For the most part, being a Christian in Western society has always been relatively easy, and though religious liberties are becoming more and more fragile, claiming Christ is of little threat to the day-to-day life of a Christian.
Do you remember when you became a Christian? At some point in your life, someone somewhere shared the gospel with you. At some point, you responded positively to the gospel by repenting of your sin and trusting Jesus for salvation. God saves sinners through a variety of means. You may have heard the gospel for the first time and responded immediately with trust in Christ at a rally, church service, conference, or camp. Your parents may have taught you the truth of the gospel on a daily basis when you were young and at some point you responded with faith. You may have trusted Christ in college. At work. On the basketball court. At a restaurant. The possibilities are endless. However, all Christians had a decision to make. Every Christian when presented with the gospel had to come to terms with this God-man who lived perfectly, died vicariously, and rose victoriously.
But what questions were you asked when you trusted Christ?
I remember when I trusted Christ for the first time. I was nine years old and had heard the gospel many times. However, for some reason I was never captivated by its message. At a VBS one summer, I was told just how guilty I was before a holy God because of my sin. This convicted me to the core. Looking back, it was clear that the Holy Spirit was removing my stone cold heart and replacing it with a heart of flesh. When I responded to the call to trust Christ by the youth pastor, I was asked if I would like to believe in Jesus. I responded, “Yes, please.” I desperately prayed for God to save me through Jesus. He did.
I joyfully reflect on that day, but there was something that was missing. I was asked a few questions.
“Do you want to believe in Jesus?”
“Why do you need to believe in Jesus?”
“How are you saved from the guilt of your sins?”
While these are necessary and important questions to ask, what was striking was the questions that were not asked. In fact, the questions that were not asked are totally unnecessary to ask, which is an indictment on Christianity’s level of comfort in the secular West. Following Jesus is a decision that is easy to make once there is a desire to make it. However, Jesus did not seem to suggest this. He actually suggested the opposite. Jesus said things like this:
“Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matt. 8:22).
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:38).
In America many of us do not have to decide between Jesus and family. The crosses we bear are often menial. The risks we take for Christ are often small or non-existent. Following Christ has become another nominal aspect of our lives. “Christian” is just another title to add to our Twitter bio or Facebook page. In the same way that we are fans of Kentucky basketball, we are followers of Jesus. There is no risk. In fact, I have heard the gospel presented in terms like this more often than not:
“Following Jesus is simple. Why would you not want to do it? Following Jesus will not change or challenge your life at all. The only change a decision to follow Christ will make will be positive! Follow Jesus and your life will improve all the while remaining relatively the same.” This form of watered-down Christianity attracts many Americans because it is no threat to their way of life.
This is not the case everywhere. There are some places in the world that following Jesus is indeed a life and death decision. Often the decision is Jesus or family, but never Jesus and family. One question that trumps them all when one is presented with the gospel may just be, “Are you sure you wanna do this?”
This is especially true in some Asian countries. Asian Access, a Christian missions agency in South Asia, lists a series of questions that church planters are to use to determine the readiness of a new convert’s readiness to follow Jesus. The gospel is presented, but before a person commits to follow Jesus, he or she is asked the following questions:
- Are you willing to leave home and lose the blessing of your father?
- Are you willing to lose your job?
- Are you willing to go to the village and those who persecute you, forgive them, and share the love of Christ with them?
- Are you willing to give an offering to the Lord?
- Are you willing to be beaten rather than deny your faith?
- Are you willing to go to prison?
- Are you willing to die for Jesus?
Are you willing? Are you sure? Do you want to follow someone who could be the cause of your death? Are you sure you want to follow someone who will cause you to risk your livelihood, family, job, and life? The answer would always be No if the someone is not worth the risk. These Christians in South Asia and Christians in the West can be certain that Jesus is worth the risk, because the joy he offers through suffering for his name is immeasurable.
Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved (Matt. 10:21-22).
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life (Matt. 19:29).
These questions are challenging for those of us sitting comfortably in our safe American churches. I think we should respond to this reality in two ways.
1. Be grateful to be in such a position
It is tempting to only be discouraged by our privilege. However, we must remember that the God who commanded us to be willing to risk all is also the sovereign Lord over all of history. At this point in history, Americans are some of the most materially blessed people in the history of the world. Persecution is also relatively absent, although this is starting to change. Let’s use our wealth and religious liberty to love Christians in South Asia, for example. Let’s continue to prepare resources for Christians here and there. Let’s send to them. Let’s support them. Let’s pray for them.
2. Be challenged to run recklessly from complacency
The reality of our comfort and complacency in the Western church should cause us to pause and consider if we truly are willing to risk all for Christ. That is easy to say from behind a laptop in the Bible Belt, but would I say this in the Middle East, East Africa, or Southeast Asia? Ask yourself if you are ready and willing to lose family, friends, and finances for the sake of Christ. This may lead you to go to the hardest places on earth to proclaim the gospel of Jesus. However, it may lead you to stay right where you are. But I pray it would cause you to live risky lives here or there for Christ.
I believe a more genuine and joyous Christian experience will be yours if you contemplate these seven questions. If you lived in such a way that people were threatened by your gospel devotion and gospel-centeredness in all of life, you would begin to follow Jesus in a way more similar to that which he calls you.
Are you willing? Would you follow Jesus if it meant risking your livelihood? I pray God would continue to steel my heart to gladly and strongly say Yes! to both of these questions. Regardless where you live, if you are considering following Jesus, I ask you to count the cost. I leave you with a couple of examples Jesus gave to make this point:
Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. –Luke 14:27-33
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY. with his wife Erica.