“Grasping the Gospel” (In and Age of Discount Discipleship)

Part One: Losing Our Lives

October 23, 2018

Matthew 16:24-25 (NIV) “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.’”

When did we last hear that being a genuine disciple, a follower of Jesus … has anything to do with losing our lives? I thought it was about being free from condemnation for my sins? I thought it was about the abundant life? I thought it was about no longer fearing death. Isn’t it about “accepting Jesus” so we get to go to Heaven instead of Hell? Isn’t being a Christian “absolutely free” and no cost to us? We can’t earn our salvation so why this talk about losing our lives? Is that some kind of “works theology?” If faith is enough, as in Ephesians 2:8-9 … why can’t I hold onto my life and enjoy it and look forward to Heaven? And if this “losing my life” idea is important, why do I get the impression from most churches that it is not a concern? Good questions? I think so.

All those things a few lines above are true and wonderful. Forgiveness and abundance and Heaven. Of course. But again …we don’t hear much about losing our lives. Is it possible … that we really have not heard anything about that? This might get confusing. It might even challenge our certainties about what makes a great church a Christ-pleasing church. And what makes great preaching not just engaging and clever but Christ-centered? Hmm… again … is this idea popular: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” What does Jesus mean “lose his life for me?”

At this point, I want to offer a polite criticism about some approaches to church growth in many, not all, but many … modern churches. But first this statement is remarkably important to me: I am a Pastor by training who supports the local church and has served in several of them for forty years. I love the church! I believe whole-heartedly with the ancient maxim attributed to Cyprian in the fourth century: “He who would have God as his Father must have the church as his mother!” For the true disciple, the church is essential. But … what is the church supposed to do? What one thing did Jesus tell them they MUST do? Make disciples! Make disciples! That metric alone will be the measurement used by Jesus on judgment Day. He will ask: “Did your church make disciples?”

So…is the modern church, with all of its appeals, doing that? Consider this concern that I have … is the appeal of the church that it offers the opportunity to become a disciple? For what reason are people attracted to our churches? For the chance to “lose your life for Christ?” Really? I doubt it. I know that sounds sour and off-putting. I know it can be particularly obnoxious when people like me, who have retired from full-time pastoral ministry, even hint at any fault in today’s churches. Some may read this blog and simply blow me off as a pastoral Neanderthal crank. Perhaps. But consider this …

What do we read in the way of church advertisements lately?

Professional Music
Exciting Children’s Programs
Family Life Center with Gym and Climbing Wall
Marriage and Family Seminars
Plenty of Parking
Available Daycare
Life-Relevant Preaching
Free Music Lessons and …
A Great Coffee bar!

Well … those things are very nice. Really. And I guess they “bring people in.” Helps with church growth. But the first century church that exploded with massive crowds had none of them. No screens or climbing walls or even coffee? What did they have that drew people in? The Gospel! Not eclipsed by anything else. In fact, Paul and the other original church planters would not recognize much of what takes place on our Sundays. And apparently, those things were not needed to get the church started. But maybe that’s ok. Or … maybe it is not.

The real question is what are we saying to the lost? Think with me … are we inviting them to Christ who often spoke with very unappealing and troubling invitations? Or are we inviting them to church…which may not be the same thing? In short, do we go to church because we really like “our church” with all that it has to offer (see above.) Or do we go to church because we want to die to self and pick up our cross, etc.?

Imagine another church advertisement that says this:

Hear about the new life available in Christ
Learn how to put your sinful life to death
Ask the Holy Spirit to change your values about love, money, success and life
Every visitor will receive a cross to wear daily reminding them of their calling

I could go on. But …which church ad really appeals to you? To me? Let’s explore this idea that maybe we have discounted discipleship in the way we do evangelism. Perhaps the reason for so much sin in the church, worldliness and unforgiveness and sexual sin and shallowness is because we have not told them the whole story? Have we told them what Jesus wants? What his expectations are if we really come to him?

My colleague Pastor Winans from Cornerstone preached a sermon recently about the sin of pride. I thought “Good! When did we last speak of that?” I recalled that years ago, in a sermon, I mentioned a Puritan writer named John Owen and his book “The Mortification of Sin.” After the message someone gently asked me what that meant … “The mortification of sin?” I said “Ya’ know… putting sin to death in your Christian life.” Her response was something like “Really?” She seemed totally puzzled. And I thought “Well … that’s on me. I’ve preached to this person for twenty years, but this concept is completely unknown to her?! My bad?”

Let’s think about these things:

 Do we really want to follow Jesus to the Cross?
 Do we love our natural lives more than the Kingdom of God?
 Is it possible that genuine discipleship is first about dying and then about living?

Can we memorize Psalm 139: 23-24?

Next: A Story about Rembrandt

Blessings! Pastor Alberta


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7 responses to ““Grasping the Gospel” (In and Age of Discount Discipleship)

  1. Thank you Pastor Alberta. I appreciate your teachings. I hope you are enjoying your retirement.

  2. Marilyn N

    Ohmygosh, Pastor Alberta, you hit the nail on the head!! Many of today’s churches remind me of Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Our culture is addicted to being entertained, and many churches have bought into this reality by tailoring their services/programs/amenities to grow their numbers. The success of a church isn’t measured by the number of its members, but by the spiritual maturity of its members.

  3. tammy Coffey

    Thank you pastor Alberta.

  4. Sue Ellen

    I recently read one of Robert Schuller’s books. He tells of how he started his first church in a drive-in theater in California. Before the first Sunday, he went door-to-door inviting people to come to his church. What he discovered was a lot of “un-churched” people – people, some of whom – didn’t even know what the Old Testament was. He gave them a dyed in the wool Calvinistic sermon – just as he had been taught. Guess what? They didn’t come back. He realized that, if he was going to reach people, he had to give them hope – and the rest is history. Yes, some churches have gotten ridiculous with all of their amenities and you have to wonder what the focus really is. Certainly, they need to see the whole picture – becoming disciples & losing your life for Christ, etc. But it doesn’t need to be delivered with a heavy hand. Following Christ should be a privilege not a burden. At least that’s how I see it. Hope for a better life because you HAVE – or are getting – what he has offered you. I suppose being a Preacher is like walking a tight rope. How to bring Conviction & Hope all at once. Carry on – I love this blog!

  5. dona

    I agree the body of believers, individually and corporately should incorporate worship, edification,and evangelism. Sometimes it seems to me though, as important as evangelism is, that the whole truth of God’s Word isn’t emphasized equally. Granted, the Bible is an inexhaustible quest. If I may, I also wanted to ask a question from Rev,3:8-10

    7 “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:

    These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.

    What do “deeds” mean? (more than “kept my word and not denied my name”?)
    Should the Church be emulating the Philadelphia church?
    Thank you for your blogs…God bless!

  6. Brenda Rill

    Thank you so much for starting this series on discipleship!

  7. Nancy Sallow

    Right On Paster Alberta! I go to learn about the gospel. I belong to Friendship Baptist Church in Allen,TX. Its a small congregation of believers.
    I hope to see ya’ll in December. Stay well.
    Blessings in Christ,
    Nancy Sallow

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