Why Isn’t Following Jesus Easy?
Many of us have been turned off by the many Christians and Christian leaders who believe and preach that choosing to follow Jesus will eliminate all your problems. If the sick don’t go away well, you just didn’t have enough faith. This kind of God-as-Santa-Claus faith is not only wrong; it’s dangerous.
Somewhere along the way, we’ve come to believe that God’s job is to improve our lives. I’ve heard it from Christians from the health-and-wealth prosperity camp, from Presbyterians, Charismatics, and fundamentalists. This belief does not discriminate.
However, the truth seems to be quite the opposite. Life for Christians doesn’t necessarily get better, and if it does, it is likely not due to God making it so. In fact, the promise for following Jesus is just the opposite. So why can so many different camps of Christians share this belief? It seems to defy common sense. The common denominator is the selfishness of humanity. Jesus had something to say about it.
“Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, 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. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels’” (Mark 8:34-38, NLT).
Following Jesus involves thinking differently about my life. Put simply, understanding that “it’s not about me.” It’s not about comfort, stability, wealth or success. Often it’s about failure and deferring our dreams and goals so others can realize theirs. It’s about doing without so someone else doesn’t have to. It means putting everything we have into sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with others and going out of our way to do it at our own expense.
Jesus tells us that this is how to gain our lives; how we will gain our souls. We live for what is important to us. We put our energy and resources into what we value most. Following Jesus isn’t easy because we’re called to surrender ourselves and embrace sacrifice and obedience. Not a very marketable message.
I learned a long time ago that to plan well, I need to have a clear picture of the desired result and work backwards. Jesus gives us two possible results: gain the world or gain our souls. How we plan to live will determine the result.
Jack Radcliffe is a husband and father of four, a parent coach, a seminar presenter for Parenteen (www.parenteen.com), a ministry consultant with Youth Ministry Architects in Nashville, TN, and an adjunct professor at Martin Methodist College. He has an MDiv from Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio and a DMin in Practical Theology, Adolescent Development, and Culture from Fuller Theological Seminary.