The key to understanding the requirements of a disciple is found in Jesus’ words to His disciples. “…Anyone who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (from Matthew 10:37-39) Jesus makes it clear: A disciple loses everything to gain everything that really matters. This is where the “rubber meets the road” for every human being. Jesus is not offering to add meaning or value or purpose or direction or esteem to our existing lives. He is offering us a totally new kind of life and a totally new way of living. Sadly, most Christians are far more like the crowds who followed Jesus around in His days of earthly ministry. They want to be near Jesus, they want to see Him actively working in their circumstances, they want to feel His touch, see His handiwork, hear His words and add all these things to their existing lives with the hope that enough of these additions will grant them the life they have been longing to know. They try to add Jesus to their lives in the false hope of making sense of their own lives. When this is our mindset, we are trying to find ourselves, define ourselves, or “find” our own lives. Jesus tells us that this pursuit is a dead-end street. We cannot ever add enough of Him to our lives to make that defining difference. But it is at the core of human nature to try. We will try anything and everything to find our own way and find our own lives. But there is no hope for doing this. Jesus plainly said so.
What Jesus is offering, and what He is requiring, is a new kind of life. It begins as the old life dies so that the new might come. Time and again Jesus would speak of the spiritual principle of dying to live. His constant emphasis is that we cannot fix our old broken lives – and we shouldn’t even try. God is not committed to helping us do that. But if we will end our stubborn struggle and “lose our lives for His sake” we will discover what we have all been yearning to find all along. Real life. Abundant life (John 10:10). It is the kind of life that really matters. It is a life that makes a profound difference in our own lives, in the lives of others, and in the world around us. It is a life that is empowered to live just like Jesus lived when He came to this earth and so dynamically impacted the world of His day.
This is what Jesus offers to each and every one of us. It is a new kind of life that can only be possessed by people who have died to every hope that they can fix and manipulate and plan and scheme and wish and dream their way into the kind of life that they have always desired to live. They are people who have gladly embraced their own death (taken up their own cross) and who discover that life is found only in their own personal resurrection. This is the life of a disciple of Jesus. It is a new kind of life that God uses to impact the world just as Jesus impacted the world. True disciples, emptied of self-interested pursuits and aspirations, are finally free to become just like their Master in every way.
But it all begins with a disciple’s decision. Jesus said it best, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24) What we discover as true, in the narrower context of God vs. material things (money, and the things purchased with money), is also true in the greater context of God vs. our very lives. In whatever ways (family, jobs, relationships, religion, etc…) we choose to attempt to define our lives, outside of an uncompromising commitment to Jesus, will always leave us with a bitter, and hopeless battle to be fought. There will always be war between our commitment to our selves and our commitment to Jesus. The only way to end the conflict is to remove one of the combatants. This is the very decision that defines a true disciple. A disciple has “laid down his arms,” ended the battle, and forfeited his own life so that he might gain the life that only the Master can offer. As Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves Me.” (John 12:24-26)
(excerpt from “The Great Missed Understanding,” Chapter One)