I became a follower after Christ on January 16, 1983. It was an abrupt incident. It was a time of metamorphosis, like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, but happening instantaneously rather than over time. It was a transition, a transformation, from the inside out, as though I had been flayed before my God as he did supernatural surgery on me, transforming me into something and someone completely different than I was just moments before.
The young man who taught me of Jesus became a very dear friend who would later write me a letter of recommendation for seminary wherein he described my new birth as “a good, old-fashioned repentance” where, in a single weekend, I’d turned my entire life upside down. It was true, and it was necessary. It is why I am here, alive, to write this today.
Prior to January 16, 1983, I was not a good man. You would not have liked me. I didn’t like me. I was ego-centric, self-absorbed, a chaser of pleasure, obtuse, and brusque. I used people for my own ends, and discarded them when they were no longer beneficial. That degree of self-absorption is not overcome without surrender, and not apart from the power of Holy Spirit. My option – my only option – was complete surrender, an abandonment of any and all control over my own life.
Then Jesus declared, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and then looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
– Luke 9:62, ESV
I knew that if I was going to engage this new life, I could not merely dip my toe into the water. I could not attempt to straddle the (non-existent) fence as so many try to do. My follow had to be a full-on plunge, a dive, a cannon-ball. Any other style or level engagement would fail because the pull of the world, my former life, would be too strong, too overwhelming. It was “pedal to the floor” or get out of the car. Every fiber of my being had to be surrendered to Christ. Every passion, every desire, every thought – surrendered to Christ.
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.
– 2 Corinthians 10:5, ESV
And here is the discomforting reality . . . it is the same for you. Though we correctly speak of salvation as a gift of God, that gift is given to those who surrender the very ownership of themselves. It costs us not a lot, but everything. It requires recognizing and agreeing to the terms of the contract with Jesus. We surrender without conditions. We follow him on his terms, not our own terms.
This is why Jesus never begged people to follow him. In fact, when people asked to do so, he frequently discouraged them, speaking of the great cost involved. In John 6, Jesus proactively offered his disciples the chance to leave, to which Peter essentially responded, “Where else are we supposed to go, Jesus? You are the one with the words of life.”1
So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
– Luke 9:62, ESV
We must not treat our submission and allegiance to Christ as some sort of add-on to our lives. It has always been all-or-nothing with God. He accepts no partial commitments.
When Elijah called Elisha to serve as his successor, Elisha agreed with the call of God on his life. He kissed his mother and father to break ties with them and then he did something symbolic and profound. Elisha sacrificed a pair of oxen he was using to plow the field when Elijah called him and, for the fire, he burned the plow with which he was plowing.2 Elisha made a clean, total break with the life he had been living up to that point.
Following Elisha’s example, each of us who comes to Jesus with the intent to follow him must make an equally clean break from our prior life. Next week, we will continue this look into the cost of following Jesus.
1. John 6:68
2. 1 Kings 19:19-21