Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary on issues of the day…
Atheists of course don’t believe in God. That is to be expected. But the question is, why don’t Christians believe God anymore? Why do they profess to be followers of Christ when by their very actions and their very refusal to obey the clear teachings of Scripture they demonstrate that they are none of his?
We find this happening all the time, and it is utterly shocking. We have crystal clear teachings in Scripture which are being outright ignored or rejected or disobeyed. We have people who claim to be great Christians who have no intention whatsoever of obeying some of the clear commands of Scripture.
We seem to be so inured to what we find just in the four gospels that we glide right over them without batting an eyelash. The truths found there are just not registering. We have become far too familiar with Scripture, and its ability to impact us deeply and radically seems to be lost.
We all need to get back to our first love, and we all need to read the Bible as if for the very first time. I have recently written on this issue: billmuehlenberg.com/2014/10/20/the-traditions-of-men-and-being-anesthetised/
Sometimes I think that with so much biblical illiteracy out there – even among Christians – that I should just produce articles with nothing but Scripture in them. And maybe I will one day. But here I will take a large slab of Scripture and pray that it speaks to all of us the way it was intended to speak.
I refer to Luke 14 where Jesus speaks much about gaining disciples and real discipleship. For example, in Luke 14:15-24 we have the Parable of the Great Banquet. You know the story: When the invited guests did not show up, the man holding the banquet says ‘go out to the roads and country lanes’ and bring them in.
Then in Luke 14:25-35 Jesus speaks about the cost of discipleship. Let me offer this whole portion:
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
Three times here we read that those who do not do certain things cannot be a disciple of Jesus. The first has to do with family ties. Now in a culture where family was so very important, these were incredibly radical words indeed. Of course, other Scriptures make it clear that we are to love members of our own family, and love others as well.
But if family relationships get in the way of following Christ, then a choice has to be made. If serving one’s family means one cannot serve Christ, then a decision about loyalties is called for. And as some have said, our love for Christ should be so great, so supreme, that in comparison, all other loyalties may seem like hate in comparison.
So the point is not to hate our families as such, but to love God even more than anyone or anything on earth. He is always to be our first loyalty and priority. The second clear teaching about discipleship is pretty clear – but also largely neglected and ignored.
We must carry our cross if we are to be a true disciple of Jesus. Anyone back then hearing these words knew exactly what Jesus meant. The condemned man sentenced to die a cruel death on a cross was forced to carry the cross piece to his own execution. Just as Jesus carried it, so too any condemned man had to do this.
He was heading for certain death, and his life was now forfeited. It is the same with Christian discipleship: we are no longer our own, we are bought with a price, and the life we now live, we live for Christ and him alone. The Christian has no more claims to anything, and has no more rights.
He has died to self and now lives for God. That is basic Christianity 101, yet it is shocking how very few Christians even think in these terms. They think they can do what they want, call the shots, and live for self. They are even told by mega-pastors that they can have their ‘best life now’.
Well, Jesus said nothing about such selfish foolishness. He demanded the complete surrender of self and crucifixion of all desires; otherwise we cannot claim to be his follower. The third demand makes the same claims. If we are not going to give up everything for him, then we cannot be his disciple.
It is that simple. And again, this is not so much about just dumping every material good that you have. The rest of Scripture makes it clear that we are to provide for others, and especially for those of our own household. Material possessions can and should be used for Christ and his Kingdom.
But what Jesus is demanding here is the complete surrender of all that we have, including all our desires, our wants and our rights. We must be willing to give up everything. And this is far more than just stuff. It can also be our selfish desires. Indeed, some of these desires can be good in themselves, but we may be clinging on to them too tightly.
So getting back to his first demand, we may have to let go of our desire to have a family, or to get married, or to have children. We may have to abandon our desire to live somewhere, or have a certain job, or use a certain talent or gifting.
We will have to be willing to give up anything and everything for him. That is because anything we cling to and desire too greatly becomes an idol which stands between us and God. These are the conditions of being his disciple. It is radical stuff, but discipleship is a radical calling.
Yet we read a passage like this – perhaps for the hundredth time – and it comes in one ear and out the other. It has lost its radical effect on us. We read the chapter, close our Bibles, and go on living just as we always have, with all our possessions, material goods, greed, consumerism, selfishness, and focus on Number One.
We all need to let these words hit us afresh. What is it that we are clinging to that is preventing us from really following Jesus? What are the gods and idols in our life which are separating us from Jesus? What are our desires and wants which keep us from being all we are meant to be in Christ?
The call to discipleship is really all about priorities. Just what are the real priorities in our life? What do we spend most of our time on? What do we think about the most? Desire the most? Crave the most? Talk about the most? If you honestly answer these questions, you will quickly discover what your real priorities are, and if you really are a disciple of Jesus Christ.