When attending a well-run university, every first-year student is strongly urged, if not required, to spend time with a counselor, one who will guide the student through the maze of required and optional courses in such a way that the student will earn the necessary number and classification of credits to be awarded their degree. When I enrolled at Baker University, before even attending my first class, I knew exactly what courses I would be taking from my first day, every day, every quarter, including summer courses, until my degree was conferred in December of 1983.
Looking through the course catalog, I spotted a number of courses that aroused my interest: courses which, for me, would be considered elective courses since they did not lend themselves directly to my chosen field of study. Those enticing courses, however, usually had two or three prerequisite courses attached to them, meaning I was welcome to enroll in them, but only after successfully completing the prerequisite courses which did not hold my interest. I was unwilling to spend 24 weeks grinding my way through the basics of something I did not care about in order to enjoy the course in which I actually wanted to enroll. For me, it was something of an acid test, a measure of my willingness to slog through something tedious in order to enjoy the blessings of the course I found so interesting.
Prerequisite to following Christ Jesus is a full reckoning of the consequences such a decision carries with it – the costs attached, the preconditions involved. As large crowds followed Jesus, rather than bask in his popularity, counting his Twitter followers or the number of Likes on his Facebook page, Jesus turned to the people, almost as though he were turning on them, and explained to them that following him is not an easy thing to do.
Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any one of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. – Luke 14:28-33, NIV-1978
Jesus is describing prerequisites.
Before finalizing our resolution to follow Jesus, it is imperative that each of us invests the time required to determine whether or not this is a race we can run to the finish. Without such consideration, resulting in a positive conclusion, Jesus says I cannot be his disciple.
It is worthy of note that in saying this Jesus is not laying down a prohibition, but rather making a statement regarding my abilities. He is not saying he forbids me being his disciple. The literal reading of his statement says that I do not have the “power” to be his follower. I do not possess the tools necessary to complete the task, because I have not enrolled in, and completed, the prerequisite courses – giving up everything, including myself.
Ignoring the Prerequisites
In the previous three articles, we looked at prerequisite courses that are tied to making a commitment to follow Jesus. Today, we look at what happens when we ignore those prerequisites.
I had a dog for most of my life as a youth. I do not mean to be indelicate here, but one of the more unsettling aspects of having a dog is watching what that dog does when it vomits. Having expelled something from its stomach, something to which the dog’s body was objecting, a dog will complete the experience by licking up the very thing that was making it sick. Peter references this distasteful act to describe how it is for those who abandon their new life in Christ.
“It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: ‘A dog returns to its vomit,’ and, ‘A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.'” – 2 Peter 2:21-22, NIV-1978
When we rid our lives of the poison of sin, it is both dangerous and foolish to lick up that poison. If I cannot follow Jesus whole-heartedly, then I am better off to not follow him at all. Jesus said as much in his message to the church at Laodicea.
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. – Revelation 3:15-16, NASB
Few things are as irritating as indifference or apathy – just not caring one way or the other. If you are passionately for me, or against me, at least I know where you stand. In the Midwest U.S. people will occasionally describe themselves or others as “riding the fence,” as though they are somewhat allied with Christ, yet not fully committed. They are “on the fence,” or so it is believed.
Jesus has a differing viewpoint in this matter. “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” (Matthew 12:30, NASB) I cannot be on the fence, because according to Jesus, there is no fence on which to be. There is no neutral gear in this automobile. It goes forward, or backward. I am on the home team or the visiting team. There are no spectators. Jesus said, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other.” (Luke 16:31a, NASB)
The context of that statement from Jesus is a financial context, but the truth of his statement goes far beyond money. It is not possible to serve competing masters. Any attempt to do so will result in frustration and misery. “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.” (Luke 11:17b, NASB) Jesus said to Satan himself, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and serve Him only.‘” (Matthew 4:10b, NASB) We do not put our hand to the plow of service, and then look lovingly and longingly backward at the bondage from which we have been set free.
The church in Corinth struggled with this issue to such an extent that the apostle Paul devoted much of 1st Corinthians chapter 10 to trying to shake them loose from it. He stressed the truth that we cannot drink the cup of idolatry and the cup of Christ. We cannot partake in the table of the Lord and the table of demons. The summation of it all is, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31b, NASB) James says it this way:
Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. – James 4:7-10, NASB
When I came to Christ in January of 1983, I came from a life of excess, a life in which I was self-serving and self-consumed, drowning in my own pursuit of pleasure in a plethora of drugs, alcohol, late nights/early mornings, sexual gratification, and pornography. It was a disgusting life in which people were not people to me. They were tools, a means to an end and the end was always my ego, my pleasure. The addictions were strong and relentless, white-knuckled in the grip they had upon my life.
The life to which Jesus was calling me could not possibly have been more estranged from the life I was living. I knew that if I was going to “do” this new Christian life, I was going to have to embrace it with a wide-open throttle, never looking back. I had to be so completely engaged that there was no chance for the pull from the past to drag me back into its claws.
If that sounds over-the-top, or unusual in any way, then it indicates the need for a re-examination of the calling with which you have been called, because that is precisely what Jesus requires of us. That is the prerequisite course.
Victoriously in Christ!
– Adapted from The Christ Saturated Life, Chapter 2 – Prerequisite Courses, by Damon J. Gray
Over to you: Why is Jesus so hard-line about the ‘all or nothing’ commitment to which he calls us?