We are not found wanting in our search for unbiblical versions of Christianity. In fact, we have far too many diffecient versions that abound in our present evangelical church culture. What exactly does real Christianity look like? How do we know the difference between false Christianity and real Christianity?
The best way to define real Christianity is to go to the sayings and sermons of Jesus. When Jesus was teaching His disciples as the cross was approaching, He desired to prepare them for what they would experience. In order to do so, He prophecied about His own death, burial, and resurrection. He talked about His cross for them and their cross for Him. His cross was for the atonement of sins, but their cross was to put on display true Christianity as they would endure much for the sake of Christ and His gospel.
Jesus reveals real Christianity in Mark 8:34-38:
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
The Cost of Real Christianity
In verse 34, Jesus reveals the cost of real Christianity. There is a cost to real Christianity. Not in the sense of our earning grace, but in the sense of a radical separation from the world. To follow Christ involves denying self. What exactly does self denial look like? It’s far more than refusing dessert at the end of a family meal. It’s a refusal to go with the flow of culture. It’s a refusal to be in love with the world. It’s being fully committed to Jesus Christ above all other things. We live in a “me first” culture and it’s hard to break from that mold. When people are influenced by their culture 6 days per week, it’s difficult for one or two sermons on Sunday to change the flow of their lives. That’s why Christianity requires more than one or two worship services per week.
Jesus goes on to speak about cross bearing. To the disciples, the cross had a certain image. It was an instrument of suffering, shame, and execution. It was bloody. It was a symbol of pain. It was a symbol of torture. Jesus was preparing the disciples for what would soon come their way. It’s a prerequisite for followers of Jesus to suffer, and Jesus was making His point clear. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book titled The Cost of Discipleship, wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” The cross is more than jewelry or a nice piece to sit on top of a church steeple. The cross is designed for suffering.
Jesus speaks of following Him. Following Jesus may seem easy, but if you look at the footsteps of Jesus, they travel down the Calvary road. It’s a hard path to walk. It’s the road less traveled. Jesus warned in John 15:20, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you…” Therefore, the disciples had to be prepared to suffer in order to follow after their Messiah.
According to Voice of the Martyrs (an organization that tracks and brings aid to persecuted believers around the world) – “An average of 171,000 Christians worldwide are martyred for their faith each year.” One day when open persecution comes to the church in America – shootings in Oregon will not seem like such a strange thing. The beheading of Christians by Islamic Terror groups will not seem like such a strange thing. When such persecution comes to the American church, we will be forced to decide if Jesus is worth it. It would be wise to consider that today. In his commentary on Mark, J.C. Ryle writes, “Let us often ask ourselves whether our Christianity costs us anything. Has it the true stamp of heaven?…A religion that costs nothing is worth nothing.”
The Cautions Regarding a Self Centered Life
In verses 35-38, Jesus provides cautions for those who would refuse to follow after Jesus.
- Beware of Self Preservation (35)
- Beware of Materialism (36-37)
- Beware of Rejecting Christ (38)
The man who thinks he is insulating himself from danger and choosing to reject Christ is really not saving his life – he’s losing it. The man who is on constant pursuit to gain more wealth and more stuff and doesn’t have time for Jesus, he will gain many material things, but he will lose his soul. The man who is ashamed of Jesus will one day find that Jesus will be ashamed of him.
These are very sobering warnings and cautions that Jesus provides. They were not merely designed for the disciples and the crowd that gathered to hear Jesus speak on that specific occasion. They serve as timely warnings for us today.
Be on guard of the traps of this world.
Remember, we are not home yet. We’re just passing through.
Christ is our treasure!
Nothing this world has to offer us compares to Him.
Psalm 73:25-26 – Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Christian persecution has been a common thing for Jesus followers from the beginning. For the early church, to follow Jesus was synonymous with Christian persecution. For many years, America has enjoyed a great deal of prosperity and peace. Often, America has been shielded from reality and from what it looks like to suffer for Jesus. The founders of America came to this land of the free to enjoy the freedom of religion. Although wars have been fought and blood has been spilt in other nations, the muscle of American military has often shielded the entire nation from what it means to suffer for the sake of the gospel.
