Every once in a while I like to write about the topic of discipleship. I don’t do it to badger or belittle anyone, but I simply do it as a reminder to all of us of what it really means to be a Christian. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the production and lights, and totally forget why we are really here. We forget our mission, and therefore when uncomfortable situations come we lose sight of reality.
The truth is that when Jesus told the Parable of the Sower and talked about the stony ground, he was talking about church people. These were people who initially heard and received the word, but when trouble came they didn’t have the root system necessary to withstand it. It is a haunting reminder of far too many Christians who have come and gone, simply because they didn’t understand what Christianity really is. So the question that is begging to be answered is, what does true Christianity really look like?
I am so glad you asked that question (even if you didn’t I am going to pretend like you did). In Matthew 16 we get a clear glimpse of what real Christianity looks like. It involves two things: picking up a cross and following Jesus. But even those terms need to be defined. It seems that the cross has simply become a relic that people wear around their necks or nail to their walls, and following Jesus can mean anything these days. Far too many people have painted the Savior of the world in their own image, and therefore following Jesus looks a lot like what pleases them.
The cross is heavy and involves bloodshed. It requires the total dedication and consecration of one’s life that has been laid on the altar. And following Jesus? Well that simply requires the subjugation of my will to the will of God in every single area of my life. After all, that is how Jesus lived his entire life. I’m sorry, but if your Christianity doesn’t look like this then it isn’t really Christianity. That is simple, blunt, and unpopular but remains true to this very day.
Peter had his own version of what following Jesus looked like, and it didn’t involve a cross. Instead, it involved a white horse and a sword (which will happen one day). You see, Peter made the same mistake that we often do. He had a picture of what the Savior of the world should be, but the only problem was that it didn’t fit the mission of Jesus. We often look at Jesus’ rebuke of Peter in Matthew 16 and criticize Peter, but are we really that different?
We tend to look at suffering as something that should be avoided at all costs, especially in America with all of our comforts and desires right at our fingertips. The only problem is that that view of suffering is extremely shallow. Paul made the statement that he wanted to know Christ “in the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death…” Does that sound like American Christianity to you? Paul viewed suffering, not as something that should be avoided, but rather as something that should be embraced!
Why did Paul view suffering that way? He understood that there is something powerful about joining in the sufferings of the Savior. It brings you closer to Him, and actually begins to conform you into His image. And isn’t that the entire point of Christianity? Isn’t true Christianity desiring to become like Jesus, no matter what it costs? I am not saying that we should go out and look for suffering, but what I am saying is that we should not try to avoid it when it comes.
The times that I have felt the closest to Jesus have been times of suffering. They were times when I couldn’t seem to figure out exactly what God was doing, and why he was allowing certain things into my life. But in those times I learned to lean on Jesus, and it made all the difference. My challenge to you is to seek to learn something through suffering. Don’t avoid it and try to run away from it, but instead let Jesus conform you into His image. Discipleship will cost you everything, but in the midst of the suffering you will learn that those things weren’t worth holding onto anyway.