Give up everything you have

“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”

Luke 14:33

How are we to understand this passage? First, note that Jesus is talking about discipleship, not salvation. Salvation is being saved from sin and evil, it is deliverance from destruction. A disciple is a convinced adherent of Jesus Christ, who accepts and assists in spreading his doctrines (the definitions are from the Merriam-Webster dictionary). The difference is that you might be able to enter heaven (salvation) without becoming a disciple of Christ. More on that later.

Our churches today preach a great deal about salvation. How many times have you been asked if you are saved? If you are born again? If you died today, are you 100% sure that you’d go to heaven? We’re told to pray the Sinner’s Prayer:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name, Amen.

That’s it?! That’s all we have to do, pray a prayer, and then we’re saved? Let’s see what Jesus said, at the end of Matthew:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Oh, we’re supposed to make disciples, see? Nothing about salvation, per se. And what next? “Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

A lot of churches don’t want to hear this message. They tell us that we’re saved by grace, and anything that smacks of obedience to some set of teachings is dismissed as a gospel of works. We’re told that we can’t work our way into heaven (true), but that runs up against what Jesus taught in Matthew 28. We’re to make disciples, and teach them to obey him. Presumably, that starts with obeying him ourselves!

See, a disciple is someone who has turned his entire life over to Jesus Christ. It isn’t some minimalist conversion done to achieve salvation. It’s about seeking to obey God in every action, every word, every minute of every day, even though we’re sinners and can never perfectly achieve this (that’s where the grace comes in). What does this require?

“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”

Notice what he did not say. He didn’t say that those of you who have sex before you are married cannot be my disciples. He didn’t say that those of you who don’t pray every day cannot be my disciples. He didn’t say that those of you who don’t give 10% to the church cannot be my disciple. He did say that you have to give up everything you have.

Now, I’m not saying that those other things aren’t important. I’m just noting that in this passage, Jesus fingers a single important qualification for discipleship, and that’s to give up everything you have.

Can you have sex before you’re married and be a disciple? Maybe, but you might be missing the point. Marriage isn’t about getting permission from God to have sex. If you haven’t given everything to God, and this includes your sex life, then you’ve probably found someone you want to have sex with, decided that you want to marry him or her, and are now seeking sanctification from God in the form of a marriage ceremony. That’s not how a disciple operates. You’re supposed to be asking him who he wants you to be with before you even meet them.

Can you be a disciple without praying every day? Well, maybe at first, but by the time you’ve seen the results of sloppy discipleship, discipleship where we only turn part of our lives over to Christ, discipleship where we only obey some of his teachings, some of the time, after you’ve experienced that kind of “discipleship” for a while, and seen its consequences… you’ll be praying to him, every day, trust me!

Can you be a disciple without giving 10% of your income to the church? Well, let’s see, that might imply that you can keep the other 90% for yourself, right?

Many Christians don’t want to hear about discipleship because they’d rather have what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace”:

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession… Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

The Cost of Discipleship

For Bonhoeffer, the cost of discipleship was everything he had. He was executed by the Nazis near the end of World War II.

Another unpopular teaching is Luke 12:

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”

Sell your possessions, and give to the poor! See how we edit the Gospel? We don’t want to hear that! Sounds like a religion of works, right? And we’re told so often that we don’t have to do anything, that we just have to believe, that we can’t earn our way into heaven, that these teachings were just for a rich young man… Let’s read the entire passage in Luke 12:

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

See, no rich young man. Just a radical teaching for his disciples. Remember, we’re to “obey everything I have commanded you”.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18)

Why is the Gospel foolishness to those who are perishing? Take Luke 6:30: “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” Most people read that, say to themselves, “that’s crazy talk”, and go do something else. We cling to our wordly possessions, give some, but no more, and if somebody steals our car, we call the police. Strict obediance to the gospel is seen as foolishness.

Futhermore, there’s an obvious problem – if we sell our possessions, give the money to the poor, give to anyone who asks, well, we’ll soon have nothing, and then how will we eat? Where will we sleep? We live in a world which will do next to nothing for people with no money, and tells us constantly that we have to work for money, even though Jesus told us that “You can not serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

In short, we will be persecuted.

