Jarvis J. Williams on Why the Most Life-Changing New Year’s Resolution of Following Christ Won’t Come Easy

Jarvis J. Williams is an associate professor of New Testament interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the author of numerous academic books, including Christ Redeemed ‘Us’ From the Curse of the Law: A Jewish Martyrological Reading of Galatians 3:13. This article is adapted from a sermon he preached at Sojourn Community Church (Midtown), where he serves as an elder. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

Every year at the end of December, people begin to consider the exciting possibilities for themselves in the new year ahead. Whether we’ve resolved to read more, run a marathon, eat healthier, keep a journal, or take up a new hobby, we’re surrounded by resources and tips that promise to make our goals easy and attainable.

Many Christians will set out to become more faithful followers of Jesus in 2020. It’s a worthy resolution. Jesus is Lord over everything in heaven and on earth, and he wants his followers to place everything under his lordship. He wants our gifts, talents, careers, money, time, health, thoughts, marriages, kids, singleness, aspirations, words, deeds, dreams, motives—everything.

In 2020 and in all years to come, the resolve of every Christian should be to follow Jesus on the narrow and difficult path of discipleship. However, Jesus’ words in Scripture and church history tell us the price of discipleship in 2020 will be costly.

In Matthew 8:19, a scribe approaches Jesus to tell him he would follow wherever Jesus would go. In the next verse, Jesus responds, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” This was Jesus’ way of asking: Have you considered the cost of following me wherever I go?

Since the earliest days of Christianity, many Christians have lost material possessions, status, connections, jobs, family relationships, and even their lives because of their obedience to Jesus. Even now, brothers and sisters face the daily risk of losing everything, including their lives, because of their commitment to Jesus Christ above all. The demands and risks of faithful discipleship cause many to choose the wide and easy path of disobedience that leads to destruction over the difficult and narrow path of obedience that leads to life (Matt. 7:13–14).

As Jesus sends out his disciples on mission in Matthew 10, he commands them to preach the gospel in his name, heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons free of charge. Jesus says these acts would be signs that the kingdom of heaven has come through his mission. He informs his disciples of the imminent dangers they would experience as they preached the gospel of the kingdom to a hostile world (Matt. 10:16–17). Consequently, they must be as “wise as serpents and as harmless as doves” since they would suffer persecution and since many people would hate them on account of his name (Matt. 10:16–23).

Jesus states that when his disciples are persecuted in “this city,” they should flee to another (Matt. 10:23, KJV), for the cities must be evangelized before the Son of Man comes. Still, Jesus encourages his disciples to neither fear nor worry about what they will say when they stand trial before hostile leaders on account of his name, because the right words will be given to them to speak (Matt. 10:19; see also Acts 4). Jesus promises that his disciples “will be saved” if they faithfully persevere in their faith until the end of the age as they suffer on the narrow and difficult path of discipleship (Matt. 10:22).

In Matthew 10:24–42, Jesus continues to instruct his disciples about the high cost of discipleship. His disciples are not above him, their teacher and master. They won’t suffer exactly the same way as he, because he took upon himself the wrath of God for the sins of the world (John 1:29; Rom. 3:24–25; 5:6–10). But he says they too will suffer for the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 10:25).

Jesus’ words are still applicable today. For those who follow Jesus on the narrow and difficult path of discipleship, the question isn’t, “Will we suffer for Christ?” Rather, the question is, “When will we suffer for Christ?” or, “How will we suffer for Christ?” Since he suffered for the sake of the gospel of the kingdom, his followers can be certain they will also suffer today as they preach, obey, and apply the whole gospel to all areas of their lives (10:34–39).

The cost of discipleship is not the same for everyone. The cost is greater and more intense in certain parts of the world than in others. Yet, following Jesus certainly comes with a cost for all who would dare to take up the cross on the narrow and difficult path. The apostle Paul makes it clear that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12, ESV). Obedience to Jesus requires total allegiance to him and to him alone, which will cause a great divide between those who faithfully follow Jesus on this path and those who do not (Matt. 10:34–37).

When Christians suffer for their allegiance to Jesus Christ in the new year, they might be tempted to think their plight represents an anomaly. As a result, when the going gets tough, some will forfeit the narrow and difficult path of discipleship and instead commit to the lie of “cultural Christianity.” There are others who will believe the lie of a false gospel that teaches health, wealth, power, and material prosperity are benefits of following him.

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Source: Christianity Today