“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.’” (Matthew 16:24)
These are challenging words from Jesus. They cut to the heart and demand a response. Jesus invites us to count the cost, and decide whether He is worth following. We can’t grow and go unless we are willing to answer these self-reflective questions: are we willing to endure hardship, suffering and pain for the hope of eternal glory? Are we willing to deny our own desires in order to be purified by the will of God? Are we willing to follow wherever Jesus leads; in summary, are we willing to be a disciple?
Unfortunately, for many people, both those in and out of the Church, the answer would be: “maybe.” In life, many have the same noncommittal attitude. “Yeah, OK, I might come,” or “Maybe I can make it,” are two common phrases that typically accompany invitations. We love to keep our options open since something better or more exciting could appear at any moment. We struggle to commit to seeing a movie on a Friday night, let alone some of the bigger commitments such as marriage, children and especially a radical faith life. This resistance or fear of commitment is a huge obstacle to knowing, loving and serving God because we can’t grow or go as a disciple unless we commit to the Master. God doesn’t want wishy-washy followers; He desires decisiveness and intentionality.
A key to understanding true discipleship and therefore overcoming this noncommittal nature is illustrated by the words of Christ, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself …” Our commitment to Christ requires a willingness to ignore, or even reject, our own desires. To be His follower involves an acceptance that we follow Him. He comes first. Many of us don’t like rules, but “think for yourself” or “do what feels right” is one rule we eagerly embrace. We might do this or we could do that, as long as it fits into the plan we have for ourselves. While this may particularly describe Millennials, the same characteristics are fairly common across all generations because it’s a fundamental temptation of humankind. This is not what God intended, and this cannot characterize a disciple of Jesus Christ.
We all have dreams, and we all have some idea of what we think will make us happy and fulfilled. The options for pleasure and fun in this world are many, and the freedom to choose is intoxicating and yet ironically chains us to something less than true happiness. The “do whatever I want” freedom leads to captivity, whereas surrendering to Jesus leads to true freedom. Only through commitment to Christ can we experience those things that we most deeply long for in our hearts. The Lord offers us a life-giving alternative: “Deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me.”
What’s your answer?
Please don’t say, “Maybe.”