The last few weeks I have been confronted with the same dangerous idea over and over again. In both China and America I have seen repeated attempts by people to simplify and water down the Gospel in order to make it fit neatly into their lives. It’s amazing how we can change such a positive amazing gift into “pray a prayer” just so we can remain comfortable in our current condition. How can we buy such expensive jewelry and iPhones when many around the world cannot afford food or clothing? How can we own extravagant homes when millions live in shacks or on the street? How can we have state of the art entertainment and sound systems when some people don’t even have a Bible? Something has gone wrong. And I believe it is that we have chosen to change the Gospel into something that fits what we want, rather than allowing ourselves to change according to what the Gospel says.
So what does it really mean to be a Christian? First, you need to know what the word Christian means, because I feel like this word has taken on a completely different meaning in our modern world. The word Christian literally means “Little Christ” or basically, a follower of Jesus Christ. Now think about this. We are told to be like Christ, but is that what people really see when they join our cushioned Sunday performances? Or how about when they see us at work? Or what about on vacation, (but that’s my time off right?). Are you really following Christ in EVERY area of your life or just where it is convenient to do so?
And that’s where I think we have gone wrong. We have compartmentalized the Gospel message down to a Sunday morning service and maybe a study or two during the week. And we try to be honest at work and be good at home so then we can defend ourselves as Christians. But I don’t see that in the Bible. I don’t see comfortable Christianity. I see Jesus saying stuff like this: “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:38-39. When’s the last time you really felt the weight of those words on your life?
That stands in stark contrast to what Christianity seems to be portraying today. How can I really understand Jesus’ words when the most suffering I have done for my faith is maybe some of my friends think I am silly or foolish. So what does it take to really be a Christian? Well before I start I want you to know I am NOT claiming any kind of works righteousness. We are saved by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) and nothing I do or don’t do can separate me from the love of Jesus Christ. What I am saying is that maybe the faith you have is not based on Jesus or the Bible, but rather on your own comfort or what culture has deemed acceptable.
The truth is, in order to be a Christ follower, you need to give up everything. Everything! Now I’m not talking about quitting your job and becoming a Pastor, (unless you feel like God is telling you to do that), but I am calling you to a full devotion to Christ. You can’t hold onto Jesus and your hopes, dreams, money, family or anything else at the same time.
This is where most people get stuck. They like what Jesus says about forgiveness, grace, and heaven, but not about giving up everything to be with HIM. Jim Elliot, a man killed while trying to share the Gospel understood what it means to follow Christ. He once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
This idea is also displayed in the story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-31. Today, if an affluent young man ran up to us asking how to be a believer we would probably take them down “Romans Road” or have them pray a prayer. That is not what Jesus did! Instead, Jesus saw that this young man, although sincere in his request, was stilling hanging onto his wealth. So Jesus asked him to give it up which the young man could not do.
I believe this is the true root of unbelief. In Romans 1:19 Paul says that God has clearly shown Himself to us. Yet many still refuse to believe. Why? To give up a life of comfort and ease for a life of suffering doesn’t sound too appealing. We have traded a life of meaning with suffering for a life of comfort with hopelessness! We want to hold onto something else, and Jesus says in order to follow Him we have to let go of it all.
That is why Matthew 13:44-46 is so amazing. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then is his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys the field. Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had a bought it.” When it seems like you are letting go of everything for nothing, you are actually letting go of nothing and gaining everything!
For Non-Christians out there, I challenge you to find value. I challenge you to look at what you are hanging onto for your joy and value in life. As you do that, I challenge you to think about what Jesus said, that the Kingdom of Heaven is of so much more value if you are only willing to let go. Are you willing to give what you cannot keep in order to gain what you cannot lose?
For Christians, I imagine many of you probably read this and thought, “Amen brother!” But my question is, will you do anything about it? How many times have we read or heard someone say these words only to allow ourselves back into our routine next week? Something has to change. So why not change now? Whatever you have been holding onto instead of Jesus, are you willing to give it up? Are you willing to say Jesus is of more value than anything this world has to offer? Are you willing to give up some luxuries so others may have some necessities? Are you willing to give until it hurts not just what is extra or left over? Are you willing to leave house, job and family to go proclaim Jesus’ Gospel of Grace to the nations? Do you really believe the Jesus of the Bible or would you rather follow the fake Jesus of culture and comfort? For more on this go check out “Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne or “Radical” by David Platt.
May we all see that Jesus’ promises of suffering and hardship are the path to the most amazing blessings. May we all lay down whatever distractions and comforts Satan has put into our lives and instead take up our cross. May we let go of our own comfortable made up version of Jesus in order to know, love and honor the true Jesus of the Bible. May we count Jesus as more valuable than family, job, money, comfort, happiness, or anything else the world claims to offer. If we do this, we will know what it means to be a Christian.