Many Christians in the United States are finding it difficult to live out their faith. In a recent Barna study, 60 percent of American evangelicals reported experiencing opposition from their surrounding culture. As societal values and morality have shifted, these Christians have felt caught in the transition. They see traditional Christian values mocked in the public square and those who express them facing rejection and financial loss. In light of this cultural pressure, some Christians have chosen a path of silence. Others have questioned their traditional beliefs. A few have spoken up and faced the consequences.
What is the answer to this problem? How should we as the church in America react to the increasing animosity toward our faith?
Jesus answered this question in His introduction to the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, . . .” (Matt. 5:11-12). According to Jesus, our response should be joy. How can this be?
In the face of hostility or even discrimination for the sake of Jesus, we can rejoice because:
1) WE BELONG TO CHRIST
Throughout the book of Acts, the early church endured painful opposition as they spread the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection. At one point, the apostles were brought before the ruling council and then beaten and charged to no longer teach in the name of Jesus. When they were released, still bloody and bruised from the scourging, they went out “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41). For these men, it was an honor to be dishonored because it meant they were identified with Jesus.
Right now, Christians around the world are facing this same kind of abuse at an unprecedented rate. For some believers, it looks like imprisonment, torture, and even death. For others, it looks like discrimination, alienation, and online shaming. In both cases, Christ promises that the opposition we face for His sake will only increase.
As we cling to Christ amid these increasing cultural pressures to deny His name, our anthem should be the same as the early church in Acts: gratitude for the honor of being identified with the true King—whatever dishonor the world may ascribe.
2) CHRIST IS OUR COMFORT
The apostle Paul was no stranger to suffering. He was beaten, stoned, left for dead, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and driven from more than one town. Yet his response to this suffering was to rejoice in the comfort he received from God. He wrote to the Corinthians, “For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ” (2 Cor. 1:5).
One of our struggles in the Western church is that we want God’s comfort without the discomfort of suffering for His name. But look at the early church and so many of our brothers and sisters around the world. They have experienced the priceless joy of losing everything for Christ. They have experienced the supernatural hope found only in a prison cell. They have experienced the inexplicable comfort of Christ because, in the throes of deep affliction, they have clung to Him and found He is indeed their all in all.
3) GOD IS OUR STRENGTH
The Corinthian church wanted nothing to do with Paul’s kind of suffering. They saw it as a sign of weakness and a reason to question Paul’s apostleship. The Corinthians preferred their “super-apostles” who demonstrated their strength through displays of power and success (2 Cor. 11:5). Paul, in contrast, boasted of his weakness and reveled in his sufferings. He did so because he had learned, through suffering, not to rely on himself but on God, who promised him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). That’s why Paul could “delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10).
Paul’s perspective of strength and weakness is affirmed by the experience of the global church. In spite of tremendous opposition, the church is growing at unprecedented rates. Whole villages are turning from Islam to the saving power of Christ, and churches are multiplying so quickly that leaders cannot keep up. This growth is not happening in spite of the hostility but because of it. As our brothers and sisters entrust themselves to “God, who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9), the Lord grants them the strength to endure, hope, trust, and rejoice. Such a response testifies to the power and Truth of the Gospel so that the spiritually blind around the world can see the goodness of God, the hope of glory found in Christ alone.
4) WE HAVE A HOPE THAT DOES NOT DISAPPOINT
In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “[W]e also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). Within a decade of this letter, Roman Emperor Nero was burning Christians in his garden to light his parties and executing both the apostles Peter and Paul. And yet Nero’s persecution did not wipe out the church. The body of Christ grew to the point that, within three centuries, even the Roman Emperor was professing faith in Christ.
This is the upside-down nature of the Gospel as it applies to hateful opposition. Our hope of eternal life in the presence of the glory of God is rooted in a Savior who suffered and died on a cross for our sins: It is through His death that we have life. In the same way, our own suffering does not decrease hope, but rather sets our eyes on its true source. Hope does not come from ease of life, but through the faithful lovingkindness of God displayed in the sacrifice of His own Son, who was forsaken so that we never shall be.
