Part One: Losing Our Lives
October 23, 2018
Matthew 16:24-25 (NIV) “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.’”
When did we last hear that being a genuine disciple, a follower of Jesus … has anything to do with losing our lives? I thought it was about being free from condemnation for my sins? I thought it was about the abundant life? I thought it was about no longer fearing death. Isn’t it about “accepting Jesus” so we get to go to Heaven instead of Hell? Isn’t being a Christian “absolutely free” and no cost to us? We can’t earn our salvation so why this talk about losing our lives? Is that some kind of “works theology?” If faith is enough, as in Ephesians 2:8-9 … why can’t I hold onto my life and enjoy it and look forward to Heaven? And if this “losing my life” idea is important, why do I get the impression from most churches that it is not a concern? Good questions? I think so.
All those things a few lines above are true and wonderful. Forgiveness and abundance and Heaven. Of course. But again …we don’t hear much about losing our lives. Is it possible … that we really have not heard anything about that? This might get confusing. It might even challenge our certainties about what makes a great church a Christ-pleasing church. And what makes great preaching not just engaging and clever but Christ-centered? Hmm… again … is this idea popular: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” What does Jesus mean “lose his life for me?”
At this point, I want to offer a polite criticism about some approaches to church growth in many, not all, but many … modern churches. But first this statement is remarkably important to me: I am a Pastor by training who supports the local church and has served in several of them for forty years. I love the church! I believe whole-heartedly with the ancient maxim attributed to Cyprian in the fourth century: “He who would have God as his Father must have the church as his mother!” For the true disciple, the church is essential. But … what is the church supposed to do? What one thing did Jesus tell them they MUST do? Make disciples! Make disciples! That metric alone will be the measurement used by Jesus on judgment Day. He will ask: “Did your church make disciples?”
So…is the modern church, with all of its appeals, doing that? Consider this concern that I have … is the appeal of the church that it offers the opportunity to become a disciple? For what reason are people attracted to our churches? For the chance to “lose your life for Christ?” Really? I doubt it. I know that sounds sour and off-putting. I know it can be particularly obnoxious when people like me, who have retired from full-time pastoral ministry, even hint at any fault in today’s churches. Some may read this blog and simply blow me off as a pastoral Neanderthal crank. Perhaps. But consider this …
What do we read in the way of church advertisements lately?
Exciting Children’s Programs
Family Life Center with Gym and Climbing Wall
Marriage and Family Seminars
Plenty of Parking
Free Music Lessons and …
A Great Coffee bar!
Well … those things are very nice. Really. And I guess they “bring people in.” Helps with church growth. But the first century church that exploded with massive crowds had none of them. No screens or climbing walls or even coffee? What did they have that drew people in? The Gospel! Not eclipsed by anything else. In fact, Paul and the other original church planters would not recognize much of what takes place on our Sundays. And apparently, those things were not needed to get the church started. But maybe that’s ok. Or … maybe it is not.
The real question is what are we saying to the lost? Think with me … are we inviting them to Christ who often spoke with very unappealing and troubling invitations? Or are we inviting them to church…which may not be the same thing? In short, do we go to church because we really like “our church” with all that it has to offer (see above.) Or do we go to church because we want to die to self and pick up our cross, etc.?
Imagine another church advertisement that says this:
Hear about the new life available in Christ
Learn how to put your sinful life to death
Ask the Holy Spirit to change your values about love, money, success and life
Every visitor will receive a cross to wear daily reminding them of their calling
I could go on. But …which church ad really appeals to you? To me? Let’s explore this idea that maybe we have discounted discipleship in the way we do evangelism. Perhaps the reason for so much sin in the church, worldliness and unforgiveness and sexual sin and shallowness is because we have not told them the whole story? Have we told them what Jesus wants? What his expectations are if we really come to him?
My colleague Pastor Winans from Cornerstone preached a sermon recently about the sin of pride. I thought “Good! When did we last speak of that?” I recalled that years ago, in a sermon, I mentioned a Puritan writer named John Owen and his book “The Mortification of Sin.” After the message someone gently asked me what that meant … “The mortification of sin?” I said “Ya’ know… putting sin to death in your Christian life.” Her response was something like “Really?” She seemed totally puzzled. And I thought “Well … that’s on me. I’ve preached to this person for twenty years, but this concept is completely unknown to her?! My bad?”
Let’s think about these things:
Do we really want to follow Jesus to the Cross?
Do we love our natural lives more than the Kingdom of God?
Is it possible that genuine discipleship is first about dying and then about living?
Can we memorize Psalm 139: 23-24?
Next: A Story about Rembrandt
Blessings! Pastor Alberta