Notice carefully the word “cannot” in that phrase. Jesus doesn’t say that if you don’t love him above all else that he won’t allow you to be his disciple, as if it were a matter of his giving you his permission. The word here is dynatai, which suggests not permission but possibility. In other words, it’s not possible to be Jesus’ disciple without these conditions. A failure to commit yourself to him exclusively and unconditionally is incompatible with what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
Imagine for a moment someone coming to the wedding altar and saying that, Yes, I want to get married to you, so long as I can continue to sleep around with other women, and I can just give you 10% of my income, and I’m free to come and go in this marriage whenever I like. No, you don’t get it, we would say, that’s not marriage, that’s something else entirely. That’s not what marriage means.
Jesus is saying the same thing about being his disciple. It means an exclusive, unconditional, loyal love that is supreme in one’s life. To have a relationship with God himself through Jesus Christ is like a marriage--it requires this kind of commitment, in a sense, by definition. Without it, there can be no relationship at all. You can have a half-hearted, semi-committed relationship with a pagan god, perhaps, but not with Yahweh, the Lord, the God of the Bible who created the heaven and earth and who has now revealed himself in Jesus Christ. It’s just not possible. He is a jealous God; he will tolerate no rivals—you shall have no other gods before him. There is simply no other way to relate to this God.
Do you see what this means? It means that a lot a people are deceived. They think they can engage in spiritual cohabitation, having a kind of spiritual relationship with God without any sort of public and exclusive commitment. They think they can have a relationship on their own private terms, when they want it, however it suits them, without that unconditional and exclusive commitment to Christ.
Superficially, what they have looks like real Christianity. But it is fundamentally different, and it lacks the core of what makes a person a follower of Christ. Jesus demands that we give him our lives—it’s that simple. And is that asking too much? We’d do it for a husband or wife; why not for the God of the universe?
Isn’t this what baptism means for someone who comes to be baptized as an adult? Their baptism is like a wedding. It is that public act by which they say, I want to be joined to Christ—forever. I am willing to die with Jesus Christ—to go down in the grave with him, so that I might be raised with him. In faith I give all that I am, so that I may gain all that he is. And in baptism we also see visibly displayed God’s pledge of commitment to us in the gospel as we are joined to Christ.
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