Yet this is just what Jesus told us would happen. He told us that most people are going to destruction (Matthew 6:13-14), that disciples are hated (John 15:18-20), and that we will have peace, but in this world we will have trouble (John 16:33).

We’d prefer to hear a Gospel of cheap grace. That we can give some, but no more, take care of ourselves financially, and live comfortable lives free from persecution. The result is sloppy discipleship, partial obedience, indifference to others, fear of losing what we’ve got, and a distorted worldview where we confuse sin with freedom and self-reliance with reliance on God.

Let me close with some of my personal experiences, not to present myself as some kind of “super-disciple”, but to clearly illustrate how discipleship plays out in modern day life.

A few weeks ago I received a $300 gift from the parents of a student whom I was tutoring for free. It was the most significant amount of cash I had seen in about six months. Two of those three hundred dollar bills were gifted within hours to others, $100 to a man at church with a broken pair of eyeglasses, and another $100 to a different student of mine who was broke and wondering how to put gas in his truck. In both cases, I had prayed and felt that gifting the money was the right thing to do. I can also tell you that I’ve given people $5 bills and felt immediately convicted by the Spirit that it wasn’t the right thing to do, though I do believe that if someone actually asks, Luke 6:30 basically obligates me to give (it’s a commandment from God), although I will pray about each individual situation.

Although I accept cash gifts as I just described, I do all of my work for free, and pray constantly for his guidance to know just what work he’d have me do. I won’t stand behind a cash register at a store, because that implies that I won’t feed or serve people who don’t have money, and I won’t accept that kind of moral compromise in my life. On the other hand, I have often helped sweep and mop the floor at the Downtown Soup Kitchen; we should not refuse menial labor just because we’re not “called” to it by God, though in a sense I do feel called to it by God, as I’m supporting a ministry that feeds the poor. I have a college degree in Mathematics and know a dozen computer programming languages, yet all of the software that I write is published for free on the Internet. Likewise, if I hold back an essay or sermon that I’ve written, it’s because I don’t feel it’s ready or appropriate for publication; there’s no part of my writings that are done for profit while some are offered for free.

I usually sleep quite comfortably in a tent, but finding a place to put it is difficult. The “homeless problem” is the product of a society where there is no free, legal camping almost anywhere. If you don’t have the money to pay rent or a mortage, your existance is basically illegal. I’ve asked for permission to camp from property owners who seem to have no current use for their land, and been denied for apparently no other reason than to get rid of the homeless. I’ve finally accepted that almost anywhere I put up a tent to sleep, I live under threat of confiscation and eviction, and I pray to God to guide me to peaceful campsites where I can leave a tent up and sleep at night without being bothered. Theft is also a prayer concern.

I pray almost every day for food, and instead of relying on myself, I try to rely on him who fed five thousand. He’s fed me by doing work for free, he’s fed me at church dinners and rescue missions, he’s fed me out of trash cans, he’s fed me begging from door to door. The key is to pray for his guidance, pray for his work, pray for his provision, and then do exactly what he leads you to do. If he can’t get you to beg door to door (and what wonderful opportunities for ministry this can open up), then he’ll never get you to lay hands on a cripple and heal him. It’s not easy, but it’s straightforward.

People sometimes suggest that I get a job. When I was younger I would react with anger, but now I just remind myself that most of these people are disobedient to God, deceived both by Satan and a church that preaches cheap grace, and that it’s just another opportunity for evangelism. I usually point out that 90% of these jobs are immoral, because you won’t serve people without money, and that I try every day to do the work of God, whether it’s writing a computer program, tutoring a math student, or leading a political demonstration.

This treatment is dished out to break the individual and force him to work for money. Many of us know in our conscience that it’s wrong, that there’s other work we’d rather be doing, but we’re afraid of persecution. We’re afraid of being put homeless on the streets. We’re afraid of being hungry and cold. We’re embarassed at being called lazy. We need some possessions (like a laptop) in order to work. “Do not be afraid, little flock” is an easy verse to read and one of the hardest to live in practice.

