Only One Way to Follow Jesus
Have you ever heard something that you just didn’t think was real until you actually tried it? Maybe for some of you, it was that, as much as we get made fun of for it, that avocado toast is really delicious. For me, it was that vinegar could take out almost any stain on the carpet. See, I have two small children, so stains are a regular part of my life. They used to frustrate me incredibly until I discovered vinegar! It was life-changing, and I will never go back. But, if I am honest, I was skeptical at first.
I have found culturally that we are a society of skeptics. Guilty until proven innocent. Not true until there is enough evidence to support the claim that we are hearing. Something has shaped us as a society to question anything that may rock the proverbial boat of our comfort. And fair enough. I am reading reports during this pandemic about people suggesting to drink bleach to help cure COVID-19. I don’t think that is wise. There is a big difference between wisdom and skepticism. I fear that we have ended up in the latter category in most situations.
One of them explicitly being our faith. I have found as a pastor; I end up in lots of different conversations surrounding the teachings of Jesus. One conversation that continues to surface, especially in our Western culture, who worships the trinity of comfort, convenience, and the immediate, is the teaching of Jesus about losing one life to find it. Here is the exact wording found in Mark 8,
Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.”
I feel like this is one of the teachings of Jesus, where many of us have found ourselves in the skeptical camp. I have heard many people jump to conclusions that the Bible doesn’t mean “dying” it is just an exaggeration to get the point across. Others I have heard question how picking up a cross (which we know from the story leads to dying) doesn’t fit within their theological framework when Jeremiah 29:11 is their life verse (sorry to those of you whose it is!). I believe we are quick to move past this teaching because it seems so extreme, like drinking bleach to get rid of a virus. Die, and the result is finding life. It doesn’t fit at first glance. Or does it?
If we stop long enough to think on this point, things die all the time to bring life. Plants and animals die, and we eat them to sustain life in ourselves. Trees die, and out of old stumps, new sprouts begin. We trim off dead parts of plants so that they would grow (live) more fully. This theme surrounds our lives. This theme also encompasses the scriptures of what it means to have a cross-shaped lens or view for the world around us as we follow Jesus.
In the book of John, Jesus, as He predicts his death talks about a kernel of wheat dying, being buried, and out of it comes new life, which is a direct link to the cross and resurrection (John 12:24). Paul, in Galatians, talks about his old self being crucified, put to death, and his new life is found in the life of Jesus (Galatians 2:20). Time after time, the theme of dying to find life is apparent, so I refuse to believe that the Bible is simply just trying to exaggerate a point. I believe the Bible is suggesting that we should be prepared for things sometimes to feel like they are dying as we follow Jesus. Those that chose to follow Him during His time on Earth put old ways of life behind them to move into the fullness of life that He promised them, but Jesus made it clear to them they couldn’t have both.
Personally, there are parts of my life that have had to die. Truth be told, they were parts I didn’t necessarily want to let go of. But, they are parts I would never want to trade back for what I have received from Jesus in return. This is the process of sanctification. Sanctification, if you aren’t familiar with that word, is the process of us becoming more like Jesus in all areas of our lives. I love the way Rob Reimer puts it when he says “It takes our entire lives, plus a day.” Meaning it is never completed during our earthly lives. Rather the process of dying to ourselves becomes a daily and regular part of what it means to follow Jesus because there are always more areas of our lives to surrender. And, sometimes we aren’t even aware of them and have to ask Jesus to show us. Which means sanctification is not separate from our regular abiding in Him. Abiding is where everything flows out from.
So, I would pose a question to you as this comes to an end. Have you settled for skepticism? Have you settled for believing this is an extreme teaching of Jesus, but not actually something you need to consider? That you are a good enough person and done enough good for God to be okay with you? Or that you have surrendered most of your life, so you can hold on to some of these pieces you just don’t want to give up? There is more life for you if you are willing to let the parts that aren’t in line with Jesus die. There is always more for those who follow Jesus.
To follow Jesus is to follow the way of Jesus and the way of the cross, which is a way towards our old selves dying, so that we may grow as the new creations the cross and empty grave allow us to be. (2 Cor. 5:17). The way of Jesus is not easy; it may be the hardest thing you ever do; to lay down your own way, and pick up the way of Jesus. But, it is the way toward the fullness of life, the fullness of joy and peace, the fullness of the Holy Spirit in you. We let things die in our lives so that there is more space for Jesus to work within us.