Now the most free and full and gracious words of the gospel were the greatest
torment to me; yea, nothing so afflicted me as the thoughts of Jesus Christ,
the remembrance of a Saviour.
GRACE ABOUNDING TO THE CHIEF OF SINNERS
My working title for this book was Ten Things I Hate About Jesus. The title was meant to be provocative, much like the teaching of Jesus. There was a certain shock value to his teaching that we have unfortunately lost in our teaching today. We have become so comfortable with Jesus after two thousand years of dissecting his instruction and parsing his words that often the shock value is entirely muted. Crossway Books opted, perhaps wisely so, for a less offensive title, but one that still attempts to maintain a certain provocative value.
“Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood” and “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out” were shocking statements. You could not hear such things and not be at least mildly intrigued, if not outright offended. Or how about this one, “Unless you hate your father and mother, you cannot be my disciple.” Jesus used the word hate to grab his listeners’ attention. I wanted to use it in much the same way with the working title of this book.
With the rise of the health-and-wealth gospel and prosperity preaching, we have become accustomed to a comfortable, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” Messiah. It is a picture of Jesus I call “Jesuslite.” Great taste, less demanding. Jesus is just interested in my happiness and nothing more. He wants me to be financially comfortable, physically fit, mentally and emotionally stable. He never demands of me anything that would cause these basic goals to be missed, if only I have the faith to believe. Difficulties, trials, and hardships in my life are only there because of a lack of faith on my part to believe that Jesus truly wants me to be happy.
There is an irony in popular evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity today. We often find ourselves fixating on the end times, and it is no wonder that many best-selling books of the past years have been on this topic. So much so that many Christians have become preoccupied with eschatology at the expense of solid Christology. The book of Revelation should play a prominent role in our Christian psyche; yet many believers today virtually ignore its picture of Jesus as the terrible Judge. More movements today portray him not as the Lord of glory, but rather the promoter of happiness.
Thirty years ago Dorothy Sayers had this to say about the growing picture of Jesus in her day, and her words are no less appropriate for us today: “We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him ‘meek and mild,’ and recommended Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.”1 We love the Lamb of God, but we have discarded the Lion of Judah.
There have been several works on the “hard sayings” of Jesus, but those works have concentrated on the difficulty in understanding parts of his teaching. They were more of an academic exercise, a study in biblical interpretation. This work is also along the line of hard sayings, not because of the difficulty of understanding them, but rather because of the difficulty in applying them. Mine is more concerned with a practical need to rightly practice these teachings, as opposed to an academic need to rightly understand them.
The teaching of Jesus was often harsh. He was not a preacher of convenience, but hardship; not a preacher of comfort, but suffering. Whereas today we fixate on the happiness of believers, Jesus was much more concerned with their holiness. Often a pursuit of the latter does not produce any inkling—especially in a worldly sense—of the former. Even a cursory reading of the teaching of Jesus shows us that he expected his disciples to be people accustomed to suffering and trials. His was a call not to prosperity and comfort, but to hardship and holiness. As the Beatitudes show us, his was a call to poorness in spirit, meekness, and mourning.
Perhaps the best way to summarize the intention of this book is to ask the question, “Is following Jesus Christ easy?” The answer this book gives is a resounding “No!” And it was never meant to be. We will look at ten teachings of Jesus that appear impossible to follow.
This book comes from my own struggle. I am aware of my shortcomings and failings. My struggle with sin is ongoing, and it is from this perspective that I often find the teachings of Jesus to be shocking, almost vulgar, certainly repulsive. They go so against the grain of selfishness and self-centeredness in my life that part of me would prefer they not exist, that I be left alone to wallow in my own selfish pursuits and pride, than to be told to conform to teaching so alien to my being.
Perhaps this perspective will resonate with some of my readers. However, if your Christian walk is characterized by constant victory, then I fear much of what I am going to say in this book will make little sense to you. You may be tempted to think I am making the Christian life more difficult than it was intended to be. I envy you. I do not find taking up my cross easy, or loving my enemies particularly palatable, nor do I enjoy plucking out my right eye or cutting off my right hand because, frankly, I often enjoy the sinful things I gaze upon or handle. How is this yoke easy and this burden light? Lord, help me.
The following ten items, then, are things I find extremely taxing in the Christian walk. Sinfully speaking, I would not mind seeing all of them excised from the requirements for the disciples of Jesus. The remaining discipleship training of a believer would certainly be much easier. From the spiritual perspective, of course, it would also be less profitable and fruitful.
Lastly, if misery loves company, then my studies through church history of the great men and women who committed their lives to Christ may reasonably be expected to uncover similar feelings. I have pored through the writings of such notable believers as Martin Luther, John Wesley, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Albertus Magnus, Saint Augustine, John Bunyan, and many others, with an eye for similar feelings as mine—feelings of frustration, inadequacy, anxiety, and failure—and I have not been disappointed. All speak as if with one voice that the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ is wrought with difficulty, frequent bouts of depression, and bitter disappointment. Yet in all things God’s grace overcomes—if only we trust in his ways.