Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Hard And Happy Life Of Following Jesus

After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, "Follow me." And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" And Jesus answered them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."
Luke 5:27-32
Some of us might look at verses 27 and 28 and, after seeing Levi leave everything, convince ourselves that just because Levi left everything, that doesn’t mean that I have to do the same. "He’s one of those hardcore Christians. And Jesus doesn’t expect all of us to be like that. Can’t I just be a normal Christian?"

There’s only problem with that kind of thinking. The fishermen back in the first scene do the exact same thing. So up to this point, the only Christians following Jesus are "hardcore Christians." I would submit to you that what you see Levi do and what you see the fishermen do isn’t hardcore Christianity. It’s normal Christianity. Why? Because the life of following Jesus is a hard life. It’s a hard life because He calls you to leave everything.
That's an excerpt from the message I preached last night at Lifeline, the large group meeting of the InterVarsity chapter at San Jose State University. You can read the entire message here.

Then this morning I saw this over at Christ Is Deeper Still:
My dad used to say to me, when I was a kid, “Listen, son. Half-hearted Christians are the most miserable people of all. They know enough to feel guilty, but they haven’t gone far enough with Christ to be happy. Be wholehearted for him!”

I used to roll my eyes when you said that. I don’t any more.
Thanks for the reminder, Father.


Rob Lombardi said...

Perhaps "leaving everything" means something different for different people. There is a sense in which we leave our old selves behind the further down the road to sanctification we get. Scripture provides assurance in this:

"For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom 8:29 ESV)

The trials and suffering will come. Half hearted Christian is really something of a misnomer. You either have a renewed heart or a dead heart. There's no middle of the road heart. Thinking about Pilgrim's progress, the half-hearted Christian would have been one of those guys coming from the alternate routes and eventually wandering off the path or finding out that they didn't have their certificate in the first place.

Listen to how Spurgeon describes miserable Christians:

"... trials make more room for consolation. There is nothing makes a man have a big heart like a great trial. I always find that little, miserable people, whose hearts are about the size of a grain of mustard-seed, never have had much to try them. I have found that those people who have no sympathy for their fellows — who never weep for the sorrows of others — very seldom have had any woes of their own. Great hearts can only be made by great troubles. The spade of trouble digs the reservoir of comfort deeper, and makes more room for consolation. God comes into our heart — he finds it full — he begins to break our comforts and to make it empty; than there is more room for grace. The humbler a man lies, the more comfort he will always have." - Spurgeon

God comes into your heart and will clean out that junk and make more room for Him: that's comforting.

pilgriminconflict said...

Hi Rob,

Thanks for the Spurgeon quote. I really appreciate it. It's at the same time very sobering and very encouraging.

And I completely agree with you when you say that leaving everything means something different for different people. That's clear from the text. Levi left a life that revolved around tax collecting. The fishermen left a life that revolved around fishing. Leaving everything was clearly different for both.

But I just want to make sure that what you DON'T mean is that leaving everything is completely, turn-your-life-upside-down for some people but not for others.

I love theology, but let's not complicate what's going on in Luke 5. I don't see how the Romans 8 quote (as much as I love that verse) relates to the issue. Jesus didn't say anything about sanctification in Luke 5. And sanctification wasn't something the rich ruler in Luke 18 could take comfort in progressing in if he wasn't willing UP FRONT to leave everything and follow Jesus.

Please, please, please, don't give anyone a copout which I fear your seeming sanctification leaning here does.

Jesus certainly didn't. He looked at the rich ruler with love and watched him walk away because he wasn't willing to leave it all.

Rob Lombardi said...

Sorry, I didn't mean to provide a cop-out. Yeah, you're right. There's no cop-out.

"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 disciple" (Luk 14:26 ESV).

"Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple" (Luk 14:27 ESV).

"So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple" (Luk 14:33 ESV).

But I wonder if this is a necessary prerequisite to faith because I think God does actively work on people in different ways. Notice that the guy walked away, but it's not to say that He eventually sold everything. Jesus said it was hard, but not impossible with God. And we know that Jesus uses these admonitions and warnings to convict the elect of their sinful dispositions. When a Christian hears Jesus words in this matter, it is something that can bring great searching of the soul and perhaps a sober analysis of the desires. Yes, it is hard to overcome the desires for comfort and luxury, but not impossible to overcome these struggles with the help and strength of God.

