Before I start out, I want whoever is reading this to know that I have struggled mightily with this issue for years. Struggled with what the truth is and if and how I should encourage others in it. I have devoured the scriptures because of it, sought input from others, and of course sought God everyday in it. I humbly come before any of you and say that I absolutely could be wrong on this issue, but the issue is too great to stay quiet. When salvation is at stake, being quiet or playing it safe is the easy thing to do, but the true reality is that keeping quiet could be the most selfish thing I have ever done in my life. So I ask you friends to join me in love and in an open dialog to search for the truth. It ultimately comes down to this; I challenge you because I love you, I want everyone to spend eternity with God, and I want everyone to have the opportunity to partner with God and His incredible purpose for your life.
When I started following God, I befriended a guy who just came out of a traumatic situation and I shared with him about Jesus. In the only way I knew how, I led him to faith on the phone by having him repeat after me to accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior. He was saved right? Isn’t that what many of us were taught growing up? You say the prayer and it is a done deal right? Fifteen years later this same friend tells me that he doesn’t believe in Jesus and he doesn’t believe that Jesus is the way to heaven. He actually has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus now other than me telling him about Him. In fact I have had several people, whether personal friends, people on the streets, Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists say at one point that they believed, but they are not following Jesus now. Are these people saved? What about all the others who have prayed a prayer of salvation? Who is saved and who is not?
Now, I am not going to get into the whole theological debate of whether a Christian can lose their salvation. Honestly, I think it is the wrong question to ask. The more important question should be, “Are you saved in the first place?”. Nobody can honestly read the Bible and not say that there are those in the Bible who think that they are saved but are not. Whether they lost their salvation or whether they were never genuinely a Christian, I am not going to go in to. The point is again, there are those who think they are saved but are not. There are several passages in the Bible that would support this. For example, Matthew 7:21-23; 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” And what is His will for us? Along with being in relationship with the God of the universe, praising Him, obeying His commands, and being in fellowship with the people of God, His will is to spread the message of Jesus that He died for the sins of the world to everyone on earth and to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-20). What is a disciple of Jesus? A disciple is one who denies his own life and purposes in exchange for the purposes and will of Jesus. The term “believers” and the term “Christian” are only used in the New Testament a few times and those terms were synonymous with being disciples. The word disciple is used around 250 times (depending on the Bible translation). When more and more were “believing” in Acts, they were called disciples. Acts 6:7 “The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly.” In Acts 11:26, Christians were disciples. “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”
For many years I believed that if you just “accepted Christ” that you would be saved. I am convinced that I didn’t get that from reading the Bible for myself. I learned it from our Christian culture. I never really started reading the Bible until my early 20s. But when I opened up the Bible for myself, my eyes were opened to things I had never read before. For example, all of the “follow me” passages from Jesus.
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
25 Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. 26 Anyone who wants to serve me must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.”
37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
Luke 14:25-27, 33
25 A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, 26“If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. 27 And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.
33 “those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”
Why is Jesus consistently saying that I need to give up everything and follow Him to be His disciple? Isn’t my job,“to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:28-39)? Are disciples and believers different? Do we believe that being a disciple is only for a chosen few? Again what about Matthew 28:19, “Go and make disciples of all the nations.” He didn’t say go and make believers or converts. If he did, would we even be here? Did we not get here because disciples made disciples?
My challenge to all of you is to read the Bible for yourself. Please don’t take my word for it. Let’s say you had never heard of Jesus or the Bible and you were stuck on an island and you read the Bible for the first time. I am absolutely convinced that you would see that Jesus wants us to follow Him with our whole life.
Am I adding to grace or saying that Christianity is works based? I believe this passage from James. James 2:19-20, “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?” Clearly if you read all of James 2:14-26, it is not just about believing. Yes, I believe grace is a gift from God and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-10), but works is the evidence of true faith. If you truly believe, you will follow Him.
So the big question is, why are we not taught and why are we not teaching others to follow Jesus with our whole life? I’ll give you two reasons from my experience of how we as Christians or Christian leaders may be influenced not to call on people to follow Him with their whole life.
