No half measures
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”
“If you are going to try, go all the way or don’t even start,” (Charles Bukowski, unknown date). I know Charles Bukowski is probably not the best choice to start off preaching the word of God, but this one quote is very applicable. I could have gone with, “Do or do not. There is no try” (Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back, 1983). Yeah? No? Many would and probably will say something about me using secular references for inspiration, but does God not work in all things? What matters is where we end up, where we are and who we are with. Whose side we are on. I have better (or worse) quotes to use later.
The thing is, we are not born knowing God or Jesus Christ. If we were, there would be no need for repentance or baptism or even faith. We would be in Heaven already. The Garden would still be here and we would be tilling the land beside Adam and Eve.
Because of them we are where we are at today. We are born selfish and needy, only thinking of how to fulfill our needs and wants. As we grow and learn and become aware of God is when we must make the choice of whether to follow Him.
I remember the first time I heard the Gospel. Our friend, J. and I were on a large rock in a patch of bare land kind of in between our houses. I did not even realize at the time he was trying to convert me. I thought he was just musing about his faith until he asked me, “So, do you want to be a Christian?”
I was in shock. I felt this massive rush of blood to my head and I got dizzy. I had no idea what to say or think. I do not remember the answer I gave him at the time.
Shortly after that my mom talked to me about Jesus. I did not even know she was a believer at the time. But I told her I would talk to God about it (not my exact words). I do not remember if it was that same night , but I distinctly remember praying one night, and I was finishing my prayer, I heard it, “I hear you, my son.”
A voice inside me said, “I hear you, my son.” This was not a voice like you hear when you are talking in your head. This was a voice from without and within at the same time. It was not me.
Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the word of God. -Romans 10:17
God had spoken to me. Really. People who say God speaks to them – I believe them, unless they think God tells them to strangle cats or to cause harm to others. God does not do that. That was, however, my first experience with the word of God.
The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous, and His ears toward their cry. -Psalm 34:15
We went to church for a while with our friend and I felt sincere convergence, a truthful worship. We fell out of favor with that congregation for supposedly corrupting our friend (God bless him, he did not need our help with that. He was no angel; he did that on his own). And church went by the wayside and I drifted. And I drifted... until I had my experience in October, 2015, when I came back to Jesus for good.
“If you are going to try, go all the way or don’t even start."
But my start was shaky. It was rocky. It was up and down. It was not all walking up the enchanted staircase in the clouds surrounded by fat little angels playing harps. There were (and at times still are) times of unbelievable struggle, tears, screaming and crying, and pleading with God for help. Being a believer is not as easy as some false teachers would have you believe.
Jesus told His disciples, “In this world there will be tribulation,” (John 16:33) and he was certainly right about that. And a lot of it was my own foolishness and unfaithfulness. My own fault or not letting go of my youthful, evil lusts and pride. I have paid many times for my wickedness since coming to Christ. Sanctification does not happen overnight.
“The moral of the story is: I chose a half measure, when I should have taken a full measure. I’ll never make that mistake again.” -Johnathan Banks, Breaking Bad, 2010
We can not live half-lives as believers if we are to follow Jesus. We must put it all on the line. It is all or nothing. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). We are to forsake this world and give up whatever or whoever will hinder our ability to follow Him. As Jesus told the would be follower who wished to say good bye to his family before following Him, “Whoever puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
“What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”
Money, possessions, status, etc., they are all very tempting. Who has not dreamed of being as rich as Bill Gates or as famous as Duane “The Rock” Johnson? We can work hard for the things we want in this life but if those material, temporal things cause us to neglect or forsake Christ, they are no good. “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God” (Jacob 4:4) (Yes, Jacob is the original name of the book of James). If we love our money and the approval of men too much, we are moving away from God and becoming more at one with the world.
Was not Jesus tempted by Satan in such ways in Matthew chapter 4? Satan offered Him all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would worship him. How did Jesus respond to these temptations – “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word from the mouth of God,” “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test,” “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve” (Matthew 4:4,7,10).
Do not love the things of this world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. -1 John 2:15
“I chose you out of this world, therefore the world hates you.”
The world does not care about you. Why would you give your life to it? In the end it will leave you broken and dead. Only Jesus can heal you. Only Jesus can give you life. You can not be half in, half out. “So, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16), as Jesus told the Church of Laodicea. They remained in the world while proclaiming Jesus’ name.
We have to put the world behind us – put our hands to the plow and not look back (Luke 9:62). We must focus on the future, which is the coming kingdom of God. We must be ready. We must be preparing now for that day. Discipline yourselves, as Paul wrote, “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27).
The World Is Yours -Scarface, 1983
Have you seen that movie? Again, not the best analogy for the faint of heart. Tony Montana came to the U.S. to make a better life for his family. What happened? He became wealthy beyond anyone’s wildest imaginations, as a drug dealer. He wanted the world and he took it. Where did that get him? He ended up face down in a fountain dead with hundreds of bullet holes in him with the statue reading: THE WORLD IS YOURS hovering above him. We can have it all, but in the end, the world wins.
We are born into this world wanting – for ourselves. Our natural instinct is to fulfill our needs and wants and get what we have coming to us. John Calvin called it “total depravity,” which is a doctrine which much of the church adheres to today. I do not know if it is selfishness per say. We just do not know any better when we are born.
But after we grow and learn between right and wrong, good and bad, God and the world, we must make those choices. As Joshua told the Israelites in his final address to them, “Choose this day you will serve…But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15). Moses gave this choice to Israel before they entered the Promised Land, “I call Heaven and Earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19). And Elijah to the people at Mt. Carmel, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him, but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18: 21).
So, make your choice. Are you going to go all the way? Will you shed your blood, sweat, and tears for God? Will you strive daily and die daily to put your sins to death? Not every day will be a winner, I know that for sure, but God expects our full, total, and complete faith and obedience. Every fiber of our being must be for Him.
Or are you going to stay lukewarm and have Jesus spit out of His mouth? Will He tell you on the last day, “Depart from me. I never knew you, you worker of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23)?
Do not think you can take half measures through life and think you are fooling God. You might fool yourself. You might fool those around you. Adam and Eve tried that, hiding from God in the Garden after the fall. They were exposed – naked before God, just like we all are. The only cover, the only hope is to put on Jesus Christ, and make no provision for your flesh (Romans 13:14). Put to death what is earthly in you (Colossians 3:5) and live for Jesus Christ with your whole heart, mind, and body. Jesus is “The way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Find Him and leave the world behind.
***Dear LORD, please help us all to love you with all our heart, strength, soul, and mind. Help us to leave this world behind us and follow after you. The world is evil. It takes and does not give. You, LORD, are our life-giver through your great sacrifice in Jesus Christ. You have offered us eternal life with you and with Jesus Christ in your kingdom. Help us, LORD, put to death the sins that keep us from you and keep us attached to the world. Help us, LORD, go all the way for you. To go all out, as living sacrifices to you, that we may glorify you and bring honor to your name. Forgive us, please, of our sins and be gracious to us in your mercy and discipline. Correct us and keep us on your path. For your name’s sake. In Jesus Christ’s beautiful name. Amen. ***