Monday, January 24, 2011

You Need Jesus In Order to Follow Jesus

Our church is going through David Platt’s excellent book Radical in our small groups.  The first chapter is centered around Luke 14:25-33, which reads:

[25] Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, [26] “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. [27] Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. [28] 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? [29] Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, [30] saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ [31] 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? [32] And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. [33] So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:25-33 ESV)

I've struggled more times than once with this passage.  What really gives me trouble is the finality and broadness of Jesus’ statement: “cannot be my disciple”. 

I have heard, and read in a fair amount of sources, that discipleship is not the same as being a Christian.  In other words it is not as if you could read the verse as saying, “any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be a believer”.  Therefore, what Jesus is saying in this passage is optional.  It’s a second stage.  It’s not the Rocky Balboa version of Christianity—it’s the Apollo Creed.  Not as good as Rocky but still cool enough to don a sweet mustache, red, white, and blue trunks and fight the Russian—but not quite as cool as Rocky.  You’re saved but you’re just not going to be able to beat the Russian. 

I have a hard time buying that.  In Luke 14 he is talking to the multitude.  His audience isn’t believers.  His audience is those that are mostly following but still reserved about following this new teacher.  So, Jesus isn’t telling a crowd of uncommitted followers how to reach level 2.  He is telling those on the fringe to count the cost before following Him. 

But this doesn’t help me. 

What if I’m struggling with the idolatry of putting my family first instead of Jesus?  Does this make me an unbeliever?  What if I’m finding my cross a little too heavy to bear?  Am I now on the fast track to hell?  What if I have yet to renounce everything? 

Honestly, these questions feel more like the Law than the gospel.  It makes me feel like I have to love my wife less, sell a watch or something, and maybe get the Ebola virus and then I’ll be worthy to follow Jesus.  But that’s not what Jesus is saying here.  Is it? 

That is why I find these words of Piper helpful:

On the basis of who he was and what he accomplished, Jesus made his demands.  The demands cannot be separated from his person and work.  The obedience he demands is the fruit of his redeeming work and the display of his personal glory.  That is why he came—to create a people who glorify his gracious reign by bearing the fruit of his kingdom. 

When he said, ‘The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost’, he was speaking about Zacchaeus who had just been so transformed that he gave half his possessions to the poor.  In other words, the Son of Man came to save people from their suicidal love affair with possessions (and every other idol) and to lead them into a kind of impossible obedience that displays the infinite worth of Jesus.  (Piper, What Jesus Demands from the World, p23)

In other words you need Jesus in order to follow Jesus.  Just because it is Jesus making the demands it doesn’t mean that we are able to obey without the work of His Spirit.  So as I am confronted with texts like Luke 14 I have to ask myself a few questions. 

First, is my heart one that is progressively growing in this type of obedience?  Is there evidence of the Spirit rescuing me from a suicidal love affair with possessions? 

Secondly, when I discover that I’m not renouncing everything what do I do?  Do I start looking to myself to rescue me from myself, or do I turn and look to Jesus? 

Thirdly, am I following Jesus—and doing so in an increasing measure?  Or am I just making my own “Jesus” that is following me?  Because so long as my weak faith is laying hold of a strong Christ I know that nothing can snatch me out of his hand.  But if my weak faith is laying hold of a weak self I don’t have much hope.

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