Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not preach a popular message; he demonstrated how the Gospel called for racial reconciliation and was a proponent of civil rights for African Americans in an age when racism was rampant in our country. Francis Chan feels a similar angst - the desire to warn people against "easy believism" and to tell them the truth about the cost of following Christ in an age where preaching the Gospel in its entirety is thoroughly unpopular. Martin Luther King lost his life for the sake of his cause - are you and I willing to do the same as followers of Jesus Christ?
Francis Chan is an elder at Abundant Life Christian Church in Mountain View, California, and addressed the church last weekend with a sermon entitled "The Cost of Discipleship." Chan, who does not usually beat around the bush in his preaching, prays for the courage to share the Gospel in a culture where it has become rather unpopular - "We can lose [courage] when we want to be accepted by people," he says. He quotes Jesus in Matthew 10:28 as his motivation - "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him Who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (English Standard Version).
Chan has been reflecting on his first years of preaching, when he most unashamedly taught the word of God without worrying about what people thought of him. He remembers one sermon which was bold enough to cause him to question whether anyone might return the following Sunday. "You preach the Gospel and just let the chips fall where they may," he says.
In Paul's letter to Timothy, the Apostle warned that people in the last days would prefer to hear about things that suited their interests - things like health and wealth - rather than sound doctrine (see 2 Timothy 4:3). Knowing this, but fearing the One Who made him more, Chan prayed about what the Lord would have him say to the church. "God, make me afraid of nothing," he pleaded, desiring to be concerned about the Lord's heart above his own reputation.
His message to the church is lovingly confrontational: "I am deeply concerned that even though you are sitting in a church building, that some of you one day will go to hell, to be tormented day and night forever and ever," Chan says - "And by the time you figure it out, it will be too late."
"We're all going to stand before this God, and He's going to say one of two things ... either 'Well done, good and faithful servant,' ... or 'Depart from Me, I never knew you,'" says Chan, referring to Matthew 25:23 and Matthew 7:21-23 - "That terrifies me."
Jesus said that those who are truly His disciples will do His commands, rather than merely call Him their Lord. In a day and age where preachers focus predominantly on God's love and often don't like to use the word "hell," Chan feels that it is more loving to warn people about the potential fate of their soul rather than worry about offending them. "I'm not saying He's not a loving God, I'm just saying [that] there are other parts of Him. He's also a God of justice. He's a God of wrath," Chan says, highlighting God's burning anger toward sin in the great flood of Noah's day and in the tenth plague of the Exodus, for example. Chan joked that people who think that God's personality has changed since Christ's coming ought to read the book of Revelation - "He is the same yesterday, today, and forever," he says.
Chan notes that nowhere in the Bible will you find people praying a prayer to accept Jesus as their Savior; instead, you see several warnings to repent - to turn from your sin and to follow Him as Lord of your life. Although we might desperately want our loved ones to accept Christ, we cannot truly lead someone to Him by hiding the cost of discipleship. John 3:36 says, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him" (emphasis mine).
Many people meet with a church on Sundays and rely on their pastor's teachings rather than investigate the Bible itself. Chan encourages everyone to read the words of Jesus themselves in order to see His true character, rather than have their opinion of Who Jesus is be shaped by a preacher. "Stop listening to everyone else and get alone with the Word of God and just read it. Read it for yourself ... your eternity depends on it, and you're not even going to read it?" he asks with an incredulous tone.
Jesus was undeniably popular in His day, but He wasn't one to try to draw crowds; in fact, He did quite the opposite - He weeded people out whenever a crowd gathered about Him (see John 6:24-66). "When we see a crowd, we want to keep the crowd. When Jesus sees a crowd, He's skeptical and goes, 'Are you sure you guys are following the right guy? Because if you want to follow Me, you've got to put Me so far above everyone [else] ... Do you understand what a great treasure I am? Those who get it, they'll be willing with great joy to sell everything they have and follow Me,'" Chan says, referring to Matthew 13:44.
In Luke 14:27, Jesus said, "Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple." Chan believes we are meant to take this statement literally - would we be willing to grab a cross, follow Christ, and be crucified next to Him on Calvary?
In that same passage, Jesus gives several parables about the cost of discipleship. Who, for instance, would build a tower (or a downtown office building, for instance) without first evaluating the cost to complete it? We need to carefully weigh the cost of following Him before giving Him our allegiance. If we aren't willing to lay everything down at His feet, we will be like a fool who builds half of a building and quits once he realizes how difficult it will be.
When people begin to follow Jesus because they think that He will bless their lives, they will likely stop following Him when a loved one's health fails, or if they don't succeed in business, or if their child goes astray. "Jesus was honest with people," Chan says - "'Actually, your life is going to get more difficult ... follow Me and you might not have anywhere to sleep' ... Does that sound like a prosperity gospel?"
Jesus goes on to say in Luke 14:34-35 that salt which has lost its taste is worthless; even manure, which can be useful for fertilizer, would be ruined by its presence. How foolish it is for some preachers to behave as if tasteless salt - or a false convert to Christ - is valuable; such men care more for their churches to grow numerically than they do about leading people to life in Christ.
For those who are willing to take up their cross and follow Him, Jesus promises abundant life (see John 10:10). He Who has paid for our redemption by His blood will give us the strength to follow Him and will empower us to triumph through the suffering endured for the sake of His name (see John 16:33).
"'I'm going to die for you. I will love you like no one has ever loved you, and I will be your Shepherd ... for all of eternity,'" Chan says of Christ's offer of salvation - "If you want to follow Me, I'll give you the power to do it. I'll put My Spirit in you; He'll give you a new nature. He'll change you from the inside out. You can put to death the deeds of your flesh - but you've got to turn. You've got to pick up your cross - deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Me.'"