Reason number 1: I have shared the gospel hundreds if not thousands of times in some form or another. Now I may have believed that you need to follow Jesus with your whole life, as many of us would say, but like I did so many times, in fact most of the time, I tried to sell the best possible Jesus I could for fear that they would not “accept” Jesus. I would say, “Jesus died for your sins, Jesus will forgive you, you will be guilt free, you will have peace, you will have a relationship with Him, and you will go to Heaven!” Can’t beat that. Who wouldn’t want that? But so often I would never tell them that Jesus wants us to give up our whole life. That he wants us to obey all his commands, 1 John 2:4-5, 4 “Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them.” That He wants us to “Go and make disciples of all the nations”(Matthew 28:16-20) even if that means rejection or being ostracized from your friends or family. Saying all these things to them would come later right? So what did they sign up for? What gospel did they accept? I had so many people accept a gospel that looked good, but was it even the true gospel?
You may have heard the term, “cheap grace.” This is exactly what I believe I was doing. Could this be what the majority of us are selling? What happens when we say to them, “Ok, you accepted Jesus now, oh by the way, you have to give up everything to follow Him.”? Did Jesus ever present the gospel the way we sometimes present it? I would argue that it was the complete opposite. He challenged everyone with the “hard” stuff (the true stuff) in the beginning. You could argue that at times it was like He was trying to turn people away on purpose. Could it be that He wanted to separate the real followers from the ones who were just “fans” in a sense? John 6:66, “At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him.”
Reason number 2: My wife and I have run a ministry for over 13 years now, which means we have had to raise our own financial support for our family. I’ll be the first to confess that much fear and anxiety can come on us if we say or do the wrong thing for fear that we will not get the financial support. We have 5 boys to feed! But a long time ago during this struggle, I promised God that I will write or speak whatever He wants me to and leave the results and financials to Him even if it meant we lost our ministry. I know how it feels to have financial responsibility for my family and I feel that immense pressure to please my audience. So I ask you, what about you if you are a Christian leader? If you are a pastor? If you run a ministry? Is it possible that we as leaders could literally at times be selling a cheap grace? I confess I have with my supporters at times. Could it be that many churches and ministry leaders don’t want to lose members or supporters so we sell them a gospel that says, “accept Jesus, come to church, be a good person, don’t sin,” but we don’t tell them that they must give up their whole life for Jesus?
Most of our churches and ministries are built on a business model. If we lose our “customers” then we have no church building, we have no staff, our salary doesn’t get paid. So I challenge you to ask yourself this question. Are we as Christians presenting the right gospel? Could it be that we are guilty of giving millions of people a false assurance of faith? At the end of my time on earth, that is certainly something I do not want to be guilty of.
Now I know that many churches would say they are “seeker” friendly, meaning they draw people in with an “attractive” message and then in time they will teach them what it means to follow Jesus. I have used this approach so many times. But what effect is it having? Are long time church members getting this message to follow Christ? I never once heard that I was supposed to give up my life and follow Jesus until my mid 20s at a missions conference. Was I the only one missing that message?
Christian leaders, have you ever experienced frustration with trying to get Christians to reach out to others? I know I have. Sometimes it is like pulling teeth to get anyone to do anything. Could it be our own fault? What IF we discipled people to follow Jesus with their whole life right from the beginning? What would happen if on Sunday we preached the message to follow Jesus? I am not going to say that all the church members would leave and your world would fall apart because I don’t think that is true. I actually believe something incredible would happen!
Here is what may happen. Every week you start challenging everyone to start following Jesus with their whole life and to make disciples. You may lose some or even many people but that is ok. Those who are left are actually touched and moved at the thought that giving up their life actually is the answer to closeness with Jesus. People start to realize that their life could now have a greater meaning. They start to realize that they get to partner with the King of the Universe! They start to realize that they can participate in reaching people with the message of Jesus. Now who are you left with in your church and in your ministries? You are left with people who want to give their life for Jesus! Now you start to see incredible things happen with the people in your churches and in your ministries. You start to see what you have been dreaming and praying about for so long.
I want to end with one story about how I put this into practice. I am discipling a guy from India and at one of our meetings he confessed to me that he was fearful of sharing with others about Jesus because of the fear of rejection and embarrassment. I simply asked him to look at this passage while I stepped away for a moment. Luke 9:23-27 23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” We came back together and he looked at me and said, “I am going to invite all of my Hindu friends over to my apartment and show them the Jesus film and let them ask questions.” I asked, “Why?” He said “because Jesus wants me to follow Him and not to be ashamed of Him.”
I never told him what to do, I just showed him the words of Jesus. We do not have to fear that people will be scared off by the words of Jesus, and we can rest assured that we can trust Him when we present people with the truth of His word and the call to follow Him.
I ask all of you to take this challenge to seek out what it means to follow Jesus and to start calling on and encouraging each other to follow Jesus.
Thank you all for your listening hearts!
In Him Together,