REJOICING EVEN IN SUFFERING
Any increase in discrimination for believers in America should not cause panic but a hopeful expectation. We can rejoice in being counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ. We can rejoice knowing that He will be exalted in our perseverance and glorified by our dependence upon Him. Perhaps one day God will use our own suffering to further His plan in the world. But whatever His purposes, we can rejoice in the Truth that He is working all things for our good.
Have you been praying for the salvation of a friend, neighbor, or family member? Maybe God has placed several people on your heart, calling you to intercede and share the love of Christ. It is an awesome privilege to participate in the growth of God’s Kingdom. But it is also mysterious.
Though we know God is at work, most of the time His movements are hidden from our view. In the waiting, it is easy for us to lose patience when we pray and see no fruit. Questions rise up within us: “Don’t they see the Truth? Don’t they want a relationship with God? Why haven’t they accepted Christ as their Savior?”
When we begin to lose heart and are tempted to give up, what should we do to persevere in prayer? We can rest in some important truths that will strengthen us to “not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
TRUTH #1 – THE BLIND ARE BLIND
First, we must remember that the lost are spiritually blind and cannot see God’s goodness. As Scripture tells us, “their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21b).
This is the same circumstance that the lost are suffering. They are blind to the glory of God, His character, and His Truth. This is why we need to be patient, loving, and concerned. We need to be compassionate toward those who have not experienced what we have experienced.
Humanity is so utterly depraved that we cannot come to Christ without the work of His Spirit in our hearts. Persuasive messages and brilliant theological debates are not enough to win souls; the lost need the power of God to open their spiritual eyes to the Gospel. That’s why we must pray.
TRUTH #2 – CHRISTIANS ARE SINNERS SAVED BY GRACE
God’s Word says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). If you are a Christian, God is the one who sovereignly called you, chose you, and saved you. Though our pride balks at such a notion and clamors to take credit for our salvation, we owe everything to the grace of God. Armed with the knowledge of God’s amazing grace—that God the Father chose us, God the Son redeemed us, and God the Holy Spirit sealed us—we will be empowered to persevere in prayer for the lost, trusting God to do the rest.
Abraham approached God for the city of Sodom, praying, “though I am but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27). Daniel boldly prayed not for himself but in pursuit of the glory of God: “For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name” (Daniel 9:19). When we put ourselves in a right posture of humility before God, we will rely on His strength instead of our own as we pray.
TRUTH #3 – PERSISTENT PRAYER BEARS FRUIT
We are weak, impatient, finite beings who forget the perfect wisdom and timing of our Creator. We often struggle to persist in prayer. But if we give up, we will miss the great blessing of seeing prayers answered, of growing in intimacy with God, and of learning to trust our Lord.
God wants us to intercede boldly because we have a mighty God. He wants us to pray persistently because, when we do so, we imitate our Savior. Even during the agony of the crucifixion, Christ was interceding (see Luke 23:34). This kind of continual prayer not only bears fruit in the lives of those we are praying for, but it also increases the fruit of the Spirit in our own lives as we learn to depend on God. And when we grow in godliness, our witness for Christ and our prayers are even more effective.
TRUTH #4 – GOD IS AT WORK, SOVEREIGNLY
Opening spiritual eyes and softening hearts to the Gospel is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is He who convicts of sin; it is He who brings the harvest (see John 16:8-11; 1 Corinthians 3:6-7). God doesn’t need us to pray in order to bring people to His saving grace, but in His wisdom and love, He has ordained that we participate in the growth of His Kingdom.
There are some people who think that because God is sovereign, we should take no action to change circumstances. This is simply not Biblical. Rather, the promises of God should spur us on to do our part.
For Daniel, God’s divine promise drove him to pour out his heart to God in prayer. It was not an excuse to disconnect from the spiritual battle at hand. Because God is sovereign, we can pray boldly and yet with a sense of deep peace, knowing that He will take care of the rest.
TRUTH #5 – WE ARE AT WAR
When you pray, you are engaged in an unseen spiritual battle. Don’t despair when you face spiritual opposition. Scripture tells us that Daniel had been praying, mourning, and fasting for three weeks when God came to him and said, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them” (Daniel 10:12).
