Faith & Philosophy

The Costs of Discipleship: Juxtaposing the Old and the New

If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you – Jesus Christ (John 15:20).

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted – Apostle Paul (2nd Timothy 3:12)

Today, I would like us to take a brief sabbatical from political issues to examine some very crucial requirements of Christianity; principles that have been completely ignored by most contemporary adherents of the faith; the fundamental foundations on which the superstructure of Christianity is constructed.

Image: Bigstock.com
Image: Bigstock.com

I was casually perusing some recent posts uploaded by some of my friends on their Facebook walls when my eyes suddenly fell on one very catchy piece titled “How The Apostles Died”, an exposition on the cruel and at best sadistic manner the early Apostles – the standard bearers – of the Early Church of Jesus Christ were brutally persecuted and ultimately eliminated by the acolytes of Satan – the first set of raging, ravenous anti-Christ’s who opposed the spread of the gospel. The lessons gleaned from this post were life-changing and mind-boggling as they challenged me to sit up and re-examine the genuineness of my claims to being a truly re-born follower of Christ.

In similar fashion, before continuing on this excursion, I would like you my readers to take brief breaks from your vain worldly pursuits to consider the sacrificial manner some of the Early Apostles died for the gospel, in order to either convince or convict yourselves of how faithfully you have been following Christ since you supposedly got born again: Matthew suffered martyrdom in Ethiopia, Killed by a sword wound; Mark (not an Apostle, but one of the fist missionaries) died in Alexandria, Egypt, after being dragged by horses through the streets until he was dead; peter was crucified upside down; James, leader of the church in Jerusalem, was thrown over a hundred feet down from the south-East pinnacle of the temple when he refused to deny his faith in Christ. When they discovered that he survived, his enemies finished him off with a fuller’s club; James, the son of Zebedee was beheaded in Rome; Luke, Paul’s doctor (not among the original Apostles) was hanged in Greece; John was boiled in a huge basin of boiling oil and later sentenced to work in the mines on the island of Patmos; Bartholomew was flayed to death by a whip in Armenia; Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross in Patras, Greece; Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India during one of his missionary trips to establish the church in the Sub-continent; Jude was killed with arrows when he refused to deny his faith in Christ; Matthias (the apostle chosen to replace the traitor Judas Iscariot) was stoned and then beheaded; Paul was tortured and then beheaded by the evil Emperor Nero at Rome in A.D. 67; Simon (the Zealot) was martyred by being sawn in half; Philip was tortured and then crucified upside down in Phrygia by hostile Jews.

When I juxtaposed the brave, non-conformist and selfless commitment of these aforementioned soldier-heroes of the faith – the truest heroes in the annals of church history, who paid the ultimate price – with the cowardly and self-aggrandizing postures of most contemporary Christians, a shocking picture jumps at me: the fact that most Modern-day Christians are simply a pack of cowardly, hypocritical incarnates of selfishness who wallow in self-deceit – having a pseudo appearance of being committed to the service of the Most High God, but contradicting themselves by the two faced lives they lead. Whenever I hear of people blowing themselves up with explosives, confronting fierce foes, or subjecting themselves to painful, demeaning ordeals in pursuit of their beliefs – in messiahs, ideologies, philosophies, creeds et al – I marvel, regardless of the fact that some of these extreme acts of martyrdom sometimes spring from false convictions – political, religious et al. However, without any modicum of doubt, any individual or group willing to die for a reason should be taken lightly. Readiness to die for something is the ultimate proof of one’s faith. The greatest feats are achieved by people who stake all their worldly possessions, desires and concerns in pursuit of greater ideals.

Christianity, especially from the early Apostolic times, was constructed on the foundations of the altruistic sacrifices of the men and women who gave up their all in the pursuit and propagation of their undiluted belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ; a virtue most contemporary Christians are bereft of – one that has brought them out as a bunch of snooty hypocrites. The truth is that most contemporary Christians are self-centered ingrates who are not ready to remit anything priceless to God in return for all the unmerited favours they receive from Him on a daily basis. They are largely encapsulated in self love, that all-consuming opiate that makes them oblivious of the debts they owe God. For these Christians, their personal interests are supposed to come before any other consideration. For them, God is a distant consideration; an imagined reality, so to speak.

