Do We Believe Jesus Or Not?
Christian, you are not your own and you need to start living that way:
We live in an age of easy believism and cheap grace. We live at a time when we hear sweet nothings coming from our pulpits. And we live in a place where Christianity is about as weak and anaemic as it has ever been. Much of this comes down to not really believing Jesus and doing what he commanded.
Consider what he said about being one of his disciples. He commanded us to do something which is the opposite of what so many popular preachers today are telling us. They say that a relationship with Jesus is easy, and all we need to do is say yes to him, or raise our hand in a meeting, or open the door of our hearts, and so on.
That’s it – nothing more. But what Jesus in fact said was really quite hardcore, and enough to scare off most would-be followers. He said this in Luke 14:25-35:
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, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
That is some very heavy-duty stuff there. These are not words for the faint of heart or mere religious pretenders. These are serious words for those who are serious about following Christ. Many have written and preached from this text, and shared this sort of message.
A. W. Tozer for example once put it this way: “It will cost you everything to follow the Lord. And it will cost you even more to be His man for this hour.” But let me feature just one person who has spent some time discussing this text. Back in 2021 Steven Lawson wrote a short but powerful volume, It Will Cost You Everything: What it Takes to Follow Jesus (Christian Focus).
In it he reminds us how very different the demands of Christ are from that of most evangelists, preachers and teachers today. Jesus demanded all or nothing. There was nothing half-hearted about being his disciple. You either go all the way or you don’t go at all.
In his preface Lawson emphasises this key truth: in one sense salvation costs us nothing, but in another sense it costs everything. He illustrates this by speaking of his four-year football scholarship he had while at college. That meant that everything was free – he did not pay a penny. But there were huge sacrifices to be made in time, blood, sweat and tears to be a successful footballer. He says this:
None of this sacrifice was optional. All of it was mandatory. Again, my college education was entirely free. But it cost me everything. In a real way, this is a picture of our salvation in Jesus Christ. All our sins were paid in full by the sinless life and substitutionary death of Jesus Christ upon the cross. We contribute nothing. His finished work is complete. Nothing is left for us to contribute. Forgiveness is offered as a free, pre-paid gift.
Yet at the same time, the cost of following Christ comes at a high price. It will require a life of self-denial. Death to self. Submission to Christ. Sacrifice for His kingdom. Adversity in life. Tribulation for your faith. Rejection from friends. Persecution from the world. And maybe even martyrdom.
Salvation is entirely free. But receiving it will cost you everything. It is not offered as cheap grace. Nor is it received by easy believism. It does not take a particularly special person to be a Christian. Just all there is of him.
Contrast these solid biblical truths with what we so often hear, especially from those with the biggest and most popular megachurches. There you will hear about having your best life now and getting everything you want, from a new house to a nice car to the best career to perfect health.
You never hear about self-sacrifice, of renouncing self, of dying to self, and crucifying the flesh, of carrying your cross daily. Their “gospel” is all about self. The biblical gospel is all about Christ alone and how we must forever renounce self. That is a massive difference.
Indeed, there are so many other passages Lawson could have run with here. Just one more from Luke’s gospel:
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:23-27)
But getting back to Luke 14, he begins his chapter on verses 25-26 with these words:
One thing was certain about the invitation Jesus issued to this crowd – there was no fine print in the terms. He did not hide the cost required in following him. . . . Large crowds were never His goal. Making true disciples was His aim….
How different this is from the way religious hucksters work. Charlatans are smooth-talking conmen. They are shell game specialists. Sleight-of-hand magicians with words. They induce people to buy their message by bypassing what Jesus said is the true cost….
Tragically, this is why so many people presume following Jesus Christ is a stroll down an easy street. They hear about only the benefits of forgiveness of sin. To them, Jesus is an ever-present genie in a bottle. Always on call. Always ready to grant them three wishes. They fixate on a crown in heaven, without a cross on the earth.
Quite so. And he says this concerning verses 31-32: “Following Jesus Christ demands the unconditional surrender of your life. If you are to be His disciple, you must submit to His supreme authority. You must recognize His right to rule over you. You must relinquish everything to Him. You must give up all personal rights. This yielding is necessary – it is non-negotiable.”
What he says about verse 33 (“So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple”) runs directly counter to the message of the prosperity gospellers. He first says what this text is NOT about before telling us what it does mean:
First, Jesus was not saying that those in the crowd must purchase their salvation. No amount of material assets can acquire a right standing with God. . . . Second, Jesus is not saying that those who would be His disciples must take a vow of poverty. He was not advocating becoming a pauper as the means to salvation or spirituality…
Instead, what Christ is teaching in this statement – ‘must give up all his possessions’ – is this: every disciple must recognize that they have come under His lordship. In so doing, they have come under new management. As His follower, he realises that he is merely a steward of what Christ has placed into his hands. A steward is a house manager, who oversees the possessions of his master. However, he himself owns nothing. He manages the properties that belong to the head of the house. A steward merely acts on behalf of his master in handling his assets. He lives in his master’s house and oversees his belongings. He uses them to conduct his lord’s business. But ultimately, he himself owns nothing.