Like Daniel, God hears you from the very first moment you pray. Let this knowledge rally you to fight, remembering that your struggle is “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” and the weapons you fight with “have divine power to demolish strongholds” (Ephesians 6:12; 2 Corinthians 10:4). Let it empower you to persevere as you stand firm in the power of your King.
DON’T GIVE UP
Has your heart grown weary? Have your prayers become stale?
The power of prayer is the power of God working in response to a whole-hearted commitment to Him. If we want our prayers to be effective, we need only abide in Christ. Only then can we move mountains. Only then can we be sure that we will ask only those things that are glorifying to Him. Only then will we be empowered to imitate the love of our Lord, who did not give up on us.
It is incumbent upon each one of us to cry out to God on behalf of the lost. And the more we know the power and blessing available to us in prayer, the more we will press on when the battle gets tough.
Are you not refreshed and revived for the task? Let us pray.
Your spouse hangs up the final garland, the smell of gingerbread floats in from the kitchen, and the doorbell chimes for the final time as the last guests arrive.
Your whole family is there, ready to start the Christmas celebration. There’s just one problem. The guest of honor hasn’t been brought up. There hasn’t been a mention of the name of Jesus. He hasn’t been celebrated. He hasn’t been adored. Did you even invite Him to the gathering?
THE GOOD NEWS OF THE GOSPEL
From the very beginning, when the Son of God came from heaven down into our world, there was no room for Him. It was no accident that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph ended up in a barn—it was part of God’s plan: “‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’)” (Matthew 1:23).
When God decided to send His Son to earth, a decision that was prophesied thousands of years before, He knew that the throne would have made Jesus remote to the people He was serving. So Jesus did not come as a king or as a wealthy man. Instead, He left the splendor of heaven to become one of us—all to save us. He arrived in a world inundated with sin as an innocent, sinless baby born to a virgin mother—a baby who changed everything and came to earth with an invitation: “Come to me” (Matthew 11:28). And He did it because He loves us (see John 3:16).
ACCEPT GOD’S INVITATION
Just as the world failed to make room for the Savior that first Christmas, many of us do the same today. We may have received God’s gracious invitation, but we haven’t joined the party. We haven’t made room for Him in our lives. Instead, we allow self-centeredness to strip us of the joy and contentment that come only from Christ. We allow the pursuit of earthly things to blind us to our need for God and the blessing of knowing Him. We allow the opinions and philosophies of the wrong people to keep us from believing the Truth of His Word.
God’s ultimate act of love on that first Christmas begs the question: Will you make room for Him in your heart? Will you take a seat at His table?
This invitation is for everyone. Have you kept the Savior at a distance? Accept the gift of salvation that Christ alone offers you. Have life’s disappointments left you with a hard heart? Invite Him in. Has sin left you broken and without hope? Surrender to the living God. Has the busyness of life extinguished your intimacy with Christ? Take a seat at His table once again.
My friend, Jesus knows your name. He knows your every thought, desire, and passion. He knew it before you were born, and He came from heaven to earth to die for you. Don’t gamble with your eternity. Today, you can invite Him, the guest of honor, to take up residence in your life. Today, you can accept His invitation—whether it’s an invitation to know Him for the first time or an invitation to simply know Him better today than you did yesterday.
When you sit down to dinner with your family, let this Christmas mark a new lifestyle as you invite Him to the table not just for today, but every day. As you gather with friends, let your conversation pour from a heart overflowing with joy in Christ. As you decorate your home or unwrap gifts next to the tree, express your thanksgiving, for all good things come from the Lord (see James 1:17).
This Christmas, let’s refocus our lives on the greatest gift of all: Christ Jesus our Savior, who took on flesh, died on a cross, and rose again to give us eternal life in Him.
This Christmas, let’s take a seat at the table He has so graciously set before us.
This Christmas and every day, let us make room for Him.