Now, some self-righteous, holier-than-though ones among us might say, “if we pay our tight and offerings regularly, give to charity generously and perform other duties expected of Christians, in accordance with Biblical prescriptions, how can you accuse us of not giving to God?” valid as this argument might appear to common sense, it misses the point in that giving to God within biblical contexts refers to a sacrificial disposition, total commitment to one’s Creator – not material giving alone per say. Giving to God, without expecting anything in return, is sacrificial giving. Praising and worshiping God from your heart of hearts for His unmerited blessings, without ulterior motives, is sacrificial giving. Evangelizing for Christ, without expecting or accepting material rewards, is sacrificial giving. Giving to your fellow human beings in need – who are created in God’s image and likeness – without expecting any rewards from them or God in return, is sacrificial giving. The early Apostles personified the sacrificial mien expected of every true Christian; traits their contemporary protégés have consistently failed to replicate.

The attributes of true discipleship as alluded to in the bible are: Self-denial (Mathew 16: 24), total commitment (Matthew 22:37-38) and carrying the cross for Christ (Luke 14:26-27). These standard characteristics connote complete dedication to God through selfless surrender to His Son; a self-sacrificing commitment to God that every confessed adherent of the Christian religion must abide by. Contemporary Christians have completely strayed from being guarded by these divine principles: rather than committing themselves totally to God, they reserve a huge chunk of their loyalty for other man-made god’s – fleeting cares of the world; and rather than carrying the cross of Christ, they carry their own crosses. Most modern-day Christians are guilty of these sacrileges – few are exempted.

Our Lord Jesus has clearly spelt out the cost of true discipleship: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). Commitment to Christ comes with costs: leaving the fleeting cares of the world and submitting oneself completely to following Him – it involves surrender, unselfishness, and duty. Apart from symbolizing the peak of punishment and mortification (Galatians 3:13), a cross is a pictorial demonstration of God’s love for mankind (Romans 5:8) as depicted through the willing giving of His life to save the world from the ultimate consequences of sin (Matthew 20:28).

There are numerous references in the Bible addressing the Christian’s commitment in various aspects of life: to their families, neighbors, employers, the church, health, and in all things they do and say (Ephesians 6:5; Hebrews 10:25; 1 Corinthians 6:19, 31). However, the Bible also instructs that the chief commitment of a Christian’s live is to God Himself. Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your entire mind. This is the great and first commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38). Paul followed the Lord’s example of commitment in sacrifice and service. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Godly sacrifice is based on reverential love for God. Lip service aside, how many of us truly love God from the innermost parts of our hearts? How many Christians truly believe in the existence of an Almighty God who dwells in Heavenly places? How many Christians truly believe in the existence of Heaven and Hell as final places of rest for the souls of the dead? How many Christians truly believe that Jesus Christ truly existed on earth in human flesh, died on the cross, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven where He reigns as a supreme spirit being, from where He will come back to the earth one day to judge both the living and the dead? A minute fraction of today’s Christians truly believe in the veracity of these biblical facts. To most Christians, biblical stories are mere myths and legends fitted together by the early Apostles to suit their fancy; concocted tales that have been passed down to contemporary times from a superstitious past; fatalistic fables knitted together to imbue Christianity with an air of divinity. That is why most professed followers of Christ are unwilling to give their all in the service of God. To these individuals, committing themselves to an imaginary God would be tantamount to stupidity.

Jokes apart, how many Christians are ready to die for Christ in the modern age? This reminds me of a hilarious story I heard some time ago about a stage-managed robbery incident that took place at a branch of one of the mega churches (name withheld) around. In the said story, the members of this church were accosted by a gang of night marauders during a night vigil program. The robbers gave the congregation two options: those who wanted to prove their loyalty to Christ by taking a bullet for Him should go to one side, while those not willing to do so should remain where they were. Surprisingly only one man – out of an assembly of three hundred worshipers volunteered to take a bullet for Christ. The others, including the pastor, were not ready to stake their lives for the one whose gospel they supposedly believed in. What a laugh!