One final quote:
Let me make this personal. If you are to become a disciple of Christ, your entire life will no longer be your life. Your whole existence belongs to Him. Your time will no longer be your time. Instead, it will be His time to be used for His purposes. Your talents will no longer be your talents. Rather, they will become His and used for His purposes. Your treasure will no longer be your treasure, but simply entrusted to you for this brief time of your life. You must recognize that all that you have must be seen as His assets.
As mentioned, most of the biggest churches in the West tend to preach the same sort of message – a message that does not talk about sin, judgment to come, the need for repentance and taking up your cross daily and denying self. It is all about living a very comfortable, privileged and wealthy lifestyle now.
These churches and these preachers are giving us the polar opposite of the message that Jesus gave to those who would follow him. And one suspects that if Jesus were around today, he would again feel the need to form a whip and overturn some tables as he denounces these false shepherds in their dens of thievery.
6 Replies to “Do We Believe Jesus Or Not?”
Excellent article Bill, thank you.
Well-known Pastor of Times Square Church, NY, David Wilkerson (1931-2011) said it all in one of his messages many years ago in relation to the church:
“Much Gospel preaching contains no mention of the cross, no doctrine of suffering, no reproof, no repentance, no hatred of sin, no demand for separation or purity, no mention to be holy as He is holy, no daily death to self, no crucifixion of the fleshly lusts, no self-denial, no rejection of the self-life, no warnings of coming persecution and imminent judgement; and most of all, many Christians now prefer to hear about their “rights in Christ” and ignore His claims on us!”
Thanks Carolyn. Great quote!
I’m no fan of the commercialisation of Christianity and “prosperity gospel” preaching either. However, I’m uncomfortable with the implication that the only way to be a Christian is to be miserable and endure constant suffering. That sounds like masochism.
What is purpose of life if we are to live in misery? Taken to its extreme we are to all wear hair shirts and live a celibate existence. No earthly pleasures for us! But that means that humans would die out.
I’m an Anglican, and we are notorious for beng doubters (“I’m not religious, I’m Anglican”). Let’s face it, many Christians sit through boring sermons every Sunday only because of fear that the story of eternal damnation for unbelievers may be true.
It’s a tough message to “sell”, and hardly one that would attract new converts. It’s no wonder the megachurches and their rock bands are so successful.
Thanks Rosemary, but where did I or anyone else say that “the only way to be a Christian is to be miserable and endure constant suffering.” Indeed, forget what I or anyone else says, and simply stick to what Jesus and the disciples said about this:
Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Matthew 5:11-12 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
John 16:33 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
Acts 5:40-41 His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.
Romans 5:3-4 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Romans 8:17-18 Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
2 Corinthians 1:3-7 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
Philippians 1:29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him,
Philippians 3:10-11 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 5:10-11 Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
1 Peter 1:6-7 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
And there are plenty more such passages that we could run with here. What matters supremely is believing and accepting what THEY said about this matter. But the good news of course is that while everyone suffers in this world, the Christian serves a Suffering Servant that understands what they are going through and helps them along away, giving grace and hope. And the Christian knows that his suffering is not in vain in the Lord, but leads to an exceedingly great weight of glory.
Also, as should have been made clear in this article, the biblical Christian is not in the least interested in trying to “sell” anything. He is not interested in numbers and filling up auditoriums. He is not interested in coming up with some feel-good message that will tickle the ears of the listeners and leave them just as lost as they were before. He is only interested in sharing the truth that God has revealed in his word, and let the results up to him.
So thanks for your thoughts, but I will stick with Scripture on this one.
I’m confused Bill. You seem to be promoting two contradictory messages here. I got the same impression as Rosemary from your article and your response to the Carolyn, i.e. that God expects us to have a miserable life of suffering and sacrifice. Life can be pretty difficult at times, especially making ends meet. Surely we can expect to balance that with life’s pleasures, otherwise we will all end up in the depths of depression and mental illness.
Your posts of late seem to be full of despair and misery, perhaps mainly because of your personal circumstances. I hope you are OK. I am praying for you.
Thanks Anne. I am always glad to get prayer. However I am less thrilled when folks seem to misunderstand me, or worse yet, misunderstand or criticise Scripture. Those who actually read this article know it is all about a discussion on Luke 14:25-35. While some people seem to think Jesus got it wrong here or perhaps was even telling lies, I fully believe what he said. It IS difficult to be a true disciple of Christ for the simple reason that we daily must deny self and crucify the flesh. But saying no to self and yes to God has nothing to do with being miserable – unless one prefers living in the flesh. Instead, we rejoice with God that the Spirit is doing a deep work in our lives and making us more Christlike. That is where real joy and deep peace come from.
And those who have read my other articles know that I often say we should rejoice in what God rejoices in, and weep over what he weeps over. We know that the last days will go from bad to worse as Scripture teaches, and anyone who wants to share in God’s heartbeat will know that we should grieve just like he does over the tsunami of evil overtaking the world – certainly in the West. I am not sure how any committed Christian can be flippant and want to just have a jolly good time when there are millions of babies murdered each year in abortion, when the institutions of marriage and family are being destroyed, when our young people are being permanently mutilated via radical trans ideology, when the Western church is becoming so ineffective, to name but a few huge issues. So being sober-minded and fervent in prayer is fully appropriate. But I of course have never said we cannot take pleasure in things, enjoy life, relax, play sports, have hobbies, take vacations, enjoy family life and so on. So there is no contradiction here at all.