Prayer: Father, You alone are worthy of all glory and honor and praise. Reveal to me any area of my life where I am not making room for You. Thank You for Your willingness to send Your Son to earth to pay for my sins. I ask You to help me remember that, through the hustle and bustle of this season, it is all about the sacrifice of Jesus. Let my life be an offering of thanks for what You have done for me. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
You aimlessly unlock your smartphone for the what might be the millionth time today and scroll through your Facebook feed. After twenty minutes you ask yourself, “What was I even looking for?” Then later in the evening you finally sit down and relax in front of the TV. You know you need to catch up on sleep, but before you realize it, you’ve already watched 3 episodes of the top trending series (half of which you missed because you were scrolling through feeds on your phone). And Netflix is launching you directly into the fourth as you think, “Just one more.”
Before you start to sink into guilt about every moment of entertainment you’ve enjoyed or simply dismiss the rest of this article to avoid the discomfort of impending shame, let me adamantly assert that entertainment in itself is not sinful. There is plenty of entertainment to be found in the Bible: Jesus attended parties and enjoyed food and drink; the psalms are filled with music and dancing; Paul was expertly knowledgeable of secular poetry and theatre. And 1 Timothy 6:17 assures us that God “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” That is how good, loving, and creative He is. And ultimately our greatest joy is found in Him. That’s why the Westminster Shorter Catechism declares at the outset: “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
But if we are not careful, good, enjoyable things can become ultimate things, and our priorities can become disordered. To make matters worse, there’s a terrifying number of forces working against us. Not only do we fight against our own sinful flesh and the unseen forces of the spiritual enemy, but an entire economy exists in our culture in which whole corporations grapple for our attention 24/7.
In her article “The Binge Breaker” featured in The Atlantic, author Bianca Bosker captures this struggle through the words of Tristan Harris, founder of the Time Well Spent movement:
“You could say that it’s my responsibility” to exert self-control when it comes to digital usage, he explains, “but that’s not acknowledging that there’s a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break down whatever responsibility I can maintain.”… Harris learned that the most-successful sites and apps hook us by tapping into deep-seated human needs. 
Glorifying and Enjoying God
But don’t panic. Though the world and the devil are working to monopolize your thoughts and keep you attuned to their message, you are not alone in the battle. The forces working against you are strong, but you have a yet greater power living within you: Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 1:18-20). You see, the blood of Christ has the power to break every chain that endeavors to enslave you, every addiction, every idol that seeks to seduce you down the road to destruction—even the idol of entertainment. Though this idol works to entice you into believing life is about your own diversion and pleasure, the Bible shows us life is about God’s glory and your enjoyment of Him who is your Master, your Father, your Redeemer, and your Resurrection.
Offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace…. Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:13-14, 16-18)
Though free from the bondage of sin, we often forget that we are yet slaves—slaves to righteousness. So, instead of truly enjoying something deeply creative or beautiful or thought-provoking, we spend our time mindlessly consuming a variety of entertainments. Instead of analyzing our entertainment before the light of Truth to praise what is noble and good and uplift what is lacking through the Gospel to the glory of God, we simply use entertainment as an escape from the troubles of the world or turn them into a habit lacking meaningful blessing. But every aspect of our lives—even our entertainment—can and should be submitted to God, just as His Word exhorts us, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
You may be thinking that your entertainment is about to get agonizingly boring or prudish, but that’s just what the world and the devil want you to believe. For actually, immeasurable joy and fulfillment are only found in the holy presence of God, and pursuing that holiness in every part of our lives will yield happiness. So we need to be slaves to righteousness. If we really grasped how glorious the gift of righteousness truly is, we would be unabashed holiness junkies.
Analyzing Our Entertainment
We can start pursuing righteousness in our entertainment by asking ourselves some important questions and answering them with honest discernment through the power of the Holy Spirit (see 2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 Corinthians 2:10-16; John 16:13; Galatians 5:16-18).
1. Is this entertainment leading me to deeper enjoyment of the Lord? Or am I sacrificing the pleasure of time spent glorifying God for an hour or more of unfulfilling screen time that leaves me restless?
2. Am I using this entertainment as a means of stress-relief or escape rather than finding comfort in the character and promises of my Father in heaven?
3. Is this entertainment holding sway over how I order my life, or is it taking the place of something that is more important?
4. Is this entertainment increasing or hindering my fellowship with the body of believers?
Once you have sincerely plumbed the motives of your heart towards your entertainment, it is time to take action.
