The gospel life isn’t an easy life. Nowhere in the scriptures do we read, “Come and follow me and you’ll be healthy, wealthy, untouched by suffering, and experience great prosperity.” Yes, we find aspects of God’s loving gifts bestowed on the righteous, but these are temporal acts of grace given to us to experience some sense of the wonderful eternal life awaiting all who believe in him. Everything in this life is temporal, even the blessings we receive. Their main purpose is to guide us toward the greater blessings of heaven. In a sense you might say the good we experience in this life is a “sacramental” encounter with the grace of the next. A life dedicated to living gospel virtues is actually a life of discipline, sacrifice, and psychological discomfort.
If we really look at what it means to follow Christ we find it’s a life dedicated to choosing love when doing so is one of the most difficult choices we can make. It means forgiving some of the most hurtful things you can experience. It means turning the other cheek when someone is intent on hurting you, and it means forgiving your enemies. It’s a life of love lived out in every place and situation you occupy. To follow Christ means to live selflessly in a world that values selfishness. Our life is spent in a way that allows others to thrive. We lay our lives down for others in an effort to allow them to flourish. It is indeed a life of selfless sacrifice for the kingdom of God. Living a gospel life means taking scripture so seriously that it challenges us and makes us rethink our beliefs and biases. We shouldn’t just walk away from reading the bible comforted, there are times reading it should make us shake in our boots! Being convicted of the greatness and powerfulness of God should make us tremble at the presence of the one who directs all of creation. When Christ speaks and says, “Follow me” we should be struck to the ground recognizing that the great God of heaven and earth has just personally called us to be his disciples. When he tells us, “Love your enemy” or “Forgive your brother seventy times seven” we should take that seriously and stop making excuses for why we shouldn’t do that! We should feel an internal tension between what our natural selves want to do (i.e. destroy our enemies, seek revenge, and be self-indulgent, etc.) and what the life of grace demands. We can’t be too comfortable with how we live the gospel life, it should always be challenging us and taking us to another level of spiritual growth. Indifference and comfort with the status quo are killing the spiritual life of the church today. In fact, the gospel life should mark us just as the nails and scars found in Christ’s crucifixion marked his resurrected body. Paul reminds us of the need to have the visible marks of the Christian life evident in us when he writes to the Galatians saying:
“From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” – Galatians 6:17
With all this talk of suffering, selflessness, and discipline, one might think, “Who in the world would embrace such a life? Certainly it isn’t worth it!” Yet, the great spiritual paradox is when we live this way, when we boast in nothing but the cross and embrace him crucified we find rest, peace, and even joy! The more we pour out our lives for others and live in a manner Christ taught, the more life we have abundantly. Christ reminds us of this when he tells us:
“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. “ – Matt 11:28-30
If you’re not embracing a life of Christian discipleship and virtue because you believe it’s too intimidating, burdensome, and keeps you from experiencing true enjoyment, be courageous. Be courageous and embrace a life of love and walk with Christ. What you believe you’re losing by embracing this Christian life is the very thing you’re gaining. What you believe will burden you with pain and restriction will only give you joy and freedom. Become people who radically embrace the Christian life and find your true meaning and purpose in the love you pour out for others.