TOPC TOPiCs: The Cost of Discipleship

I am a recovering addict. I am not addicted to alcohol; I am not addicted to drugs; I am not addicted to pornography. I am addicted to people and to their opinions. I am, in short, a life-long, dyed-in-the-wool people pleaser. Conflict ruins me, and I have traditionally avoided it at every turn. I have therefore spent much of my life trying to be agreeable, promoting harmony in all my relationships. Confrontation still makes my heart race and my palms sweat, but I am learning to deal biblically with my addiction, and to repent of it. Maybe you can relate.

Given my addiction, it is hard for me to be disliked, or to know that I have offended someone. This penchant for people pleasing tends to put me out of sorts with my own profession of faith, for the Scripture teaches that if I want to follow Christ, I must become comfortable with the interpersonal conflict that will inevitably arise if I actually take a stand for that which the Bible plainly teaches. Hebrews 13:13 calls this conflict the “reproach” of Christ, and it encourages Christians to bear that reproach along with Him, willingly enduring the same sort of scorn and rejection that Christ endured for us, for by that reproach He purchased us for a heavenly city and an eternal kingdom (Hebrews 12:18-24).

Until very recently, the average Christian in America has paid a very small cost for his or her discipleship. The world might have thought that I was silly for believing in Jesus’ resurrection; it might have disagreed with my take on the rights of the unborn; it may have believed that I was old-fashioned, but it did not believe that I was immoral and dangerous. Now it does. I am immoral because I refuse to agree that sexual freedom is a basic human right and that tolerance of sin is the new moral standard. I am dangerous because the Bible is seen to be misogynistic, sexist, backward, and repressive—the Christian equivalent of Muslim Sharia Law—and those who believe it are perceived to be a threat to basic human dignity. The cost of discipleship is therefore rising. Hold that thought . . .

The Bible teaches that human beings are created male and female (Genesis 1:26-27) and that marriage, as God authored and defined it, is limited to the union of one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24-25; Matthew 19:1-6). Far from being fueled by prejudice or hatred, those conclusions proceed from close, exegetical and historical study of the Scripture, which has produced a hard theological consensus among Jews and Christians of every theological stripe from the time of Moses until the last decade or two. That’s 3500 years of consensus.

Even prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, however, a growing segment of the evangelical church—men and women who self-identify as Bible-believing Christians—began to reject this consensus in favor of affirming homosexual relationships and the concomitant push for “marriage equality.” Maybe that’s you. Sometimes referred to as the “evangelical left,” this group has not rejected the church’s historical teaching on gender, marriage, and homosexuality because of close, exegetical and historical study. Despite a recent spate of popular books and articles, the evangelical left has not offered new historical information. It has not exposed prior interpretive errors. It has not demonstrated that the church has been wrong since the time of Moses. It has, instead, simply assertedthat committed homosexual relationships are beautiful in God’s eyes, that ancient cultures did not understand such relationships, that biblical injunctions forbidding homosexuality were aimed only at prostitution and one-night-stands, and that marriage is a fundamental human right, subject to redefinition as cultural moods dictate. None of which is true simply because it is asserted.

If biblical and theological data have not driven this shift in evangelical attitudes, then what has? After all, Bible-believing Christians in Africa, Latin America, and Asia have not moved from the theological consensus of prior generations, and have not seen any compelling biblical or exegetical reason to do so. Why then are western churches shifting?

Could it be that we simply refuse to bear the reproach of Christ, but instead are addicted to being liked? Might it be the case that as unrepentant people-pleasers, we want to love the Lord and be loved by the world at the same time? Jesus was emphatic about the type of devotion He requires. In Matthew 10:34-38 He said:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Jesus expects that your devotion to Him will put you into conflict with the world, and even with your own family members who refuse Him. That is why Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:12, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” We cannot hope both to please Jesus and to be acceptable and inoffensive in the eyes of the world. The Gospel is a scandal (1 Corinthians 1:18-25) and a stumbling stone (1 Peter 2:7-8) and a rock of offense (Romans 9:33).

This is the simple truth: The world hated Jesus. If you stand for Him, it will eventually hate you too. Jesus said as much in John 15:18. “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you.” The chilling antithesis to this truth is stated in verse 19: “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own.” Many who belong to the world are cheering the evangelical left specifically because their rainbow-covered profile pictures on Facebook testify to the world where their allegiance truly resides, and the world loves them for it.

The evangelical left is not, however, being intellectually honest about the motivations that have driven their theological shifts. I have great respect for those who acknowledge that the Bible plainly teaches that homosexual practice is sin, and that marriage is a divinely ordained, one man-one woman institution, and who live accordingly. I also have great respect for those who acknowledge that the Bible plainly teaches that homosexual practice is sin, and that marriage is a divinely ordained, one man-one woman institution, and who reject it. Both are intellectually honest positions. The evangelical left, however, has chosen to chart a course that is intellectually and biblically indefensible, but refuses to admit as much.

The world will accept no half-measures, and a man cannot serve two masters. I will either pay the cost of discipleship and bear the reproach of Christ, or I will seek favor in the eyes of the very world that has rejected Christ. There is no in-between. The evangelical left will soon find that it must either choose the Church or the world. We all must.

I confess that I still struggle with my addiction. Maybe you do too. If so, I encourage you to take up your cross—with all that means—and follow Jesus. The same Lord who authored your salvation authored your morality. You cannot accept the former while rejecting the latter (Romans 6:1-2; 15-16). Will the world scorn you for standing with Christ? Yes. Will it call you a “hater?” Yes. Will it cost you some friendships? Of course. But in the end, remember what Jesus said in Matthew 10:32-33.

Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

Stand for something. Stand for Christ, whatever the cost. 
Russell St. John is the Senior Pastor of Twin Oaks Presbyterian Church.  You can read more at Russ' Blog, TOPC TOPics.