Come and ... die?
Jesus said “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me…” | Mark 8:34b (NLT)
There’s an elephant in the room. It’s the elephant that is the idea that we can make the Gospel attractive to more people by presenting it in a careful, selective way. It’s a subtle, slow erosion of the truth that is motivated by a desire to see people saved, and the honest recognition that talk of sin, wrath and hell is not particularly popular.
The danger, however, is that our good intentions inadvertently lead people down a blind alley. The popular notion becomes, over time, that we’re fundamentally good or decent people, but we need to believe in Jesus. We’re not sinners, but we do make mistakes. Jesus makes little difference to the ‘here and now’, but is our ticket into Heaven. We need to add Jesus to our otherwise reasonable and respectable life.
It's this last one that is categorically blown out of the water by Jesus’ words. I recently read it expressed this way: “The invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to your own funeral… with the promise of resurrection.”
Read that again and just pause before moving on. Does that reflect the gospel message you preach? Does your gospel invite people to die in order that they might truly live?
In the Gospel that’s often preached today, Jesus amounts to little more than a life coach – someone who is on hand to troubleshoot, provide a bit of perspective to gently encourage a person’s journey of self-improvement. He’s there to cheer us on and help us toward our potential; to point us towards being our best selves.
And therein lies one of the [numerous] problems with this approach: self. The Gospel is an explicit invitation to die to self. To put self to death. To reckon self having died with Christ. The Gospel bids the hearer come and find life in all its fullest having been crucified with Christ.
I may not be a popular message, and it isn’t always comfortable to pass it on to others, but it’s the single most life-giving invitation a person can hear.
Let’s briefly consider a couple of possible reasons why we find this message uncomfortable.
First, we haven’t truly understood the good news of dying to self and life in Christ ourselves. If you have only ever sought to add Jesus to your own life, you won’t have discovered the joy, the liberty and relief that comes in full surrender to the Lordship of Jesus. If you haven’t, you’ll dilute the message to reflect your experience. The remedy? Come to the cross, reckon yourself dead to sin and self and find new life. Someone who has only ever spent time around Christians can tell others what they observe; someone who is truly born again can tell first hand of the difference Jesus makes.
Second, we’re bothered about what people will think of us. Going to church is still just about socially acceptable enough for us to not need to censor our own conversation on that front. Maybe we’d even feel bold enough to invite someone to a ‘gospel event’, but for us to talk about the glorious Gospel in light of the wrath of God is risky. It risks us being rejected or ridiculed, our reputation and renown suffering loss. What then shall we do? In short: Get over yourself! Sorry. In longer, recognise what’s going on for what it is. And seeing it as it is, pray. Pray that God would so burden your heart for the lost, that the potential embarrassment you may feel pales into insignificance as you pursue the eternal wellbeing of the souls of those you love. And pray for boldness. We’re not asked to ‘do evangelism’ in our own strength; we’re promised the help and emboldening of the Spirit. Ask for it!
Jesus was unashamed in his invitation. True disciples , he would say – those who would genuinely seek to follow him – will enter into his tutelage through denying themselves, and will continue down this road of self-sacrifice. They will be familiar with the priority of a different Kingdom than this world, and will live for the fame and renown of another. They will battle the tendency towards comfort, convenience and cosiness with ruthlessness and focus on the One who called them and saved them.
Are you among that number?
Are you pointing others to the way into this Kingdom, or speaking platitudes and well wishes that fall short of the preaching of the Gospel?
There’s a world outside your door which is desperately in need of good news. Go and share it. Be bold and very courageous for the Lord your God is with you.