If you want to be a follower of Jesus, you cannot simply “do the right things,” when others are watching so as to have the appearance of being a follower of Jesus. Do we really believe we can trick Jesus this way? Don’t you know that he can see what is inside of each man. He knows your heart. You cannot serve God and yourself. You cannot follow Jesus and continue to do the things your flesh wants. And this is the problem – I like doing what feels good. Certainly Jesus doesn’t mean to stop doing the things I like does he? Let’s read a bit –
Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “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. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or 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? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.Luke 14:25-33
Remember, there was a great crowd (read: many people wanted to follow him) and he turns to them and says in effect, that it’s not so simple – you must give up everything and “renounce all that [you have].”
And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 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.Matthew 16:19-30
The rich young man wanted to do what was right, but the cost was too high. This made him sad. He wanted both. But you cannot have both and you have to decide. Do you want the things the world has to offer, and the things your flesh desires, or do you want Jesus? This was so astonishing to the disciples they didn’t think anyone would be able to be saved. And the truth is, we can’t – not in our flesh. Our flesh will never want Jesus. It will always want to serve itself.
I do not want Jesus. I just don’t. I want food. I want sleep. I want drink. I want sex. I want comfort. The flesh wants to please the flesh and these are the primary ways to achieve this. The flesh says: “Make my flesh feel good!”
It’s terrifying to think about the implications of this way of thinking and living. Living for the flesh – which is what I want to do most – means being destined for hell and separation from God. Jesus says that he is the only way to the father. There is no other way. And he says whoever does not bear his own cross and come after him cannot be his disciple.
By that understanding it should be pretty obvious then that I cannot be Jesus disciple unless I am willing to kill my flesh and deny it’s desires. That means denying the desires of food, sleep, drink, sex, comfort. This is the cost of following Jesus. Killing our flesh. Do not think this is an easy task. Jesus flat out says, that without God’s help actually it’s impossible. So guess what, when you wake up in the morning, if you do not turn to God, ask for his help for the day, you will actually not have the ability to put your flesh to death and follow Jesus. You need God’s help every day to do this. There is no other way. Take a day off from calling upon God for help and you’ll be serving your flesh before breakfast and wandering off toward death.
So before you feel confident that you are a follower of Jesus, or that you even want to be, add up the cost of following him. For me the cost means:
– Giving up food as an idol – being ok with having no food.
– Giving up sleep as an idol – being ok with getting no sleep.
– Giving up drink as an idol – being ok with drinking nothing.
– Giving up sex as an idol – saying no to pornography and being ok with never having sex again.
– Giving up comfort as an idol – being ok with never being comfortable again.
Now, am I really ok with all of those things? If I answer honestly, the answer is simply no, I’m not. I know the right answer is “Yes!” But the answer of my heart says “oh please no, I want those things.” So I fall to my knees and beg God to take these desires away from me so that I might love his son Jesus more than these things. And as I do, my heart begins to change and my heart desires him more than those things. I remember how those things only make me feel good for a moment and then shortly afterward it tastes bitter. It ends in pain or regret. I regret that I mostly drank alcohol, slept, played video games and looked at porn in college. What a waste. In the moment it seemed appealing. I have experienced the results of choosing the flesh and in the end it is not really what I want.
What I really want is the God who loves me, and knows me and cares for me. I want the God who knows all and that I can trust and who gives generously and who is good, right and true. I want the God who would die for me.
Only with God’s help, by the power of spirit, which is unseen and not physical, can we choose life and following Jesus and denying our flesh. The power of the spirit is the only way. And daily asking God for his Spirit and the power of his spirit is the only way to have the power to deny our flesh and actually follow Jesus.
Don’t just be someone who hears the word and knows it is right and goes right back to doing what his flesh wants. Seek diligently the Lord and delight yourself in the Lord and he will gives you the desires of your heart.