The call to follow Jesus is inevitably a call to die.
Sound reckless? Radical? When Jesus called His first disciples, four fishermen beside the Sea of Galilee, He beckoned them to leave behind professions and possessions, dreams and aspirations, family and friends, safety and security. "If anyone is going to follow Me, he must deny himself." In a world where everything revolves around self - protect yourself, promote yourself, preserve yourself, entertain yourself, take care of yourself - Jesus says, "Slay yourself." Life inside the kingdom of God is so inverted from life outside God's kingdom.
The four fishermen paid a high price to follow Jesus. We're told Peter was crucified upside down, Andrew was crucified in Greece, James was beheaded, and John was exiled. They believed Jesus was worth the cost. For in Him they encountered a love so pure beyond comprehension, a peace that superseded circumstances, a purpose that stood far above every other pursuit in this world. Each of them gladly lost his life in order to know, follow, and proclaim Jesus.
I wonder how far we have wandered from this path in the 21st century?
Somewhere along the way, amid the variety of cultural tides and popular church trends, it seems that we have minimized Jesus' summons to total abandonment of self. Churches today are filled with professing Christians who seem most content to settle for a casual association with Christ while giving nominal allegiance to Christianity. Becoming a follower of Jesus is much more than merely acknowledging certain facts, saying certain words, or an invitation to pray a prayer. It's a summons to lose our lives.
If dying to ourselves is necessary to live in Christ, what holds us back? There is a cost to stepping out of a casual, comfortable, cultural Christianity. But Jesus is worth it. He is worth more than just intellectual belief; there's so much more to following Christ than a facade of mundane spirituality. There is indescribable joy to be found, a deep peace in the soul to be felt, and an eternal purpose to be lived out in dying to ourselves and living in Christ. Yet we gravitate toward what's easy and what's popular.
In Matthew 16, right after Jesus commends Peter for his confession of faith in Him as "the Christ, the Son of the living God," Jesus rebukes Peter for missing the magnitude of what that confession actually means. Like so many today, Peter wanted a Christ without a cross. He sought a Savior without any suffering. So Jesus looks at Peter and the disciples and says, "If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it."
Our whole reason for living is changed. Possessions and position are no longer priorities. Comfort and security are no longer concerns. Safety is no longer our goal because self is no longer our god. We desire to live in uncompromising surrender and obedience to Christ and His Word.
The call to die is clear. The road that leads to heaven is risky, lonely, and costly in this world. Few seem willing to pay the price. Following Jesus involves losing your life, dying to self and one's own personal agenda. But it means finding a new life in the One who paid the ultimate price on the cross to give us a solid and certain eternity with Him.