In the beginning, how difficult must it have been for folks to say Yes to Jesus? In a world where opposition came from both sides (religious and secular), crossing the line of faith would have meant leaving behind a lot, while also embracing a brand new way of life.
For example, imagine you’re a woman in first century Corinth. This itinerant preacher, a guy named Paul, comes to town and begins telling people about this Messenger from God named Jesus. He calls him Lord — a bold statement in an empire where only Caesar claimed that title. But the Jesus he talks about is unlike any lord or master or god you’ve ever encountered, and you join a fledgling group of folks in Corinth who choose to claim Jesus as your only Lord.
You go home to your husband and family, and immediately you’ve got a decision to make. What are you going to do about the household gods you formerly have worshiped? In your home, your husband is the pater familias. What he says, goes. He rules the home, which includes you, your children, their spouses and kids, and the 2 slaves who work in your family. And up til Paul came to town, you paid homage to the household deities your husband had set up. You did it without thinking. And you treated the slaves like, well, the slaves they are.
But now everything is different. You now follow Jesus. He is Lord, and everything, and everyone else, comes into a different focus because of your newfound allegiance. Which means: other gods are no gods, and you’ll no longer pay them any deference.
And what of the slaves? When one of them also becomes a disciple of Jesus, her primary identity is no longer as an indentured member of your household. She is now, first and foremost, your sister in Christ. And the other slave? He is now someone you are called to love, and treat with respect and dignity — and in so doing, show him that Jesus loves and values him, and is calling him to find his first identity as a child of God.
So, when this imaginary woman makes her decision for Christ, it immediately impacts her life and relationships. When she is baptized into Jesus, she truly understands that this surrender involves everything. So, her first decision, to follow Jesus, is a GIANT step. Each step after that, flows naturally from her first decision.
But I can’t help but wonder: Is it exactly the opposite today in America? Is it easier to make the first decision (for baptism, or church membership), but then harder for us to make all the subsequent decisions that flow from our first commitment?
Here’s what I mean: it’s fairly easy to get baptized, or stand up in front of a couple of hundred people to say: I want to belong to this church. (Sure, I understand: for some folks, standing in front of a bunch of people is difficult. I fully get that. But the big picture is that we make it as painless as possible.)
The decisions that follow are then much more challenging. What? Jesus wants me to look at my money and my stuff differently? What? He might change my approach to my career? And are you saying that following Jesus means I don’t give up on marriage, or family, or church when it gets tough? You mean this Jesus thing affects everything?
My point is this: for the earliest followers of Jesus, they said yes with a clearer sense that walking with Jesus would change and challenge every aspect of their lives. So they weren’t as surprised when the culture, or the government, or their neighbors, or even their own family opposed them. They recognized: This is simply what faith in Jesus involves.
I can’t help but wonder: Do we more easily say yes today to following Jesus, and then find ourselves surprised when it gets difficult? Have we acted as if joining a church is no harder than, say, signing up for a Sam’s Club membership, or no different than attending a weekly event (as long as it fits into our schedule of sports and weekends at the lake)? Has the Church (broadly speaking) made it so easy to join that, when folks face challenges (whether in church or from the culture), they beg off, saying: Whoah! This isn’t what I signed up for!
The call to take up our cross hasn’t changed since Jesus issued it to his first followers. It still is at the heart of The Church, and any who would join it. Perhaps we need to make sure we are crystal clear about this message. We need to do this, not only because it’s at the heart of our faith — but also because taking up our cross; walking with Jesus on the way of death; is, ultimately, the only way to life.