Be careful that Scripture does not become so familiar that it loses its punch:
The old saying “familiarity breeds contempt” has some real truth to it. We can in fact sometimes become over-familiar with various things, and that can result in losing the original love, care and respect we had for it. We see this in many important areas. Consider marriage. When a couple exchange their wedding vows, they really are saying some pretty hardcore things to each other.
They speak of a serious dedication and commitment “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until parted by death.” But because of their great love for each other, they are happy to make such radical vows.
But as we all know, eventually the love can grow a bit cold – at least the feelings of love. We can eventually become so familiar with our spouse that the original passion and dedication wanes, and the marriage can become tedious, mundane and an all rather ho-hum affair. We might just go through the motions, with little of the original zeal and commitment.
This can happen of course in our Christian walk as well. The initial love, zeal and passion we had for Christ can peter out over time. Consider our Bible reading in this regard. When we first got saved, we loved reading Scripture and learning new things. It seemed that every other sentence jumped off the pages.
But if we are not careful, after a while it can become all rather familiar. If you read the Bible through in a year for example, you will end up reading it 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 or more times. It then DOES become rather familiar. And we may just go through the motions here as well: we read our daily bit, but little seems to grab us anymore, and the Holy Spirit’s conviction of earlier times seems to be missing.
Just consider the words of Jesus for example. Some of these we have heard and read many hundreds of times now. They can become so familiar that they lose the punch. So we must make a conscious effort to allow the Spirit of God to once again make the words come alive to us. We must remind ourselves of just how revolutionary were the things that Jesus had said.
All that Jesus said was so very radical and earth changing. Consider especially his calls to discipleship. There are many of these. Let me focus on just one of them, with the help of a fellow believer. A few years ago American writer and preacher Steven Lawson released a helpful volume on this: It Will Cost You Everything (Christian Focus, 2021).
Subtitled What It Takes To Follow Jesus, this brief volume shares some wonderful truths from just one passage of Scripture: Luke 14:25-35. This is another really quite hardcore passage that sadly we can become far too familiar with, and it thus loses its punch – and its revolutionary nature. It says this:
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.”
Here I will look at just one chapter from this book. But first, it needs to be stated once again that salvation itself is totally free. So when we speak of the cost of discipleship, we must always keep this in mind. Says Lawson: “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.”
In Chapter 10, “Under New Management,” he says some important things, such as:
Jesus began this part of His discourse with a strong negative. This was so that His sharp words would have a cutting edge to them. He maintained: ‘None of you can be My disciple.’ These blunt words are abrupt. It hardly seems the way to invite others to follow you. But this is exactly how Jesus issued his summons. His biting words were intended to jolt the crowd toward careful thinking and a proper assessment. He was saying that none of them could be His disciples unless the following condition was met.
Verse 33 speaks of ‘giving up all your possessions.’ Lawson says this is not telling us to take vows of poverty and the like:
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.
This is the point Jesus was making with the crowd. They must see themselves as stewards of what they have. Their money will remain in their own pocket. But it must now be recognized as belonging to God. They will no longer be the owner of what they have but merely the trustee. Those who follow Christ will become a manager of what has been entrusted to them. Earthly things must now be used for the greater glory of God. Earthly treasures can no longer be used for selfish purposes. They must be invested in what will further the work of the kingdom.
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….
If any of them were to become His disciple, they must come under new management. They must make Him their supreme love and loyalty of their lives. They must hold everything they have with an open hand. He must become their number one priority. They must love Christ more than the things in this world.
This is, likewise, what Jesus is saying to you. Christ offers salvation as a free gift. It must be received by faith alone. But true faith involves the complete surrender of your life to Christ. Saving faith is entrusting your entire being to Him.
Does the power of the words of Jesus – as in this passage – still grab you like when you first read them? Do they challenge you and if need be, convict you? Or have these words by now become so very familiar that they just go in one ear and out the other?
If the Word of God has in that sense become too familiar to us, then we need to get on our knees and ask God to soften us and speak to us afresh from the living Word. In fact, a prayer like that would not be a bad thing to offer to God EVERY time we open our Bible.
Lest there be any misunderstanding here, I am NOT saying that we should read the Bible LESS as a way of not becoming wrongly familiar with it. We should read it daily, and we should become familiar with it, in the right sense of the term. We should know what is in Scripture, but we want to let the Spirit speak to us in each reading, and not let something we now know so very well become rote and routine and block out the life-changing power of Scripture. Comprende?
Speaking of how we must beware the familiar, as I came close to completing this piece, I discovered that I had already penned a fairly similar article on this text, and appealed to the same Lawson book! Oops. But there are enough differences between the two pieces that both can remain. See the earlier one here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2023/04/21/do-we-believe-jesus-or-not/