Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:38)
Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. (Matthew 14:27)
In my earlier years in the business world, I was a regional sales manager for one of the largest corporations manufacturing major appliances. We held a good share of the marketing of washing machines, dryers, refrigerators, ranges, and other “white goods.”
The marketing of these products in that very competitive business was not easy. It required huge advertising dollars to create consumer preference for our appliances over those of other manufacturers. In addition, further confusing the customers was the fact that retailers competed with one another for the opportunity to sell the very same brand of appliance to the same potential buyer by advertising greater discounts on the same item.
A humorous story about this process tells of how a customer who had shopped around at various retailers had finally come to her decision. She entered the store to purchase a $300 washing machine she had seen advertised for $249. She had been to a previous retailer who had advertised the same washer for $229 and hoped that she could bargain this store’s salesman down to an even lower price. When she told him what she had been offered in the other store, the salesman asked, “Then why didn’t you buy the washer in that store?” She answered that they didn’t have one in stock. The salesman quickly replied, “Oh! Well, ma’am, when we don’t have any in stock we sell them for $199!” At that point, she would either disappointedly leave the store feeling totally “had,” or reluctantly succumb to the salesman’s skill in moving her up to a higher cost item as originally intended.
I tell you this story to illustrate what we in the business called “a loss leader,” a nailed-down item that no salesman was permitted to sell without losing his job. The ad she had seen was known as a “bait and switch” ad, designed to entice you into the store and then switch you up to a more deluxe washer that would also bring the salesman a higher commission.
The story reminds me of some of the conversations I’ve had with people, whether Christians or not I’m not certain. Some of the sermons I heard in my younger years and the “happy always” choruses that we sang promised a completely blissful future, free from any problems or troublesome temptation. Theology was never discussed; everything was about me, my joy, and my heaven above.
Discussions about growing in faith were anything but encouraging. In fact, it seemed that the promised assurance was based on nothing solid. One teen admitted having little or no respect for the Lord. When I asked how he knew he was a Christian, his answer was bereft of any reality. “I think I was about four years old when a man with some puppets asked us to come forward and meet Jesus,” he said. “I went up to see how the puppets worked, and he told me I had become God’s child. Because I did that I’m going to go to heaven. I know I’ll be ‘low man on the totem pole,’ but I’ll be there!” I would not believe such a statement possible had I not heard it myself.
Another teen asked me to pray for him to win back the money he had lost gambling. He was on his way to a gambling session and promised, “As soon as I win back everything I’ve lost, I promise I won’t even gamble again.” Pass me another rabbit’s foot!
So much of this is self-centered thinking. It goes back to those false assurances that people are given of carefree happiness, assurances that God owes us in this life if we believe in Jesus. To “believe” in Jesus involves much more than simply commenting on the historical fact that He did indeed live. There must be a trust in His salvific mediatorial death and resurrection to atone for one’s own sin against the most holy God. This has to be simply yet clearly explained to potential young converts.
Furthermore, looking back, it is obvious that there had been some “false advertising” in the overboard preaching of the good news. There is more bliss and happiness involved in being a true disciple of the Lord. Jesus promised that “in the world you will find tribulation.” There is even a blessedness attached to it in Matthew 5:10 and 11. He adds, “If anyone wants to come with me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
In order that there be no mistake about that in the early churches, the apostle Paul clearly indicates that “it has been given to us on Christ’s behalf, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him” (Philippians 1:29). No one knew this more than God’s chosen vessel Paul. He suffered imprisonments, beatings of thirty-nine lashes on five occasions, stonings, shipwrecks and being adrift in the sea’s frigid waters, robberies, hunger and thirst—all in addition to a bodily affliction which drove him to his knees in prayer (2 Corinthians 11:23ff).
It is most certainly true that the eternal question of our redemption is a settled, assured, and accomplished fact which requires faith alone, not a thorough comprehension of every theological jot or tittle. But we are living in a world of fallenness. Temptation, persecution, and personal suffering may be everyday experiences, calling for a commitment to spiritual growth. Peter explains this in 2 Peter 1:5-7 as “supplementing our faith with goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, and godliness.”
Jesus warned that his followers would not have perpetual peace, there would be persecution, and His disciples would be hated, at times even by those as close as their own families. Samuel H. Miller, once Dean of Harvard Divinity School, wrote of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was martyred by the Nazis in World War II just days before the war’s end. He commented on Bonhoeffer’s classic book, The Cost of Discipleship, writing that the whole book was a powerful attack on easy Christianity and a warning that in a world such as Bonhoeffer could see coming, faith was not easy.
Thomas Shepherd, a seventeenth-century preacher, wrote a number of poems. One hundred and fifty years later a music teacher at Oberlin College named George Allen composed music to accompany the text of one of them. While not often heard today, the message is extremely appropriate for the theme of the true implications of following Christ. Here is the sublimely simple first verse: “Must Jesus bear the Cross alone and all the world go free? No. There’s a cross for everyone, and there’s a cross for me.”
“Just as You sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (Jesus in John 17:18).
“My goal is to know Him, the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering, being conformed to His death” (St. Paul in Philippians 3:10, HCSB).