So do you need to live like this to get into heaven? Is discipleship a requirement for salvation?

I don’t know, and in a real sense, I don’t care. I’m not doing this to get myself into heaven, though I admit that I certainly don’t want to go to hell! I’ve chosen to be a disciple of Christ because I believe that he’s the Messiah, the Son of God. He taught us to live in a certain way, a way that’s pleasing to God, and that’s enough for me. I’m not interested in watering the Gospel down to find some subset of it that will get me into heaven while avoiding persecution here on Earth. I’m trying to do exactly what Jesus taught, and live just the way God wants, because I believe that he’s pure and holy, and that his way, with no compromises, is always best.

I encourage you to do the same!

Enter through the narrow gate

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Matthew 7:13-14

How are we to understand this passage? It certainly doesn’t read as a ringing endorsement of democracy! Indeed, the Bible warns us to be wary of populist thinking, and indicates that most people in this world are headed for destruction.

Why? Simply put, sin. The majority of people want money and sex, and are defiant of God. Nothing could better illustrate this than the world in which we live. We’ve developed a system of government that puts the majority of people in power, and the result is a society led by people who preach that self-interest drives human progress forward, committed to breaking the individual and forcing him to work for money, persecuting the most devout followers of Christ, and telling us constantly that we have freedom because a man can dress up like a woman and walk into the ladies’ bathroom!

Maybe this sounds unbelievable. After all, don’t we have freedom? In a manner of speaking, we do, but consider what Jesus taught. He told us to sell our worldly possessions and give the money to the poor (Luke 12:33), that anyone who does not give up all his worldly possessions can not be his disciple (Luke 14:33), and that we are to give to anyone who asks (Luke 6:30). If you do this, you’ll end up homeless and destitute, and we can look at the homeless to see what kind of “freedom” we have.

The church is even more of a problem than the government, because it preaches that we simply don’t have to live in the way that Jesus commanded. This theology has been a long time coming. As early as the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, the church was relaxing Jesus’s teachings to make them less burdensome. By medieval times, the church had cleanly segmented itself into those who renounced worldly possessions (the monks) and those who did not (the average churchgoer). The Protestant reformation dealt a further blow to discipleship because the protestants saw little need for monasticism, and the Catholics turned their religious orders into the vanguard of counter-reformation. Today, a protestant monk has only limited support from either protestant or Catholic churches, but there is a silver lining to this cloud. We’re not supposed to be dependant on a religious order. We’re supposed to be dependant on God.

Our churches today are full of people who defy the gospel, and our pulpits are full of ministers who preach that we don’t have to obey Christ. All we have to do is believe in him, and trust in his finished work on the cross. We don’t have to do what he teaches; that would be a religion of works, and we’re saved by grace!

What we need instead is a church that teaches us to be doers of the word and not merely hearers of it, and this includes the hard teachings as well as the easy ones. We’re supposed to be disciples, we’re supposed to sell our worldly possessions and give to the poor, we’re supposed to give to anyone who asks. A disciple has no business standing behind a cash register and refusing to feed people who don’t have money. If you won’t give in to this, you are thrown away homeless in an attempt to break you and force you to work for our immoral capitalist leadership that rejects Christ.

And democracy? It’s based on the premise that a group of people who are defiant of God have the right to rule the world because… there’s more of them. Nobody has this right. There is no group of people, no king, no emperor, no proletariat, no Aryan race, and no majority, who simply has the right to rule over everyone else. Only God has that legitimate authority.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are benefits to living in the United States. The worst persecution I’ve personally experienced is poverty, and while the hardships associated with it are real, I’ll take my tent in a homeless camp over a prison cell any day. My website might not be on the live feed at CNN, but it’s not censured. I’ve been trespassed off property whose owners don’t want to hear me speaking, but I can hold a sign in a public park or on a sidewalk unmolested by the police. The most serious legal trouble I’ve been in was a misdemeanour trespassing charge related to a political demonstration, and the outcome was a six month prison sentence and a $3,000 fine, all suspended. If this had happened in China, I suspect that I would have served years in a prison camp.

