From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 2 – A closer look at how God develops us as disciples
Being a genuine disciple of Jesus Christ does bring you peace. However, that means in the Hebrew sense of being at peace within, or despite, difficult circumstances. The peace that Jesus gives us does not mean the absence of such difficulties.
The Hebrew word for peace is ‘Shalom’. It is very different in meaning from the Greek word for peace, from which we get the girls’ name ‘Irene’. Shalom is a much broader and deeper word. It involves deep, overall wholesomeness, contentment, success and prosperity. One can experience Shalom even in the midst of severe difficulty or conflict.
It is a much deeper and more far reaching concept than what is meant by the Greek word from which we get the word Irene. The Greek concept of peace, which has been adopted by the entire Western world, simply means the absence of war, conflict, hostility etc. That is a very narrow definition of peace.
So, a person can have peace in the sense of Shalom even in the midst of war, famine, conflict, persecution etc. But there would still not be peace in the Greek sense, i.e. ‘Irene’. In short, Jesus does promise His disciples that it is possible to achieve Shalom type peace. But He does not promise Irene type peace.
Jesus spoke of us needing to take up our own cross, i.e. to carry a metaphorical cross and follow Him. He actually said this long before he Himself had to carry a cross. He was, evidently, referring to the many other people who were publicly crucified by the Romans. It was a regular sight. The image of someone carrying a cross would therefore have been familiar to His listeners before they ever saw Him having to do it.
The image is of each disciple preparing to die and being willing to put his own flesh to death in order to follow Jesus. That is a valid expression of what life as a Christian can sometimes be. It is not all easy and ‘peaceful’, i.e. in the Greek sense of peace:
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.Matthew 10:34-39 (ESV)
It is important to get our expectations right as we enter the Christian life as a new believer. Too many of us have been given a false impression of Christianity by churches which try to present an attractive, positive image of what being a Christian is like. Therefore they make no mention of sacrifice, hardship, obedience, self-denial and so on. Those aspects of the Christian life are not seen as being easily marketable. They fear that to tell the plain truth about what the Bible actually says about being a disciple may put people off. But we have no right to alter or ‘improve’ the message so as to get more people to accept Christianity. If we do that we are just creating a false gospel and are not helping anybody. Any leader who preaches a lukewarm, easy gospel is not seeking to make disciples. He is just looking for more members for his church, without any regard as to whether or not they are becoming real and mature followers of Jesus.