Most religious Christians think following Christ is a tea party; a merry-go-round for all-comers. But these poor students of the bible fail to heed Christ’s advance warning that fearsome trials await any who would proclaim belief in His name. The reason for such commitment and loyalty to Christ is that the trials Christians may have to endure will be highly tasking. Thus, the believers’ loyalty to Him may be difficult some times (John 15:18). Alerting His disciples of the trials ahead, Christ said: “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). The apostle Paul echoed His warning: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Following Christ without reservations is the peak of sacrifice. It requires your jettisoning all the ephemeral trappings of life. Christ, in several biblical analogies, alluded to the primacy of sacrificial commitment to the work of the kingdom over other worldly concerns. A vivid instance was Christ’s encounter with the rich man’s son (Mark 10:17-3) who wanted to know what he had to do to enter the kingdom of God – having already satisfied all the written rules of Judaism. Christ, in His response to this enquiry, asked him to sell all he had, donate the proceeds to the poor and come follow Him. The man’s reluctance to follow Christ’s counsel strikes a similar cord with the selfish dispositions of today’s Christians whose love for the world and its momentary accoutrements has blinded them to the things that really matter.

Most people claim to be Christians these days because they expect something from God, and not because they want to sacrifice anything tangible to Him in return for His compassionate provisions for them. They are takers who seldom give willingly. With particular reference to Christians in the developing sections of the world, the Church has become a means to an end; an elixir that diverts their attention from the harsh conditions they have been forced to subsist in; an escape route from the painful realities of living in an unjust world. It is the humbling effect of poverty that makes them profess Christianity as their religion. Immediately their conditions are alleviated, they cease to be Christians.

Let us not forget the inglorious roles some of the supposed shepherds of the flock – arrowheads of modern Ecclesiastical establishments – play in deepening the scale of selfishness among contemporary Christians. Most of the (largely self-acclaimed) heads of the various Christian denominations have not been exemplary in their conduct. They are contrasting representations of the glowing precedents set by Christ and his Apostles who gave up all they had that the whole world might be saved. Some of these modern-day treasure hunters, instead of stepping out to the frontlines to confront the itinerant lieutenants of Lucifer, hide behind the porous fortifications of worldly concerns – the chief gods they worship. The Christian religion was established on the foundations of the sacrificial lives and blood of Christ and His Apostles. These champions of the faith gave up all their earthly concerns – worldly luxuries and sometimes their lives – in pursuit of the truth.

Service to God requires that every nerve and sinew of our being must be committed to loving and serving Him. We must not hold anything back from Him because He holds nothing back from us (John 3:16). Our Lord Jesus makes it clear to us that our commitment to Him must supersede our commitment to even our families: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My follower. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27). Such commitment means our family relationships may be severed. It means our commitment to Christ demands, if given an “either/or” situation, we turn away from them and continue on with Jesus (Luke 12:51-53). The bottom line is that those who cannot make that kind of commitment cannot be disciples of Christ.

It is very natural that self love and other worldly concerns will come between us and Christ. Loving the Lord more than he loves Himself, is the truest proof of discipleship. Our primary duty and love must be for Christ and not for anything else. Our loyalty to God must be absolute. We must say no to our insistent, demanding and self assertive ego. To truly prove our faith in Jesus Christ, we must cast off the kimonos of vanity enshrouding us, deny ourselves of all worldly desires, commit ourselves totally to his work and daily carry his cross with glee. Being born-again is not all it takes to be a Christian; remaining born-again requires that we remain submissive, humble and obedient to Christ and His teachings. Only after we have denied ourselves fully can we go on to take up our crosses. Love for Christ implies selfless service and willing obedience to Him. Our maxim as true disciples of Christ should be straightforward and concise: “For me, to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21)

God bless you all!

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