Yet while celebrating the freedoms that we enjoy, we must not forget some difficult truths. In order for democracy to be what it claims to be, whole swaths of the New Testament have to be wrong. The verse I started with, “…broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it” has to be wrong. The economic teachings, that you can not serve both God and money, they have to be wrong. The sexual teachings, of course, have to be wrong. All the stuff about disciples being persecuted and hated by the world must be wrong. Nothing in the book of Revelation suggests that mankind will one day develop a system of government that produces peace, freedom, and opportunity. To the contrary, all man-made political systems in Revelation are presented as beasts who deceive and enslave, and only the return of Jesus Christ for a millennial reign will produce a righteous government. This too, must be wrong.

Do we live in these end times? I’m not certain, but if so, Jesus told us in Matthew 24 that it will be characterised by persecution of the faithful, that disciples will be “hated by all nations because of me” (Matthew 24:9), and that the gospel will be preached to the whole world (Matthew 24:11). Pay special attention to that last part. The proper response to wickedness, in any age, is not acquiescence, not violence, not despair, but standing firm and preaching the gospel.

So let’s reject the false choices before us! We’re not to live like the majority, who chase after money and sex, but rather in obedience to God, even though that means persecution. We’re not to blow up airplanes and shoot up movie theaters like the Muslims, but rather pray for our persecutors and respect authority, even if it is wicked. Respecting authority does not mean silence, however, witness how Jesus interacted with the Pharisees. We need to preach the Gospel without watering it down, without getting angry, but with conviction and power.

Where does that power come from? Ideally, from the Holy Spirit. I’ve learned over the years is that if you obey Christ, you’ll be reduced to poverty and that seems, in this world, to be a recipe for total ineffectiveness. The main asset you’ve got is the Holy Spirit, and it’s a powerful, nay overwhelming, force that pervades the life of a disciple. It’s the Spirit that feeds us, that guides us, that makes our witness effective.

Yet “God is not to be mocked” (Galatians 6:4), and the Holy Spirit is not a wimp! Since we’re preaching unpopular truths, obedience to God will often bring us into conflict with people in this world. Remember how Jesus was treated! Remember that Peter and John were flogged for their preaching (Acts 5), yet refused to obey the Sanhedrin’s order to remain silent, telling them that “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29).

One of the pivotal experiences in my life was the political opposition Occupy, and it was the Holy Spirit that led me into it! I didn’t handle the situation very well, because I ignored the Spirit’s guidance and put myself into a situation where I let atheists dominate the movement, but that’s a story for a different essay (How Occupy Lost). The point I’m making now is that God led me into a situation where I was standing in opposition to established authority, and this is by no means unusual!

Moses stood in opposition to Pharaoh. Elijah stood in opposition to Ahab. Jeremiah was nearly starved to death because of his opposition to King Zedekiah. A common pattern here is that the prophets are primarily to speak, while plagues, fire from heaven, and conquering armies are the province of God. In other words, we’re to preach the Gospel, and warn people of their sins, but leave the punishment to God, and remember that our principle reward comes not in this life, but in the next.

Ezekiel, for example, was led by God to protest and prophesy against Jerusalem in a bizarre and specific way (Ezekiel 4 and 5). He drew a map of Jerusalem on a clay tablet, then erected model siege works on the tablet, and placed an iron pan between him and the model city, to symbolise God’s rejection of Israel. He then laid on his left side for 390 days to bear the sin of Israel, and then laid on his right side for 40 days to bear the sin of Judah. He prepared food for himself to eat during this protest and was to bake it over human excrement to symbolise the defilement of Israel, though God relaxed this requirement. At the end of his protest, he cut his hair and burned a third of it inside the city, indicating that a third of the people would die there by famine or disease, struck another third of his hair with a sword, to indicate that another third would die in that manner, and then scattered the remaining third to the wind, pursuing it with a drawn sword, showing that the last third of the people would be scattered among other nations, but preserved a few strands of hair and burnt it in the fire, indicating that a remnant would be saved, and that from them a fire would spread to all of Israel!

