Wednesday, May 19, 2010


For years I have subscribed to a magazine called Christianity Today. Like most magazines, it arrives with those little card inserts between the pages. One of the magazines had an insert with the tempting subscription offer: “Take a taste! Sample Christianity Today at half price!” As I pondered this offer I realized it was one of those sentences whose whole meaning would be changed by how it was punctuated. The intention, I assume, was to place a break (like a dash) between the words “Today” and “at.” But it also would be possible to place the break between “Christianity” and “Today.” I would then be faced with an offer that many would love to take, and I fear, have already taken, the opportunity to “Sample Christianity – today at half price!”

In my previous two posts, I attempted to deal with the issue of commitment to Christ. I looked at the book CRAZY LOVE and felt that though the author’s motives were sincere and I believe, correct, his method was manipulative. In the next post I attempted to explain what COMMITMENT TO CHRIST is from what (I believe) is a biblical perspective, using Luke 14:26-35 and Romans 12:1, 2.

I’d like to say more about this commitment as Jesus described it in the passage in Luke. But first a few warnings. There are some dangerous extremes to avoid when studying a passage like this:
 What has been referred to by some as “Lordship salvation,” or “frontloading the gospel.” The idea that my eternal life is conditional on this commitment – that “saving faith” really includes more than belief or trust in Christ – that it includes a commitment to Christ’s Lordship – that if I’m not willing to make the commitment described here, then I have no hope of eternal life. But that’s not what Jesus said. When He speaks of saving faith, He does not make demands. Faith may and should be seen in visible acts but they are not the same thing. In many passages, Jesus comments on the faith of many: it has saved them!
Luke 5:20: “And when He saw their faith, He said, ‘Man your sins are forgiven you!’”
Luke 7:50: “And He said to the woman ‘Your faith has saved you! Go in peace.’”
Luke 8:48: “And He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has saved you! Go in peace.’”
Luke 17:19: “And He said to him, ‘Get up and go; your faith has saved you!’”
Luke 18:42: “And Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight, your faith has saved you!’”
 Another extreme is something like “This is not required for my eternal salvation, therefore it’s optional. Whoa! Jesus didn’t say that. Discipleship, like baptism, a holy life, etc. is not set before us as “pick and choose” or “cafeteria Christianity,” as some would have it. Jesus expects us to count the cost before we make the commitment but He expects us to make it. He does not give us the liberty to not follow.
 Another variation on this is to say that this was meant for a particular group in a particular setting. This is true – partially. But the application is true for us.
Matthew 28:29, 20: Jesus tells His disciples they are to “make disciples … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

The whole passage in Luke, referred to in the previous post, is as follows (Luke 14:25-35):
25) “Now many crowds were going along with Him and He turned and said to them,
26) ‘If anyone come to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters and even his own soul, he is not able to be my disciple.
27) Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me is not able to be my disciple.
28-30) For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t first sit down and count up the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he’s laid a foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees will start to ridicule him saying, ‘This guy started to build and wasn’t able to finish!’
31-32) Or what king when he goes to meet another king in battle, doesn’t first sit down and consider if he is able with 10,000 troops to meet the one coming at him with 20,000? And if not, while the other is far off he sends an embassy to ask the terms of peace.
33) Even so every one of you who does not give up all his own possessions is not able to be my disciple.
34-35) So then, salt is good, but if salt becomes tasteless, what will you salt it with? It’s not fit for the ground or even the manure pile! They throw it out! He who has an ear to hear – listen!’”

There are three negative illustrations here along with the three demands which were discussed in the previous post. I believe that they illustrate three dangers – three potential ways that the would-be disciple can fail. All three are predicated on the possibility of incomplete commitment.

The first danger is the danger of not finishing. The builder in the parable could not complete his project because of a faulty cost-estimate. Most of us are familiar with scenes like the one Jesus illustrates in verses 28-30 – a building half completed, pieces of building materials falling off, the land around it overgrown with weeds, while a large sign with its paint peeling, proclaims a “Coming Soon” with a date long since past.

As I grow older, I often ponder (and fear) this possibility in my own life. We’ve probably all met older men or women who have begun well, but somewhere have failed, through sin, disgrace, or just plain neglect. Why? From this parable, we could infer it’s because they didn’t count, or were unwilling to spend, the cost required. And what is the cost? Everything! Jesus demands our all. If we are not willing to pay that price, we cannot look forward to finishing well.

The same goes for the king in the second parable in verses 31 and 32. He is unwilling to consider going to battle against 2 to 1 odds and seeks terms of peace with his enemy. I believe he illustrates the danger of surrender. He has considered the danger and has decided to drop out of the war, to go to his enemy and agree to his terms. I don’t think this is a passage advocating pacifism. We are at war – spiritual war. And again we’ve met Christians who have given up the fight, surrendered to Satan and fallen deep into a sinful lifestyle. What’s the problem? A failure to commit our all to Jesus Christ.

The third illustration, the salt in verses 34 and 35, is the danger of just going flat. Jesus has told us that we – His disciples – are “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13; Mark 9:50). I’ve read various commentaries that attempt to explain how salt can lose its taste, but I think that they miss the point. You can’t salt salt! Uni and I cook without salt whenever possible; then at the table I salt to taste while she avoids salting. I can imagine sitting down to a meal and shaking the saltshaker, taking a taste of my food and finding it flat. So I shake out more salt with the same results. I repeat. Then I shake some salt in my hand and it’s flat. What do I do? You can’t salt salt. Tasteless salt is useless.

And that’s a danger for the disciples. There are some, not necessarily older, Christians whose Christian life has gone flat. They have no flavor. They do not cause those around them to thirst for the water of life. They’re just blah. They’re useless.

To “be a disciple” is to live life as it is meant to be lived – the “normal” Christian life.

Discipleship – the committed life --is assumed as the goal and purpose of following Christ. It’s the “reasonable service” of every believer. Jesus says I must give up all these to be a disciple (verses 26 27, 33). The warning is against thinking I can be a disciple of Jesus without giving them up.

Jesus is not saying “count the cost and decide whether you want to be a disciple”! He is saying, “count the cost: if you attempt to be a disciple without spending the full price, you’re headed for an incomplete finish, a surrender to sin, or (at best) a useless life.”

We are building!
We are at war!
We are salt!

The danger is that of thinking we can be involved in these without “saying goodbye”! If we want to live the Christian life on our terms, Jesus tells us we’re going to fail!

And if we do it His way, it works! We’ll find what He tells us in Matthew 11:30 to be true: “My yoke is easy and My load is light.”

Bill Ball

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