Fighting Against the Idol of Entertainment
Whether you need to make a change in your pattern of entertainment or you feel confident that your entertainment is submitted to your Savior, here are some practical means to shield your heart and preserve your attention for the only one deserving of your focus—the only one who promises boundless joy.
#1 Recognize that there are whole teams of people, an entire industry, working to seize your attention in addition to the forces of Satan and our flesh that endeavor to draw us away from God (see Ephesians 2:1-3).
We must exercise humility and discernment so that when we mix up our priorities, we can readily confess and repent and be lifted up by the love and forgiveness of Christ.
#2 Discipline yourself to disconnect. We must guard against the addictive nature of modern entertainment. Our smartphones are decidedly difficult to control when it comes to distraction; we are constantly inundated with alerts and notifications that prevent us from forming focused and thorough thoughts—the kind of mindfulness we need to glorify God. So to counteract the colorful apps and brilliant bings designed to win our attention, here are some tips:
1. Turn off notifications on your phone.
2. Limit the visibility of your apps by relegating those most likely to send you down a rabbit-hole to folders so that your phone screen can be clear of clutter. (If you have trouble finding apps with this method, you can take a little extra time to type in a search for the app making your use of it more intentional.)
3. Consider implementing apps that can help you stay aware of how frequently you are using your phone and for how long, such as Checky or Moment.
4. Keep your phone stored away or at least screen-side down when you are interacting with people.
Your phone has a Do Not Disturb option—use it.
#3 Determine what are some healthy habits for your entertainment consumption. What do you want to get out of the variety of enjoyments that the Lord has provided for you in your life? Look to the Word of God for direction about how God wants you to spend your time. Perhaps make a plan, such as setting an alarm to make you aware of the time you have already passed bingeing the latest Netflix series.
Once you have thought through the purpose and place of entertainment in your life, share your goals for entertainment with other believers that can hold you accountable so that you can together seek righteousness in all things—the sure road to joy (see Psalm 1:1-3).
#4 Most importantly, find fulfillment, belonging, and acceptance in Christ alone. For when your identity is firmly rooted in your adoption as a son or daughter of the Living God, you can defeat any and all means that the idol of entertainment hurls your way to enslave you and draw you away from the light of Christ.
The more deeply satisfied you are in Jesus Christ, the freer you will walk in this world. The more you relish the Gospel, the quicker you can silence the condemnation of the enemy (see Romans 8:1; John 3:16-18). The more focused you are on your Savior, the easier it will be to keep your priorities in order not because you are forcing them (though God does call us to obedience), but because, as you mature in Christ, this order brings you the most delight.
Delighting in God
May God grant us the wisdom and discernment to delight in entertainment that points us to Him, for in Him alone will we find abundant joy.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things,” so that your life can be marked by the holiness of God that brings abiding happiness (Philippians 4:8).
In today’s world and even in many of our churches, grace is no longer amazing; it is boring, just as J. I. Packer has diagnosed: “The thought [of grace] means nothing to them; it does not touch their experience at all” (Knowing God, 129).
It is true that, in this age of human rights and animal rights and every other kind of right, grace is neither needed nor appreciated. People are no longer enthralled with the grace of God because they believe they are good without God and that everyone has the right to go their own way. Therefore, the world rejects any concept of sin—not to mention the judgment such rebellion deserves. And so, it spurns the awesome grace of God.
This grace is the defining characteristic of Christianity, making it absolutely unique among all religions. For, whether we are talking about the Eightfold Path of the Buddha, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish ceremonial laws, or the Islamicsharia law, all other belief systems tell the story of how mankind is striving to earn God’s favor, to earn salvation. But Christianity is the story of how God reached down to mankind out of His great love.
In Christianity, no one can reach God.
He is holy, divine, righteous, and mighty. Therefore, no one can buy or earn his way into heaven; it is simply impossible. So, out of His love, God came to us. The notion that the God of the universe saves sinners with no strings attached goes against every human instinct and runs contrary to every other religious system in the world.
