Christian discipleship isn’t meant to be an easy journey. While we can get very excited about God’s pursuing grace that covers over all our sins, when it actually comes down to learning to follow Jesus, it’s easy to feel like this isn’t what I signed up for. In his final instructions to the apostles, Jesus tells them to go and make disciples. We need to take that command seriously. It means training people to act like Jesus acted, not simply praying a salvation prayer. Like anything worth doing, however, discipleship can be a hard slog.
An example from Jesus’ life: In Matthew 4:1-11 we read the story of Jesus’ testing in the wilderness. Jesus has been out in the middle of no where for 40 days and Satan tempts him to turn bread into food to eat. Then Satan tempts Jesus to throw himself off the temple roof so that angels will rescue him. Finally Satan tempts Jesus to bow down and worship him in order to inherit all the kingdoms of the world.
In each case, Jesus resists Satan’s temptations, seeing them for what they were: Satan was offering Jesus the things that the father always intended Jesus to have, but he was tempting Jesus to take a shortcut to get them. Satan offers Jesus the whole world, if he’ll bow down and worship him. The Father offers Jesus the whole world if he will empty himself, being obedient even to the point of death. Satan offers the kingdom without the cross, and Jesus knows that without the cross, the kingdom will never be God’s kingdom.
Satan’s (unsuccessful) M.O. used to tempt Jesus, is a trick he’s using with greater effectiveness in today’s church. He promises everything in exchange for nothing. It seems too good to be true, but we still fall for it. Satan promises the easy way: Jesus suffered so we don’t have to.
We enjoy our comforts, whether it’s luxuries—nice houses, nice cars, nice jobs—and the comfort of feeling like we’re in control of our lives. All that’s missing is sorting out what happens after we die and Jesus conveniently takes care of that for us. The problem is that this isn’t what scripture teaches. Paul speaks of suffering, not as something from which the Christian should be exempt, but the thing that eventually leads to their glorification: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (II Corinthians 4:17 NIV). Paul and Jesus both understand that the cross—our suffering, and sacrifices in this life—are necessary preparation for our life in the Kingdom of God. As we learn to identify with the God who returns good for evil, blessings for curses, love for enmity, we will begin to embody the kingdom in our own lives.