Following Jesus is a hard call.
He demands that you either leave everything or not follow at all (Luke 14:33). He does not share your loyalties with another. Contrary to modern day Western beliefs, Jesus never promised “Your best life now,” or “God just wants to make you happy.” Instead, He made it clear that His followers will endure the resistance, hatred and persecution that He endured.
And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:22)
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household! (Matthew 10:24-25)
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
It seems to me that the missing ingredient in the church of the West is persecution. The privileges of tax exemptions and protection by our governments left us weak and unable to be true followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel of “take up your cross and follow Me” has been exchanged for a self-help and feel-good message. Taking up your cross seems to be heresy to some of these comfort-addicted Christians.
You cannot be a follower of Jesus and “live your best life now” because discipleship requires you to die to yourself.
Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:24-25)
The essence of the gospel is that Jesus died, not just to forgive our sins, but to give us a completely new life – requiring that the old, selfish life has to die. You cannot live two lives at the same time! That is why baptism is an outward expression of what happened on the inside:
Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4)
The balancing act of living the comfortable life as a follower of Jesus, skilfully and artfully as it has become, left us with a glorious outward appearance of success, but lacking the power that we ought to have. “…having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (2 Timothy 3:5)
Beheadings and other heinous forms of torture that we have seen carried out against Christians the last while shocked the civilized world. Yet, we were told these things would happen and that we all should be prepared for it. Cruel and brutal as persecution is, it brings home the message that there is a price tag attached to following Jesus. One cannot but wonder how full our churches would be if we were exposed to such harsh treatment for our faith. The Christian faith, with all its wonderful promises, is dangerous if you haven’t died to yourself first. Remember, if you were born twice you die only once, but if you were born only once you die twice – this is where the fear of death has its sting, and with good reason.
“And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. (Luke 12:4)
Explaining the atmosphere of the days shortly before the return of the Lord, the apostle Paul mentioned to us in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and 1 Timothy 4:1 that there will be a “falling away” from the faith, something that we see occurring on a great scale today. Entire churches have left the way of the cross to seek popularity and an appearance of success. While it is right that the church should be culturally relevant, it should never come at the expense of the truth. The success of a minister and a ministry is not measured by the size of the attendance, but by how many of those attendees are willing to lay down their lives for Jesus. We see greater attendance at churches today than what Jesus Himself had in His day. He even declared:
“Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:14)
While we live comfortable, complacent lives in the West, we also live at a time when more Christians are martyred in the rest of the world than ever before in the history of the church. It is a reality that we see daily on the internet. In my travels, I have personally seen disciples pay the price daily as they suffer all kinds of persecution because of their faith. They don’t have fancy church buildings, they enjoy no tax benefits or protection from their governments, but their walk is pure, and their faith tested in practice.
But we’re not immune from persecution in the West. Already we see increasing evidence of “soft persecution” in North America. Churches face zoning problems for their places of worship. The resistance against public displays of our faith is becoming more radical by the day and is increasingly supported by judicial activism. Students face widespread animosity at school once their faith in God becomes apparent. Some military agencies forbid Bibles, even in private quarters. Prayer in the Name of Jesus is not allowed in public ceremonies. Several municipalities now will not allow new churches in their towns and cities. Christian events are barred from some public buildings – the list goes on and on.
As this level of persecution becomes acceptable both by believers and unbelievers, we see it increase in scope and severity. It would be naïve to think it will not become more hostile as time goes on in these end times. Persecution is not only here to stay, but I believe it will increase. There is a question that will soon become urgent for everyone that calls upon Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior: Will you still follow?
Jesus did not die that horrible death to give us a comfortable culture with many earthly benefits. No – He blazed a trail for us to follow, and it leads via the cross to a life given to Him, just as He gave His life for us. Today’s message of comfort is a deception that we were warned against. Entitlement does not exist for those who choose to follow Him. Yes, He did promise to take care of us. Yes, He did promise to provide for our needs. Yes, He did promise to protect us. But when the benefits become the goal we have already gone astray. The grand prize we live for is to be with Him for eternity – not to live the present life without resistance.
But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 10:33-39)
Persecution is the flame that purifies the church. Just as Jesus prayed for Peter that his faith should not fail in the hour of his temptation (Luke 22:32), He intercedes for us at the right hand of the Father.