The original founders of America came to this land that was inhabited by a large population of Indians. Although they had their gods, the English population that landed here in America brought their Bible and subsequently, their God with them to this new land. For the majority of the 239 year history of America, the majority religion has been Christianity. Everything seemed to flow from that worldview – including politics and every other aspect of life. Being that we are a land of immigrants, we are starting to see an increasing collision of worldviews coming to the surface through politics, public schools, and the public square. Only through the somewhat recent technology boom of constant cable television, Internet, and smart phones do we have access to more information and stories of religious persecution. Ministries such as the Voice of the Martyrs have been committed to telling us the stories of modern day persecution.
I can remember growing up and hearing pastors and evangelists calling people to repentance on a regular basis. Outside of a couple of occasions, I don’t recall hearing anyone come to the end of his sermon and say, “If you repent today and trust Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior – it may cost you your life.” The fact is, the sermons that have been preached in American pulpits for the last 75+ years have been a softer message that lacks the risk of repentance. In the most recent years, the American pulpit has been hijacked by vicious church growth techniques, psychologists, and politicians. What it means to follow Jesus by picking up your cross and following in His footsteps of suffering has been silenced.
As a result, many American Christians don’t really know how to respond to images and video clips of ISIS beheading 21 Christians. The images are horrid. The threat is real, and at times overwhelming. For the vast majority of American Christians, their comfort is tied to tanks, guns, and fighter jets that could be used to blow up the ISIS army. However, even in recent years of blowing up many terror leaders, we are starting to learn that new ISIS types will simply arise from their ashes. Islam is not as tame as many American politicians seem to think, and the Jihad mentality will continue until Jesus returns and forces all followers of Islam to bow before His Lordship. Until then, what it means to be a true follower of Christ will remain risky business. To follow Jesus has never been a safe pursuit, unless you have been shielded by American security for the majority of your lifetime like many of us have.
The danger of following Jesus will change how you preach, how you do family devotions, and how you call people to respond to the call of Christ. Is it true that Jesus is the treasure in the field that is worth far more than anything else on planet earth? Yes! However, in order to obtain Jesus, we must be willing to die. Far too many are willing to consider the financial cost of following Jesus, but they remain unwilling to consider the cost of cross bearing in a depraved world. Before we stand before a church and invite people to follow Jesus, we should communicate to them the danger of what following Jesus means. Sooner or later, in America, to be a follower of Jesus will not be a safe choice. The images of ISIS beheading 21 Christians should change our method of sharing Christ this summer at VBS or in our children’s Sunday school class this coming week. One day, not too far off into the distant future, to enter the baptistry waters will mean something far different than it did for those who grew up in the “Bible Belt” of America in the 1950s. In Luke 9:23, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
In order to be fair, we should communicate the full message of the gospel – including the risk. However, it would be far better to risk the threat of ISIS than to risk the wrath of God. Millions of people are walking around in fear of ISIS when they have absolutely zero fear of God. A. W. Tozer once said, “To make converts, we are tempted to play down the difficulties and play up the peace of mind and worldly success enjoyed by those who accept Christ. We will never be completely honest with our hearers until we tell them the blunt truth that, as members of a race of moral rebels, they are in a serious jam, and one they will not get out of easily. If they refuse to repent and believe on Christ, they will most surely perish. If they do turn to Him, the same enemies that crucified Him will try to crucify them.”
As I look at the picture of the 21 Christians beheaded by ISIS, a few of the men appear to be afraid. I ask myself, “What were these men thinking about during their final moments of life?” Yes, I do believe they were thinking of their families and many other things. However, I know one thing for sure, they were counting the cost of following Jesus! Consider the words of Christ, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). After considering the cost of following Jesus, His value far exceeds anything this world has to offer.