You see, Adam and Eve’s temptation is precisely the temptation of today. They sought to be masters of themselves and tried to establish their own authority—their own way to reach (even be) the divine. This refusal to obey the commands of their loving, holy Creator ushered in death, just as they had been warned (see Genesis 2:16-17). Through their rebellion, Adam and Eve scorned the extravagant love and grace they had experienced as they walked with the one and only God.
If we were speaking of any other human-made god, that would be the end. But we are speaking about the God of grace, whose love is so great that He made the universe. Even now, He extends grace daily by revealing Himself and His ways to us.
Before God’s grace came into our lives, we were spiritual corpses; we could not even make a move toward God (see Ephesians 2:1-8). Physically, we were alive, but our lives were spent rejecting God as we chose our own foolishness over His wisdom. We were dead in our sins, enslaved in sin, powerless to remove our chains, and justly subject to the wrath of God.
But now, if you have received the gift of God’s grace, the gift of salvation for eternity from the hand of God through the blood of Jesus Christ, you have been made alive. You have been set free from the power of sin, and you will never again be under the wrath of God (see Colossians 2:11-14; Romans 6:1-14). Indeed, “because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-6). You have been set free!
You are already seated in the heavenly realms with Christ so that, as the recipient of God’s grace, you have victory over anger, greed, lust, jealousy, envy, fear, anxiety, doubt, and addiction of any kind. For, you are no longer a slave to sin, but an ambassador for the King of glory. What an astonishing power is the grace of God. Far from boring, it obliterates our dismal past and gives us a glorious present as we walk in new life with the King of kings residing in our hearts. But even this is simply a taste of the indescribably fulfilling future to come. For, one day, we will see the God of grace face to face.
What does it mean to be a Christian? Does church attendance qualify you to be a Christian? Is it enough to own a Bible or to come from a Christian family? Although our culture would have us believe that Christianity is this cheap, Jesus both challenges us more than we expect and gives to us much more than we can even imagine. Jesus Christ demands our all. He unapologetically tells us, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,” and, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching” (Matthew 16:24 and John 14:23). He also warns us, saying, “Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (Luke 14:33).
“But where is grace?” you might ask. It is in God’s invitation to salvation, in the sacrifice of Jesus for us, and in the gift of the Holy Spirit that empowers us to live in submission to God. The grace of God cost Him the life of His Son. Therefore, what God has bought at so precious a price we cannot treat cheaply—namely, our lives.
Jesus calls all those He has redeemed to integrate what they believe with how they live. And that’s why winsome Jesus becomes winnowing Jesus in these passages. He does not want anyone to be deceived about the true cost of discipleship. True disciples must make Jesus the unrivaled Lord of their lives.
When Christ is truly our Lord, He is supreme in our lives. That means we cannot be ashamed of His name, denying on Monday what we profess on Sunday. We cannot be Christ’s disciples when we worship gold more than God. We cannot be His disciples when our pursuit of happiness is more important than our pursuit of holiness or when success is more important than surrender. We cannot be called Christ’s disciples when we spend more time in front of a screen than with the Holy Book. We cannot be His disciples if we don’t walk in His ways.
Christ’s way is the way of the cross. It is a life of sacrificial love and service in obedience to God the Father. To take up our cross means that we love people to the very end, like Christ who washed the feet of His disciples—even Judas and Peter who would betray Him (see John 13). It means we live a life of radical forgiveness, emulating Christ on the cross (see Luke 23:34). And it means we proclaim Truth, even when it is unpopular and costs us our relationships, status, and reputation.
The grace of Jesus Christ is a costly grace. It requires that we put off the old self and “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). But truly, the sacrifice is its own reward. Dietrich Bonhoeffer explained it this way:
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.
Though we will stumble in our pursuit of Christ, God has given us everything we need to yet take up our cross. His grace frees us to live as children of God. His Word assures us of His faithfulness and love. His Holy Spirit empowers us to pursue holiness and walk in newness of life as we die to self.
Through His sacrifice, Jesus secured for His disciples an unfathomable reward. Not only are we raised to new life in Christ now, but we also will reap an eternal reward that can never spoil, perish, or fade (see 1 Peter 1:3-5). For, in Christ, you are an heir of God, whether “the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).