)
NotAFan.com -- check out this site for videos of people's testimonies of how their lives were transformed when they became sold-out followers of Christ.
Related Resources: Think about your life and this challenge from David Platt in his book Radical: "Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of these eager followers of Jesus in the first century. What if I were the potential disciple being told to drop my nets? What if you were the man whom Jesus told to not even say good-bye to his family? What if we were told to hate our families and give up everything in order to follow Jesus? "This is where we come face to face with a dangerous reality. We do have to give up everything we have to follow Jesus. We do have to love him in a way that makes our closest relationships in this world look like hate. And it is entirely possible that he will tell us to sell everything we have and give it to the poor. "But we don’t want to believe it. We are afraid of what if might mean for our lives. So we rationalize these passages away. 'Jesus wouldn’t really tell us not to bury our father or say good-bye to our family. Jesus didn’t literally mean to sell all we have and give it to the poor. What Jesus really meant was...' "And this is where we need to pause. Because we are starting to redefine Christianity. We are giving in to the dangerous temptation to take the Jesus of the Bible and twist him into a version of Jesus that we are more comfortable with. A nice, middle-class, American Jesus who doesn’t mind materialism and who would never call us to give away everything we have. A Jesus who would not expect us to forsake our closest relationships so that he receives all of our affection. A Jesus who is fine with nominal devotion that does not infringe on our comforts, because, after all, he loves us just the way we are. A Jesus who wants us to be balanced, who wants us to avoid dangerous extremes, and who, for that matter, wants us to avoid danger altogether. A Jesus who brings us comfort and prosperity as we live out our Christian spin on the American dream. "But do you and I realize what we are doing at this point? We are molding Jesus into our image. He is beginning to look a lot like us because, after all, that is whom we are most comfortable with. And the danger now is that when we gather in our church buildings to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshiping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead we may be worshiping ourselves." (Above taken from Radical, a great book by David Platt that is well worth buying!)
Quotable Quotes “When we discover the life that we can have in Jesus we are to come after him like this man who pursued this pearl of great price (see Matt. 13:45-46). Fans will be careful not to get carried away. Followers understand that following Jesus is a pursuit that may cost them everything, but it is the best investment they could ever make. Followers will do some crazy things for love, but fans want to play it safe.” (p.133, Not A Fan. Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus by Kyle Idleman)