If you ask people what they want from life, most people would I think say they want to be healthy, happy, enjoy good relationships, have happy healthy children, and have enough money to live comfortably, so they can afford to go on holiday, have a nice home, and so forth.
So Jesus’ invitation to deny one’s self, take up our cross and follow him (Luke 9:22-25), on face value does not sound particularly appealing! I am sure if advertising executives were around in Jesus’ day, they would be saying to Jesus “If you want to attract punters, you need to ditch all this talk about denying yourself and taking up your cross, it gives your movement a bad image.”
Certainly Jesus’ call to deny one’s self is as counter cultural today as it has ever been. Even trying to deny ourselves the little things that we enjoy, such as chocolate during Lent, can be a struggle for many of us!
But it is only when we are truly prepared to stop living life for ourselves, and start living it for Jesus that we truly find life. That is at the heart of what I think Jesus is calling us to do here in this passage. His call is to stop living life our way, and living it his way, following Jesus by imitating his life and obeying his commands.
Going back to what people want from life, I suspect what most people want is an easy life – myself included. The trouble is I think we’ve sometimes wanted the Christian faith to be easy as well, so that being a Christian does put too many demands on us. The German Theologian Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called this cheap grace. “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ."
But we are actually called to costly grace, "costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Bonhoeffer himself knew the true cost of what it means to follow Christ, as he was imprisoned and later executed for his opposition to Hitler’s regime.
As we enter into this season of Lent it is an opportunity for us think again about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. To think about Jesus’ radical call to discipleship. Not everyone who heard Jesus preach, chose to follow him, many turned away sad and disappointed because they weren’t prepared to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. The Christian life can be tough and challenging, but it is only when we live for Jesus that we discover life as it is meant to be lived, because ultimately it is only Jesus who can meet are deepest needs.