In life, there are many choices. For example, I waltzed into Johan's Bakery in Petoskey a few days back to buy some breakfast food for an early morning meeting with a group of people. My first dilemma was bagels, muffins or doughnuts. An obvious choice, right? Doughnuts! The next option was between old-fashioned glazed, yeast-glazed or long john. No brainer, right? Long johns! Then lastly, would it be cream or custard? Of course, an easy final verdict. Custard! Oh, if life's choices were always this easy!
There certainly are more consequential choices. For example, if you are a high school senior, you may be thinking through the options of college or vocational training. If you are in college, you are nearing a decision about what type of a career is desired. Perhaps you are wrestling with the decision of who to spend the rest of your life with. If finances are tight, you might be thinking, "I've got to cut expenses or get a second job." Choices are a part of life and some carry a heavy weight.
Jesus Christ invites us to make a choice. In Luke 9:23-26, we read, "Then he said to them all: 'Whoever wants to come after me must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?'" Jesus invites all to dedicate themselves to him and become fully committed followers.
"Whoever wants" brings with it the idea of volition, a decision made by the will. Choices like "coming after Jesus" are made with resolve where one has firmly decided on a course of action. Kind of like that day when you finally said — with earnest determination — "Today, I will learn to ride my bike."
"Whoever wants to come after me" is many times captured with the notion of "becoming a disciple" of Jesus. A disciple in many ways is like a pupil is to a teacher, or an apprentice is to a master craftsman, but more. A disciple is a committed learner who also is a devotee of the leader.
But many are admirers of Jesus, you know, kind of like a fan in the world of sports. The miracles bring great excitement. The incredible insights that he shared through his teaching bring oohs and aahs. And Jesus' work on the cross to make atonement for sinners, to bring forgiveness, is AWESOME. But there is more. Jesus wants us to love him and his way as much as he loved us.
We see that the choice Jesus invites us to make is costly. Coming after Jesus or being a disciple is not cheap. In Luke 9:23, we see the fine print or the "costs" itemized: "you must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me."
"He must deny himself." It is a very natural to say and do the things that bring self-benefit. But a follower of Jesus trains to say no to self. Jesus' desires are primary and the followers are secondary. As it says in the Lord's Prayer, "thy will be done," it does not say, "my will be done."
"Take up his cross daily." Jesus modeled self-denial and taking up his cross. Jesus endured the suffering of the cross and this icon symbolizes the suffering that a follower of Jesus will face. When suffering arises, the follower is instructed here to willingly endure, in a sense, to lift up and carry those burdens. It might be a moral struggle or an addiction that pulls at one every day. The suffering may involve the loss of a business deal because of keeping one's integrity, or insults due to standing up for what is right. Jesus once said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for my name sake."
"And follow me." The command here is that anyone who would want a deep and growing relationship with Jesus must come after him and his ways. One does that by becoming a student of Jesus. From Jesus, we learn how to forgive others, give mercy and live as Jesus did in a life-giving way. It takes surrender, that is, ceasing to oppose his rule.
Are you all in? Becoming a follower of Jesus requires complete commitment. A follower of Jesus will do whatever it takes to follow Jesus. They're absolutely loyal and completely committed. Absolute commitment is not selective commitment. It is not, "I will follow, but I'm not going to forgive that person." Nor is it, "I will follow, but I am not going to abstain from these sexual desires." This would be "customized Christianity." If this is your "brand" of Christianity, then you're not a follower of Christ. You're just a fan.
Imagine what it would be like if you made the choice to become a fully committed follower of Jesus. Your life would begin a daily process of being transformed to be like Jesus and those around you would be impacted by the decision. As it was once said, "We are our choices."
Norm Byers is the lead pastor of Genesis Church, which meets Sundays at 9:30 a.m. at North Central Michigan College and 11 a.m. at Boyne City Elementary. Visit www.genesiswired.com or comment on Twitter @NormByers.