Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it (Mark 8:35).
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me (John 12:24-26).
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent (Luke 15:1-7).
“God loves me just the way I am.” What a true saying!
But it’s not an excuse to stay as you are.
I’ve heard this said for precisely that reason: to ignore and cast aside encouragement to righteousness. It becomes an excuse for sin.
We are Evangelicals. As such, we place a huge emphasis on conversion, and have for quite some time. We eagerly desire to see people come to know Christ. And that is an absolutely commendable thing!
But I think we face a number of problems from improper teaching on what exactly conversion is. Among us Evangelicals, conversion has become so emphasized that it has become isolated from other things. And by being isolated, it has become twisted. It is a hollow shadow of what true conversion is.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
This is not something that is done by saying a quick, little prayer.
Emphasis on conversion has created a culture of adding Jesus to our lives rather than giving our lives to him. Jesus is our friend, not our Lord. And we can ignore a friend’s advice if we don’t agree with it.
In most of our churches, conversion is a hand raised at the end of service and a prayer said quietly to yourself. Discipleship is a six-week “new beginners” class.
Jesus wouldn’t recognize it.
I was thinking about this as I thought of the Parable of the Lost Sheep. How often we read this passage and see how much God cares about us! He came for every one of us who was lost!
But there is something said in this parable that is often glossed over for the previous (and totally accurate) point:
And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.
What we’ve created here in America is a culture where the shepherd finds the sheep and celebrates, then sits and watches it where it is. The sheep isn’t brought home. It certainly isn’t picked up—how humiliating! The shepherd loves the sheep just as it is, so he’d never do such a terrible thing as bring it back home. I mean, if that’s what the sheep wants, that’s fine. And the sheep should be rewarded whether it goes home or stays where it is.
That’s horrible. We’ve created a culture where the sheep rules the shepherd. The shepherd is there to find and celebrate the sheep—and nothing else!
It’s absolutely ludicrous. But it’s what we have in place.
It’s something we’re all guilty of.
We want to see people saved. So we take away all barriers between them and being saved. And how will we know they’re saved? Well, they raise their hands during response time, and they say a prayer. They “ask Jesus into their hearts.”
But true conversion, true Christianity, is not found in one prayer. It’s not found in asking Jesus into your heart. That’s a great start, but it’s not Christianity.
Christianity, being a disciple of Christ, is a lifelong (and longer) process. It’s a daily thing.
It is total submission to Christ. Christ didn’t die so you can feel him in your heart. He died and rose again so your heart would be his.
To truly be a disciple of Christ, you have to daily give yourself totally to Christ. You are a living sacrifice—on the altar is where you stay! You are constantly given to God. You are not your own!
You cannot serve two masters. You cannot serve Christ and yourself. It’s an either/or proposition.
Who is your lord? You or Christ?
Now, I’m not saying people shouldn’t ask Jesus into their hearts. Far from it! Like I said, I think that’s a great start!
But it’s not all about them asking Jesus into their hearts. Because you can do that and never let Jesus be Lord.
Asking Jesus into your heart is the start of the process. It’s not the end. It’s not the thing to be checked off and then moved past. It’s the start of a journey. It’s the start of laying down your life.
It has been said by many that martyrs are not made, but revealed. And it is absolutely true—and the very word martyr, “witness,” shows it. You don’t make witnesses, but you find them.
When Christ calls you, he calls you to die. It may end up being literal. But no one gets to the literal point without having laid down their life daily before that.
If you haven’t laid down your life for Christ before someone threatens it because of him, you aren’t going to lay it down then, either.
Now, I hope and pray that none of you will ever have to literally die for Christ. And certainly don’t go around seeking it out! But I also hope and pray that all of you daily die for Christ.
What areas of your life do you need to lay down? What sin can you not let go of? As James says, submit to God and, when you resist the devil, he will fail. What part of your life have you not given to Christ that is giving the devil victory over you?
May you die for Christ and live for him! Today and tomorrow and for the rest of your life!