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Honest Questions 3. Why is the Christian Life So Difficult?

Luke 9: 23 - 26

We have times of delight and times of difficulty. The delight of getting a driver’s license can turn to difficulty when you don’t know if you can make your car payment. The delight of that first job can evaporate into disillusionment. Anyone who has done a home improvement project knows early excitement can quickly turn to unexpected challenges.

The question we’re tackling today, “Why is the Christian life so difficult?” We’re going to see while following Christ is the most delightful decision you’ll ever make, the path of discipleship is extremely difficult. Let’s put it in a sentence:

While salvation is delightful, discipleship is often difficult.

We do a disservice to young disciples by implying once you ask Jesus to save you, life will become simple. It’s far better to describe the expected difficulties than to declare Jesus will make you happy all the time. It’s more helpful and honest to admit adversity will come than to promise perpetual peace and prosperity. We need to set our expectations according to Scripture or else the difficulties of discipleship will lead to a letdown. This reminds me of something Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in his book, The Cost of Discipleship: “Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you your life.”

We’ll camp on 4 conditions to following Christ and we’ll conclude with 3 cautions.

4 Conditions for Discipleship

Notice this call to follow is for “all” - means “the totality or the whole.” While the call is to all, there are conditions to following Christ. We see this in the use of the word, “if.” These difficult demands of discipleship can’t be dismissed or downplayed.

1. Desire “If anyone would come after me…”

The first condition is to have a desire to become a disciple – the idea of intentionality and involves the will. In order to walk with Jesus you must first want to walk with Jesus.

Notice the phrase, “come after me.” This has the idea of movement, of lining up behind the Lord, following wherever He goes. We don’t walk in front of Him and ask Him to catch up with our ways and wishes. No, we get behind Him, so we can walk where He walks.

Do you have the desire to follow Jesus as one of His disciples? Simply put, you won’t follow Him if you don’t want to. “People do what they want to do.” It sounds so simple but it’s so true. Some are not following the Saviour simply because they don’t have the desire to do so.

If you desire sleep, you’ll sleep instead of attending church. If your desire is for sports, you’ll find a way to play or have your children play. If your desire is for hobbies, you’ll arrange your schedule and your money accordingly. If you desire possessions, you’ll work to purchase them. If you’re all about being popular, you’ll compromise your convictions to fit in. If pleasure is all-important, you’ll feed your sexual appetites and fuel your addictions.

Listen. Until you desire to be a disciple, you won’t become a disciple. If you long for Him more than anyone or anything else, you’ll let Him lead you. Psalm 73: 25 “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”

While salvation is delightful, discipleship is often difficult.

2. Denial “…he must deny himself…”

The first condition is to settle your desire. The second is to deny self: Everything within us screams against these words. To “deny” means, “to refuse.” Jesus said it like this in Luke 14: 33 “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”

Denying self means I stop thinking I’m always right, I stop living in my own power and I refuse to pursue my own pleasures because I no longer belong to myself. 1 Corinthians 6: 19, 20 “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?

You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.” In short, I must give up the right to run my own life because I no longer own my own life. Born again believers have been bought with the blood of Christ and now belong to Him.

“The Christian life is not a playground; it is a battleground, and we must be on our guard at all times.” Or to switch metaphors, our church is to be a battleship, not a cruise ship!

Let’s drill down a bit to discover why the Christian life is so difficult. Ephesians 2: 1 – 3 - we have at least 3 enemies attacking us – our flesh, the world, and the devil.

• The flesh. The passions of our flesh “wage war” against our souls. This refers to a long-term military campaign filled with relentless and malicious aggression. This is an internal “civil war” between our flesh and our spirit.

• The world. 1 John 2: 15, 16 “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.”

• The devil. 1 Peter 5: 8 “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” We’ll develop this in greater depth next week when we answer the question, “Do angels and demons really exist?”

Let’s face it. Following Christ is difficult because it requires self-discipline and often God’s discipline. We can’t fully follow Christ while living our lives any way we please. D.L. Moody - “I have had more trouble with myself than with any other man.”

While salvation is delightful, discipleship is often difficult. The first two conditions are desire and denial. As if those aren’t difficult enough, Jesus next calls us to die -

3. Death “…and take up his cross daily…”

Crucifixion was a common Roman punishment, with over 30000 nailed to crosses during the lifetime of Jesus. Everyone knew the cross was an instrument of shame, suffering, torture and death. When a person took up his cross, he was beginning a death march.

Unfortunately, we have romanticized the cross and turned it into something we put on our walls or wear around our necks. When we do reference this verse, we often say something like, “Well, I guess that’s just the cross I must bear” and normally it refers to putting up with a bad boss or with an obnoxious relative or living with an illness.

