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.