What a bizarre sight Ezekiel must have been, carrying on in this manner for over a year! Imagine what kinds of looks he must have received from passers-by, as he lay there on his side, next to the clay tablet! Of course he explained it all to them, probably dozens of times a day. How trying on the prophet, to undertake such a long protest! Yet to be effective, it had to be done, and in exactly the manner directed by God.

So, holding a sign by the side of the road, or staging a sit-in in a public park, is nothing compared to some of the efforts to which God has led his prophets in the past. The big question is whether God is in the lead, or whether our actions stem from our own anger, however well justified, at the wickedness we see all around us.

There’s really no substitute here for discipleship, a life-long commitment to putting God completely in charge of your life. It may take twenty years of near total dependence on him for matters as simple as what to eat, where to live, what work to do, how to travel, who to talk to, what to say, before you reach a point where you can discern the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I can offer some guidelines on prayer, fasting, Bible study, and worship. I can describe guidance I’ve received through dreams and prophetic visions. I can tell you about miraculous provisioning that confirms a course of action. None of these, however, can substitute for a lifetime spent in obedience to God. That’s how you really learn to discern his will.

It’s for this reason, I think, that Jesus told us to “sell your possessions and give to the poor” (Luke 12:33). It’s so easy to become self-reliant, to work for money that lets us feed ourselves, lets us rent a house or apartment, lets us provide for all the necessities of life and so many luxuries. Then we become sloppy disciples where the consequences of disobedience are no more than a few brief pangs of conscience. It’s better to live on the brink of hunger, of cold, of pain, because then the consequences of disobedience become real.

Let me illustrate with an example. Several years ago, I did a long fast in the mountains above Anchorage; I went 47 days without food. On day 48, I walked down (slowly), and took a bus to my regular Saturday Bible study. Our leader helped me break my fast by feeding me yogurt, and later took me to a supermarket for a visit to its salad bar. One of the men in the Bible study invited me over to his house, offering me a shower, a bed, and laundry. I declined, because I wanted to return to my own campsite, even though I hadn’t been there in a month and a half. What I found when I arrived was that the tent had been opened, there were several inches of cold water inside, and all the bedding material was sopping wet. I spent a miserable night in forty degree weather, getting no sleep, and had no money to even consider taking a cab to a motel. How many times had I seen this pattern before? When charity is offered, you should generally accept it, or at least pray about it, because often God provides for us through other people. Hopefully, that cold, miserable night will never pass out of my memory, and I pray to God now to remind of it on any future occasion when I’m about to decline an offer that he’s responsible for extending!

There’s really no other way to become a disciple. You have to live it.

This is precisely the kind of lifestyle that will never be embraced by the majority of people. They won’t obey God, because obeying him means becoming dependant on him. They want to be dependent on themselves, in the mistaken belief that men can manage their lives without him. They’ll go chasing off after some depraved philosophy like Marxism or capitalism, in the deluded belief that it “works” in the “real world” because it’s godless and cynical. Millions of people buy into these deceptions, crowing on about how modern and scientific these ideas are, that self-interest drives human progress forward, that all these people trying to make money, that’s what gives us computers and cell phones, supermarkets and fancy restaurants, air travel and beach resorts. The next great invention is just around the corner, they say, being dreamed up by genius entrepreneurs hoping to take their company public in a few years and become billionaires. Jesus told us two thousand years ago where this kind of “progress” is actually leading.

“If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.”

(Matthew 24:22)

This is where human progress is leading. Men have convinced themselves that they don’t need God, that he can be relegated to a Sunday morning exercise, that we can pray to him and worship him, but we don’t really need him in charge of our businesses, schools, and governments. Christ’s most devout followers are rejected and persecuted, while the rich are elevated as leaders, and the church preaches part-time Christianity. All this is done in the name of “freedom”, and is justified with elections. It’s what the majority of people want, and there’s only one place that this leads – the d estruction of all human life on this planet.