Mark 8:34–38 NRSV
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Note how Mark carefully points out that Jesus called the crowd with his disciples. This makes abundantly clear Jesus’ intention to make this bold call to discipleship well beyond his initial disciples.
This is a very challenging teaching and, yet, in twenty-
first-century Christianity, it has become so challenge-by-
choice optional. I mean, Jesus didn’t intend this for everyone, did he? Can’t I just believe in Jesus and everything will turn out okay? What’s this about carrying a Roman cross and letting my own life go to follow Jesus? It sounds so extreme and hard. Surely this can’t be what he meant.
The gospel is a radical solution to a catastrophic problem. Imagine if you had terminal cancer and the doctor told you all you needed to do was to believe in the efficacy of the treatment. You didn’t actually have to take the treatment—just believe in it. It’s absurd. You would go to your grave believing in the treatment, yet never having actually been treated.
I think this is the case with so much Christianity over the past one hundred years or so. We’ve wanted to reduce it to its lowest possible threshold to the point where we simply want to know if you have made a decision. Trusting Jesus is not a transaction. It is a totalizing abandonment of oneself to God. It is the shifting of the center of gravity from self-determination to revolving all of life around God and his kingdom. Where did we ever get the idea that believing something in your head or saying that you believe in the truth of something could somehow add up to following Jesus? Jesus put it this way: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35).
Do we really believe this is true? Spend some time going over those twenty-four words today.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
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