The cost of being a genuine disciple - trouble, hardship, persecution and suffering
Let us look now at a long list of passages from the Bible where Jesus, Paul, Peter and John talk frankly about the committed and faithful way in which Jesus wants us to follow Him. We need to be willing to endure hardship, abuse, persecution and suffering for the sake of His name. Consider how different this type of commitment is from the limp and passive way in which most churches now operates in the West:
11"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12 (NIV)
"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. Matthew 6:24(NIV)
"Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. Matthew 24: 9 (NIV)
7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ Philippians 3:7-8 (NIV)
12In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 2 Timothy 3:12-13(NIV)
For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know. 1 Thessalonians 3:4 (NASB)
12Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 1 Peter 4:12-14(NIV)
This final verse is spoken by Jesus Himself to the lukewarm, half-hearted church at Laodicea:
15I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. Revelation 3:15-16(NIV)
I have included a long list of passages about the hardships and cost of discipleship. I could actually have put in many more verses. I included so many because I wanted to demonstrate, beyond all doubt, that this is a consistent biblical theme. I am not exaggerating or taking anything out of context.
We must therefore follow and obey Jesus with all our heart, not passively or with limits or conditions. This will lead us into suffering, persecution, and maybe even death, for Him and for the sake of His Name. Even so, we must not be ashamed of Him or keep Him hidden out of view.
We need to be openly identified with Jesus, even if it costs us. We are bound to attract ridicule, abuse and persecution if we openly follow Him in the way we should. But He commands us to do so, and it is worth it.
Therefore, be willing to swim in the opposite direction from the people around you. Be willing to give up your ambitions, your independence and your comforts to follow Him and be His disciple. You will be hated, insulted and persecuted. But you will also gain from it and you will be rewarded for it eternally. Look at this inspiring comment made by a man called Jim Elliot, who was urging people to give their whole lives to God's service:
"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose" - Jim Elliot,
The martyred American missionary, Jim Elliot, was killed at the age of 28 by the Auca Indians in South America to whom he brought the gospel. He was obedient and he paid the ultimate price. So have millions of other martyrs over the centuries, and especially in our own century. Indeed, more Christians are having to die for their faith today than ever before
When Jesus spoke of picking up your cross daily and following Him He meant that the decision to become His disciple was potentially a life or death issue. It may well mean giving up your life, quite literally. That is happening now to Christians all over the world, especially in Islamic countries. At the very least, it means the loss of comfort, privileges and the rulership of our own lives.
That’s what real discipleship means. There is no other way. The only question is whether you are willing to pay that price. If you are not, and you want a “nicer,” more moderate Christianity, which does not involve such intense commitment, then how can you say you are His disciple? You would be your own disciple, following your own path.
We will never be able to face the ultimate test and be willing to be martyred for Jesus if we have not first learned how to pass the hundreds of little tests that we face along the way. If we can't cope with being criticised or laughed at for His sake, then how can we realistically expect to face death for Him? Likewise, if we can't sacrifice our time or our money for His sake, how can we expect to pass the test of martyrdom?
Therefore we must learn how to be faithful, and how to show courage and endurance. We do so by passing all the small, seemingly insignificant tests along the way. That's why they matter so much. They are your chance to train and to get ready for the big test that may, one day, come to you if you follow Jesus. That's one reason why it makes sense to be thankful when we are persecuted. Opposition strengthens us and gets us ready to face those bigger tests.
Being a committed and diligent disciple has a huge bearing on how we will fare at the Judgment Seat of Christ. It will determine whether Jesus greets us there with approval and rewards, or with rebuke and disapproval. I want His approval and reward very much indeed. I want God to help me now to be willing to pay whatever price is needed in order to please Him, honour Him and be true to Him:
24Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NIV)
This final chapter is meant to be a brief introduction to the concept of discipleship, i.e. what it is, what it can involve and why it matters. I will develop these themes much more fully in the remaining books in the Real Christianity series. They are all about different aspects of how you can seek to grow in Christian maturity, overcome obstacles and become an effective disciple.
If you have genuinely repented and believed in Jesus, then that is what makes you into a Christian. However, you shouldn't just stop there. You have to grow and go forward or else you will inevitably go backwards, or "backslide". You can't stand still as a Christian. It's impossible.
Moreover, if standing still is all that you want, then it raises serious questions about your motives and the genuineness of your belief in Jesus in the first place. How can you say that you believe Jesus is Lord, but not want Him to be the Lord of your life or to follow, obey, and stand up for Him?
At the very least, if you don't want to pay the price and face the pressure and opposition that comes from following Jesus, then it calls into question whether you truly believe in Him and in what He says.
Seize every opportunity that God offers you to serve Him and to grow. The following books in this series are intended to help you to see many of the pitfalls and hazards we will face in our life as a disciple. I aim to show how we can best avoid such problems, become more alert, discerning and wise, and learn how to be an 'overcomer'.
God wants you to win the battles you are going to face and to become a successful, productive, faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. He wants you to bear a lot of fruit so that He can reward you. Conversely, the Devil wants you to fail, to be ineffective, and to bear little or no fruit.
How well you do in each of those battles in your life is largely down to you. It will be decided by the approach you choose to take, the decisions you make and the habits you develop in the years ahead.
So, don't even consider stopping at the point of becoming a new convert. Go on and gladly accept everything God has to offer you. Take your place as an active follower of Jesus. Aim to make a difference in the world and, one day, to hear Him say to you "Well done, good and faithful servant."