So Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you want to leave too?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God” (John 6:67-69 BSB).
Unlike some well-meaning preachers today, Jesus never minimised the cost of following Him. It was never, “Join us, and we’ll have lots of fun” or “Come along, and you will be given an easy passage through life”; rather his disciples were informed in no uncertain terms that each of them was being called to “deny himself, take up his cross and follow me”. The hardships they would face were laid out in quite stark language-
“And you shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved” (Mark 13:13 AKJV).
“Look, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. But beware of men; for they will hand you over to their councils and flog you in their synagogues. On My account, you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:16-18 BSB).
“For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14 ESV).
“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58 ESV).
Still, is it not true that in the initial euphoria of being born again, we as new Christians often expect an easy ride ‘from now on’? One believer, who thought that he was getting on a life long merry-go-round, was shocked to discover that the Christian life is more like being enlisted on an army draft. The scripture seems to suggest that the disciples never fully understood – and were never quite prepared for – what following the Messiah entailed. Meeting Jesus for the first time is to encounter One who is so full of light, with whom nothing is impossible, and who loves us infinitely – this combination can lead us to hope rather naively, for only good things in life and never bad.
Yet Christ never promised us an easy road, that we should expect to be insulated from the hardships common to humanity. Indeed, by belonging to Him, we are often at odds with the world; the things we say or do, may be treated with suspicion or even outright hostility by those who do not understand us. The world is too full of the enemies of the cross; and among them we are commanded to resist every temptation to compromise. This is never easy even for the best among us. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV). It is the fact that we share in the overcoming life of our Saviour that should fill us with hope and confidence for the future. What does this mean in practical terms?
Christian life is really about overcoming temptations, weaknesses, struggles and stressful relationships. To be an overcomer means to triumph over the circumstances of our lives using the tools of the Kingdom. We align our priorities with Christ’s, and willingly choose to do what pleases Him. We are enabled to imitate Him, not by our own will power, strength or personal qualities, but by Christ’s resurrection power, and the daily portion of light and grace, available to us from the One who loves us. This light and grace has definitely been promised to us- we only have to ask and receive it by faith. So, it is this sharing in the life of the Risen Christ that sets us apart from the rest of humanity, not freedom from struggle or sorrow.
We live and walk in the Spirit, who comes to indwell our hearts when we yield our lives to Christ, and the way is illuminated before us. There may be occasions when we called to walk on paths less trodden, unknown and seemingly dangerous; and even the promised light may temporarily be hidden from us. Still, we have God’s guidance as to how we ought to cross these dark passages in our journey – “Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10 ESV). The promise is not that we will always have absolute clarity or full understanding of the road we are called to take, but that God, our perfect Guide will never leave us. He sees everything, and knows the way ahead.
We draw from God’s infinite stores of love, guidance, comfort and protection at every stage of our lives. Even when we stumble, He is by our side to pick us up and set us on the right path. His word will sustain and strengthen us. The longest psalm (Psalm 119) dwells on the effect of God’s word on the believer’s life, and its sufficiency to meet every contingency that we might face. Everything necessary for life and salvation is ours through Christ Jesus, and so our lives are enriched in every way. The beautiful things that we receive in this new life amply make up for the things we are called to give up; and everything we lay down for His sake is restored to us either in this world or in eternity. Yet even these manifold blessings fade in the light of the great hope that we have of spending eternity in the presence of the Altogether Lovely One, Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.
A whole new dimension is added to our lives, and anyone who has tasted life at this level cannot easily deny Him, or go back to their old ways. Peter and the disciples, as they grew in understanding of the enormity of the task before them, the rejection and the dangers that they would inevitably face as they merged their lives and destinies with Christ’s, were then offered an opportunity to return to their old lives, as some others had done. Yet having seen the light they would not – and could not – choose to walk again in darkness.
“So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22 ESV).
As difficult as it is to explain to those who do not know Christ, it is this hope that makes all the difference. Those who share in the abundant life may see an uphill path ahead, but we have tasted the choicest wine and nothing else will now satisfy.
Father, thank You for the wonderful privilege of belonging to You through Jesus Christ, and for the abundant life we now share in Him. Keep us in Your love all the days of our lives. In Jesus’ name.