A way of life. What are the lessons we might learn from this passage and from the questions we have asked? For ourselves, the secret of the kingdom is to respond appropriately to the Word of God, even if one can do no more than say, “ Jesus, I do not understand,” or, “God, I am angry at you,” or, “God, I dare not hope anymore.” Whatever your honest response to God is at that moment is appropriate and desired by God. It does not matter where you are in your own personal growth. What matters is which way you are moving and growing.
Another lesson concerns evangelism. Evangelism is not a matter of telling a person how easy it is to become a Christian. The task of the Christian is to draw another person out of unbelief by eliciting response. We are not to give answers to questions that have not been asked. Rather, we are to help people ask the right questions and then give them as much of the Word as they are ready to hear and accept.
To be like Jesus in evangelism, our concern must be to raise questions, to draw out appropriate and honest responses. Surely from Jesus, if not from our own experience in the modern school system, we can learn that simply telling someone something is the world’s least effective way of communicating significant and life-changing information.
Perhaps now we are ready to take seriously Jesus’ repeated insistence that the cost of discipleship is immeasurable. In Luke 14, for example, Jesus warned the people not to think lightly of the prospect of following him: “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Luke14:26).
In addition to the high cost of being a Christian, two key ideas are suggested by this passage.
First, like Jesus and unlike most modern Christians, we must warn a nonbeliever in advance of all that Jesus Christ demands of a Christian. In modern Christendom we have nearly forgotten that Jesus makes demands of us. What little attention we pay to the cost of Christianity is normally shared only with those who have already stepped through the door of salvation. Our unwritten policy seems to be to sell them the product before we tell them the price. This is deceitful evangelism.
The second concept is closely related to the first, although more basic. Jesus’ words—as well as the whole of the New Testament—lay a great stress upon becoming disciples, not mere converts. Of all the biblical ideas which have been lost or compromised over the centuries, this is the most significant. God’s goal is to gain obedient disciples of Jesus Christ, not merely to have a population explosion in heaven! Time and time again, Jesus calls followers, stresses obedience, warns that his way demands all or nothing.
In modern evangelical circles we stress that the way to become a Christian is to “accept Jesus as personal Savior.” The call of the Bible, however, is to accept Jesus as Lord if you desire to be saved. And then he will be your Savior. We should not accept him just to avoid hell, for becoming a Christian is not a matter of receiving infallible life insurance. It is a matter of giving to God in Christ that which he deserves.
As we might expect, Jesus not only exemplified proper evangelism but also taught us a great deal about it. On his last evening with the disciples before his crucifixion, for example, evangelism was very much on his mind: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples”—note that he did not say converts—“if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Later in the evening, he prayed in a similar vein “that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, are in me and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21).
On this final evening, Jesus was thinking of evangelism as the Christians’ mutual love and fellowship in God the Father and in himself as Son.
How unlike modern evangelism! Today evangelism is thought of as the pattern of words we speak when we are trying to persuade someone to become a Christian. Evangelism has become, like all else in our secular society, a technique, a way of doing things.
Rather than being an activity in which we may occasionally choose to participate, evangelism is a way of life. It is a life lived continually in discipleship.