It is not easy accepting Scripture for what it says. Verse after verse, in our devotional study through Claiming Christ, repeat the words of the Son of God, that not everyone who claims to be Christian, who thinks they are following Christ, who happens to be baptized, or who funds a minister who tells them “God loves you, no matter what you have done”, will be accepted before the throne of God as “true disciples”.
Fake Christians are everywhere according to the Bible. Many fill the halls of cross-decorated sanctuaries thinking they are riding the pearly yacht to heaven, but the Bible speaks to those who have ears to hear what the Spirit teaches. And those words are preserved in holy writ for those humble enough to receive the breath of God; those who have jumped off the mass transit of popular religion and resist the temptation to prop up their preferred beliefs with words that satisfy their itching ears.
A real Christian, in spite of claiming Jesus as Lord and Savior, is not allowed to maintain equal devotion to God with anything of this life, be that their most intimate relationships or even the sustaining of their own life:
“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.” (NLT throughout)
Genuine followers of Jesus, “cannot serve both” the things of God and the desires of this life, and yet especially in our American churches one would be hard pressed to identify supporting evidence of such a separation. In contrast to how some try to justify themselves, this following verse is not saying that it will be impossible for Christians to attempt to syncretize (blend) their competing devotions, but rather that the distinction will be chosen by those who faithfully respond to the warning of their Lord.
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
In fact, Jesus even places a demand that cannot be imposed by the Holy Spirit (as in God taking away everything from a Christian), but which must be demonstrated by that believer during their lifetime as evidence of their faith in the promises and provision of God; a willing life of self-denial, a life of bearing the cross
“So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.”
A warning and a condition, for those humble enough to hear: be careful, because even with the Spirit within you, it remains possible for your hearts to become numb to sin, to become saturated with the attractions of society, or even hindered by anxieties as a result of not hanging on to enough money or retirement accounts.
“Watch out! Don’t let your hearts be dulled by carousing and drunkenness, and by the worries of this life. Don’t let that day catch you unaware.”
Those who hold their Protestant theology ahead of what Scripture says, will often say that a true Christian will always do these things, that it will be automatic for them because the Spirit will do it in them in spite of anything they have to say or do about it. But that is not reality. Show me a true Christian, and I will show you the same person who has sinned after having come to faith.
The Spirit of God never forces a believer into faithfulness. Such possession is reserved for demonic control. Scripture teaches that God invites; that he always remains Sovereign, but such authority does not also mean that he overrides the free will he designed in us. We are not robots.
And therefore, Jesus teaches and warns his disciples, so that true worshippers (as he calls them) will submit to his admonitions and by the guidance of the indwelling Spirit of God will freely put God first and demonstrate such devotion by how they subordinate their friends, their family, their hobbies, their reliance on money, and even the sustaining of their own life.
This is not to say that a Christian must become perfect before being accepted by God, but rather that the Bible teaches that anyone who wants to be considered a true disciple of Jesus has a God-demanded responsibility to submit their choices in line with his word.
Those who prefer to coddle themselves with lies of guaranteed salvation in spite of their persistence in rebellion against Jesus’ words, might want to look up the fires of Heb 10:26-27, or the worse-off of 2 Pet 2:21, or the de-grafting of Rom 11:22, or the impossible re-repentance of Heb 6:4-6 or the false belonging of 1 Jn 2:19, or the bad-acting Christians of Tit 1:16, or the spiritual shipwrecks of 1 Tim 1:19, or the alienated and grace-fallen believers of Gal 5:4.
And so it is that Jesus even places a condition on our willingness to live according to what he says rather than according to what some ministers, also called wolves in sheep’s clothing, try to distract from the truth.
“Jesus said to the people who believed in him, ‘You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings.’”
Such conditions are not means by which we earn either divine favor or salvation, for eternal life is a gift of God, but the word of God, or should I say The Word of God, teaches his true followers that there are conditions–costs to being his disciples.
Undoubtedly this will anger many Christians; at least that has been the historic case for centuries. Calvin’s predestination, or Luther’s hard determinism refuses to allow for any eternal impact by human choice. And thus, for many of us who have come to know the Lord through their legacy (and in many other respects a honorable legacy at that), we are challenged by such red-letter words stating such cautions to believers.
Sadly, as demonstrated by disciples of Jesus who heard the human vocals of God himself, many will refuse to embrace such difficult teachings, as indelibly recorded as the 6:66 of John’s Gospel.
“At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him.”
What about you? Do you also want to leave these words in favor of better sounding preaching? Or are you willing to respond as Peter did, when Jesus asked this very question?