Let’s remember the cross was carried by condemned criminals and ended with a humiliating and excruciating execution. Everyone knew the dead man walking was saying goodbye to everything and there was no turning back.

We’re called to crucify self-fulfillment, self-promotion and self-centeredness. We’re to die to our rights – the right to be right, the right to take revenge and the right to fight. “A religion which costs nothing, is worth nothing.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer - We live in a time of “cheap grace” and “easy believism” where Christianity is more identified with health and wealth than with surrender, sacrifice and service. Bonhoeffer said: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” This is quite a condition, isn’t it? Do you desire to be a disciple? Are you denying yourself? Have you died to yourself and to sin? Before we move on – we’re to take up our cross “daily.” Dying to self and to sin must happen on an-ongoing daily basis. While salvation is delightful, discipleship is often difficult. After getting our desire right, denying self and dying to sin, Jesus gives the 4th condition for discipleship -

4. Devotion “…and follow me.”

Means we are to be constantly following Him. At its core, the word “disciple” means learner and follower. Jesus fought against having false converts by making sure people knew the cost to following Him. I think of the rich young ruler who came running up to Jesus to find eternal life. When Jesus challenged his idolatry of self and the pursuit of possessions, we read - “Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” I find it interesting Jesus didn’t chase after Him or water down the demands of discipleship. Why? Because commitment to Christ is costly. Discipleship is demanding.

Will you follow Christ even when things get difficult? Will you believe or will you bail? When Jesus spoke hard truth to those who were enjoying free food while marveling at miracles - “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” Will you turn back when things get tough?

It’s easy to add Jesus as a friend on Facebook; it’s much more difficult to be a follower. Jesus is not an app to download to your life. Because He’s Lord, He wants your whole life. Are you willing to renounce every person, every possession and especially yourself in order to follow Christ? Will you put your faith over your family and over anything else that has been first in your life? What is that one thing keeping you from following Him fully?

While salvation is delightful, discipleship is often difficult.

3 Cautions of Discipleship

1. If you focus only on your own life, you’ll lose it v. 24

If you try to hold on to what you have, you’ll miss what Jesus wants to give you. When you settle the surrender issue and commit to follow Christ at any cost, you will end up saving your life.

Don’t miss the additional clause found in the Gospel of Mark: “but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospels will save it.” We are to lose our lives in service to the lost as we proclaim the gospel. We are to spread the good news in this community and on all the continents as we take the gospel to our neighbours and to the nations.

2 Timothy 3: 12 “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” We are not to see suffering as strange - 1 Peter 4: 12 “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.”

Pastor Andrew Brunson was imprisoned for 2 years in Turkey - spoke to thousands of pastors at the SBC - “I don’t think we’re prepared for what is coming, especially the next generation. I fear that many of us are complacent and we’re unaware that the people in our churches are going to be blindsided by what comes.”

David Curry, president of Open Doors USA - “Global Christian persecution is worsening while American churches slumber.” He pointed out that 1 of every 9 Christians experience high levels of persecution - “Inoculated by entertainment and self-absorption, we are completely detached from the experience of the global church.”

Because there are now more Christians than members of the Communist Party in China, the government is determined to stamp out Christianity.

Here’s my response to this. Lord, forgive me for complaining about anything and acting like I have any adversity going on in my life! Whenever I hear about Christians being persecuted and holding on to their faith, I’m reminded that my problems and inconveniences are nothing in comparison.

2. If you focus only on your own success, you’ll squander your soul v. 25

Jesus is using economic terms here – profit, loss and forfeit. You could gain everything and lose your very soul. You could make a lot of money and end up in the misery of Hell.

3. If you’re ashamed of Christ, He’ll be ashamed of you v. 26

There is a cost to Christianity but there’s an even greater cost in not following Christ. We’re called to confess Christ and not be ashamed of Him, which will become increasingly more difficult in our culture in the months and years to come.

One way to confess and profess Christ is through believer’s baptism. Maybe you’ve been too embarrassed to get baptized in front of people. It’s time to jump in, step up and stand out for Christ by taking the plunge!

Action Steps

1. Surrender Spontaneously. Each day we encounter small, unexpected invitations to surrender. These are not inconsequential or trivial because these daily invitations to deny ourselves and surrender our wants prepare us for the larger risks and invitations God may ask of us in the future.

2. Sacrifice Strategically. While we have daily, unexpected opportunities to stretch our muscle of sacrifice, there are also ways we can strategically place ourselves in situations that cause us to grow.

I want to call each of us to inconvenient sacrifice for the sake of reaching more people with the gospel. Luke 9: 23 “Then he said to them all: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’”

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