This article is part of the Help! series.
Jesus Is a Giver
Following Jesus is costly. It entails more than being a nice person, going to church on Sunday, and refraining from foul language. Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24–25). The cross was a symbol of death, so to take up a cross means to surrender your very life to follow Jesus. True discipleship encompasses everything—our affections and ambitions, habits and choices, thoughts and actions. We can’t hold anything back.
But there’s something important we need to remember, or else our idea of discipleship will take the form of monk-like self-denial and drudgery. While Jesus commands us to take up our cross, he also said he came that we might have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Jesus is a giver, not a taker. He calls us to die so that we can live, to empty ourselves so that he can fill us. Before we wonder whether or not we’re doing enough for Christ, we need to ask a better question: Are we abiding in Christ and finding him to be enough?
Abide before You Act
Jesus came to save us from the penalty for our sins, and the good news doesn’t end there. He’s not content to be a distant savior or remote redeemer. Jesus wants to be known. Though he is the sovereign Lord and reigning King, he’s also our friend and brother. Marvel at that for a moment—Jesus doesn’t just want our submission, he wants our friendship! He calls us to abide in relationship with him. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me . . . As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love” (John 15: 4, 9).
We could never follow—let alone “abide in”—someone we don’t know, so he has spoken to us and revealed himself through his word. He wants us to see the tenderness of his love for us, the magnitude of his mercy on us, the abundance of his grace to us. He’s given us the gift of his Spirit so that these realities sink into the marrow of our souls. The height and depth of his great love isn’t something to be known only on an intellectual level, it’s something to experience and enjoy in real life.
For the Christian, our most important question isn’t whether we’re doing enough for Christ, but whether we’re resting in what Christ has already done for us. The more we abide in him—enjoying the peace, love, and joy he freely gives—the more we will bear fruit and grow into his likeness. Abiding precedes and leads to obedience.
Christ paid the greatest price to save us. He humbled himself by becoming a lowly man who was misunderstood by his own family and despised by his own community. He was mocked, flogged, and hung on a cross, where he endured the wrath of God in our stead. He’s exchanged our guilt for his own righteousness. Such radical love calls for radical obedience.
For the Christian, our most important question isn’t whether we’re doing enough for Christ, but whether we’re resting in what Christ has already done for us.
However, it’s important that we don’t narrowly define or create some idealized concept of “radical obedience.” It might seem like it only means things like starting a charitable non-profit or moving across the ocean as a missionary (and you certainly could be called to that!), but radical obedience always starts with ordinary obedience. If we pursue “big things” at the expense of obedience in the small, we will hinder the mission. There are plenty of important and influential people who’ve done “much” for Christ, only to fall to disgrace—and damage Christian witness—because of hidden sin or persistent ungodliness in their personal lives. In our efforts to give all for Christ, we must remember that “giving all” is so much more than grand gestures of obedience. It includes daily choices to submit every thought, word, and deed to Christ. Ultimately, this obedience must be rooted in love. Consider the following passage:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.—1 Cor. 13:1–6
After each mention of something we might consider radical (Tongues and prophecy! Faith to move mountains! Giving everything away! Dying for Christ!), the passage repeatedly says “. . . but have not love, I am nothing.” Then, to erase any ambiguous definitions of love, it defines love. If we give away everything we have but aren’t patient and kind to our kids, we’re missing a major piece of discipleship. If we are ready to die for Christ but hold onto resentment towards a fellow church member, we are missing a major piece of discipleship. The purpose of this passage is not to disregard the importance of the first types of obedience (actions that are either commended or commanded elsewhere in Scripture) but to remind us of the imperative of Christ-like love—a love that often isn’t glamorous but is central to the mission.
Focus on Faithfulness
God has prepared good works for each of us to do (Eph. 2:10). I don’t know what specific works you are called to, but I do know that you are called to faithfulness. If you’re not faithful in little, you won’t be faithful in much.
Today, you can faithfully take up your cross. Forgive the person who sins against you and love the person who is hard to love. Show kindness to your cantankerous neighbor and grace to your difficult co-worker. Serve your church in unseen—and even unappreciated—ways. Be patient towards other’s weaknesses. Pray for your enemies. Practice generosity. Cultivate compassion. Welcome the stranger. Resist temptation. Every day we have hundreds of opportunities to put off the old self and put on the new. Don’t underestimate the compounding impact of those choices!
Apart from Christ, even these ordinary instances of obedience would be too hard for us. But we can be faithful because he has been faithful first. We can love because he loved us first. We can serve because he served us first. We don’t have to be enough because Jesus already is—anything we ever do for him is the result of the better work he has done.
Amy DiMarcangelo is the author of Go and Do Likewise: A Call to Follow Jesus in a Life of Mercy and Mission.
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