There's also a danger of looking at a the new Christian who's recognized their sinful state and embraced Jesus as their Saviour. There a danger of judging their faith based on their willingness to let go of certain things in their life.

In the rich young ruler's case, he immediately gave-up and didn't appear to attempt any further efforts to follow Jesus. He thought he had followed all the commandments but Jesus revealed his love of money. What if the rich young ruler had turned to Jesus for help? What if he admitted that he struggles with keeping everything, but wants to change. What if Jesus heard his plea and stayed to help. There is a sense in which Jesus does this for every Christian. He stays with us, even when our desires do not align with His and he disciplines, exhorts, reproves, encourages, strengthens us towards godliness.

Perhaps the next few months would have proven difficult for the rich young ruler to go through the actions of selling everything. Perhaps there would be some mornings where he really struggled with the fleshly desires to keep things. Would Jesus immediately reject him as a disciple? Perhaps Jesus would have been there helping him through it all and encouraging, admonishing, and rebuking, disciplining each step towards obedience. He did this for His disciples. They left their lives, and Jesus commended them for this, but they showed other faults (e.g. bickering over who could be first, Peter's denial). Jesus worked through these issues with them.

Let's also remember that Jesus had the perfect discernment of this man's heart and provided a challenge to meet his particular situation. We cannot apply this to everyone, thinking that everyone needs to up front sell everything.

In Heb 5:12 there's Christians who are babes in Christ. Perhaps some people need to be milked for a while before they have the strength to give up everything.

I'm not claiming to understand this completely, but I'm just honestly having a hard time thinking that everyone has to be ready to give everything up front or they are not even to be considered a Christian.

pilgriminconflict said...

Thanks for the clarification, Rob, and taking the time to thoughtfully respond.

While I'm not sure that I agree with your hypotheticals concerning the rich ruler, I just want to say again that I agree with you that leaving everything doesn't look the same for everyone. For example, Zacchaeus (only a chapter after the rich ruler) by comparison doesn't sell everything. And almost nobody in the evangelical church (myself included) does.

But take another look at the verses you quoted above. Jesus doesn't just say those things for kicks. Do you think that He's just using hyperbole as though He really doesn't expect us to go that far but rather He's fine with just a willingness to give up most of what we have?

Jesus is absolutely radical. And I believe with all my heart that He means what He says. I hear what you are saying and we are probably more in agreement than disagreement, but I say what I say because it's really easy to begin to water Jesus down and adapt what He says to our "comfortable interpretations" and we eventually end up in the place that Pastor Mike mentioned in his sermon this past Sunday: you read the gospels and you think to yourself, "Nobody does this!" And the next step that that leads to even though we may not admit it is, "So there's no reason that Jesus would expect me to do it if no one else is."

I'm just not going to go there with the King of kings.

Rob Lombardi said...

Yeah, I'm certain we agree that Christians should be ready and willing to be radical for Jesus.

I think there is a growth in both spiritual discernment to discern what it is that God is calling us to do, and the spiritual strength and maturity to do those radical things. For immature Christians, it may be totally inappropriate to jump into something hastily and without forethought and counsel. Sometimes the most radical thing to do is to abandon your thought life to studying the Scriptures and encouragement of one another. That may seem like normal Christianity to some, but for young Christians, it may be the exact path to take on the road towards spiritual maturity and discernment and proving themselves ready for more challenging and radical things.

Thank you for your thoughtful responses. I sometimes think I come across a little adversarial on your blog, but I don't want to. I suppose we have a history of having challenging conversation that I'm somewhat accustomed to openly saying what's on my mind. ;)

I would like to get your thoughts on some radical things that are in my life right now. I could use some counsel because my spiritual discernment always need encouragement and help from fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. It's certainly a blessing to have people like you around.

pilgriminconflict said...

Thank you, brother. I appreciate you. I hope I don't seem too defensive. I'm glad that you feel the freedom to voice your convictions. I just happen to be strong in my convictions as well. =)

It definitely makes me think. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17).

I'll be praying for your discernment...