Recently I ate at a restaurant that offered a lunch buffet. Buffets appeal to many of us for two reasons. First, we choose only the food that interests us. We’re under no obligation to eat vegetables, quiche, fruit salad or anything dainty unless it interests us. And second, we’re allowed to eat as much as we want of anything that makes our mouths salivate – no need for moderation or restraint. In other words, nothing makes it onto the plate unless you like it; and if you do, then pile it on.
Many of us adopt a similar approach with the Christian faith, treating it as a spiritual buffet. We select Scripture and principles that appeal to us, and ignore those with which we disagree. Unfortunately, by establishing a faith foundation imbedded in only those biblical truths we find palatable and ignoring any we find difficult to digest, we create a personalized faith that often bears little resemblance to what Christ taught and God’s Word reveals.
Does God’s mercy interest you? Then add a helping to your faith. Yearn for Jesus’ forgiveness? Then incorporate that into your beliefs. Care for God to bless you? Take a double portion. Desire God’s love? Feast on as much as you need, since it never ends.
Incessant demand exists for this side of the faith buffet, which includes God’s grace, hope, joy, peace, and strength. No surprise we emphasize those elements of the Christian faith since they comfort, console, and even encourage us. And because each represents a gift from God, we can embrace them with confidence, knowing they represent God’s promise to every believer. For that we can be grateful.
Too often, however, our faith begins and ends with such gifts. Our spiritual palates never develop and we never dine on the other side of the faith buffet. We remain content feasting on spiritual benefits, ensconced in a view that implies the Christian faith is all about us. Meanwhile, we tend to ignore Scripture when it contradicts our plans, inconveniences us, or disrupts our lives. As a result, we frequently fail to integrate into our faith truths from the accountability and responsibility side of the spiritual buffet. In particular, Jesus’ instruction on discipleship often falls on deaf ears.
Let’s briefly examine one remarkably relevant passage in Scripture.
Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?’” (Matthew 16:24-25, NKJV).
In that brief passage Jesus provides a succinct definition of discipleship and reveals several important truths. It behooves us to study and unpack this powerful and compelling message, which not only aligns with what Christ consistently taught throughout His ministry but also challenges us to reconsider our understanding of what it means to follow Christ.
Many of us find Jesus’ words alarming. We want to embrace Jesus enough to secure salvation but have little interest in denying ourselves. And we certainly have no desire to lose our lives, substantively or metaphorically. So how could Jesus be so callous as to make such severe demands of us? How could He imply we are to set aside our agenda and adopt His in its place?
The passage is so unsettling that many of us choose to ignore it, explain it away (Jesus could not have possibly meant what His plain language suggests), dismiss it as legalistic (hey, we’re no longer under the law), or decide that Jesus’ counsel simply represents a recommendation not a command (therefore we are free to accept or reject it as the Spirit leads).
In the process, we redefine what it means to follow Jesus. We decide that embracing Christ involves little sacrifice, service, or surrender because those behaviors afflict our souls and sour our disposition. And since Jesus wants us filled to the full with His joy, He can’t possibly want us to pursue a lifestyle that leaves us miserable (you might be surprised how many churchgoers make that argument).
And yet, His words appear straightforward and his message unambiguous: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”
I encourage you not to ignore, dismiss, or compromise those words. To do so is to place your faith in peril. Instead, take time over the next couple days to meditate on the passage and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance as you consider the following questions:
- How is God calling you to deny yourself as His disciple?
- In what ways does He want you to lose your life for His sake?
- Are there areas in your life you have prioritized over your relationship with Jesus – and in effect exchanged your soul for?
As God begins to reveal the application of those verses for your life, you may find yourself heading in a decidedly different direction and experiencing a whole new level of trust and faith in the Lord. I can’t imagine anything more exciting.