Sometimes it's just not easy.
Take Luke 14:25-33, for instance. How many of us have spent hours wrestling with Jesus words, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple"? I sure have. Surely Jesus didn't really mean that, did he? What's this we read about having to "carry the cross," now? And surely there must be some metaphorical nuance to his admonition, "...none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."
I mean, he's not serious, is he?
As my Bible study class wrestled with this one last Wednesday evening, one thing we all realized was how important it is to make a distinction between discipleship and salvation. The passage from Luke and other similar passages in the Gospels (for example Matthew 10:37-39, Mark 8:34-35) are about the decision to become a disiple of Jesus, a follower of the way. They are not so much about salvation, which precedes discipleship both temporally and spiritually.
It is helpful for me to think of it this way - there's nothing wrong with being in the crowd, but we need to know that there is a-whole-nother level of faith. That next level involves deciding to step out of the crowd and live a completely different life patterned after the example and teachings of Jesus. The first sentence of the lesson reads, "Now large crowds were travelling with him; and he turned and said to them..." Jesus doesn't condemn the crowd, but he wants them to know that there's more, he actively invites them to choose that path, and then instructs his disciples to continue extending that invitation on his behalf, even today.
And that whole-nother level of faith that we call discipleship is going to require some pretty radical stuff. It will require that our love increase so much that even the feelings we have now toward our family will seem like hate in comparison. It will require that the life we lead be so abundant, so spirit-filled, so good that the only way to put it into words is to talk about dying to our old life. And it will mean that the only power we will rely upon will be the power of God, breaking the power over us that our possessions hold. (Possessions are more than just "stuff," I think - here we might talk also about our pride, our prejudices, our pretensions, things of this world. That may be a-whole-nother sermon, though.)
The good news is that the entire kit and kaboodle is bathed in grace. At those times when I just want to hang out in the crowd, God's grace is there. At those times when I am most spiritually alive and feel like God is all over the place, grace is there. And at those times when I'm ready to chuck it all, when it feels like God is so far away that I even have trouble believing God's there at all, ... somehow grace is there, too.
It comes down to this. Every one of us is just trying to live the best life we can. Some days we do better at this than others, to be sure. And yes, sometimes its just not easy. The passage from Luke 14 is really an expression of God's fervent desire that all of us would strive to live good lives. God wants us to live lives that are shaped by/grounded in/patterned after the life of Christ Jesus, the one we call Teacher, the one who longs for us to be disciples.
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