During Christ’s ministry on Earth, all those years ago, He gave many teachings to guide our lives in harmony with each other and with God. Unfortunately, only a select few of his instructions are widely taught and shared by the mainstream churches that claim to follow those eternal words of wisdom from this special Teacher. People tend to “pick and choose” teachings that will be more easily accepted by the masses. It’s hard to build religion on teachings that challenge the individual’s (and the society’s) lifestyle instead of merely creating “beliefs” that people can give mental assent to. For example, people can believe Jesus’ teaching in John 3:16 [“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”] without changing anything in their lives or attitudes. Therefore, as Wikipedia attests, this verse is one of the most widely quoted and taught from the Bible. Even John 14:6 [“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”] is a very popular verse, even though it appears like a difficult saying. This teaching is “exclusive”, in that it limits who you believe in, but it doesn’t require any hard changes to your life.
Some of Jesus’ less-taught teachings require more of the believer than just understanding who Jesus is. One command that is known, but rarely truly followed, is “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44). Imagine how little support the needless American wars would have if the large “Christian” population of our nation actually listened to Jesus on this! Some churches and Christian groups (e.g. “Peace Churches” like the Mennonites and Quakers; Catholic Worker Movement) do teach love for all enemies, but still choose to ignore most of the rest of Jesus’ more difficult teachings.
When those few followers of Jesus who try to apply all of his teachings speak up about what He said, there is an invariable backlash from the majority of “fellow Christians”. One of the most controversial teachings of Christ is found in several places in the Gospels, in a few different forms. In fact, there is a common thread in Jesus’ teachings that would seem to be too big to ignore [See Matthew 6:24-34, Luke 16:12-14]. But ignore it is exactly what most people try to do. Luke 14:33 is one of the many verses with this teaching: “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”
There are many excuses that people give to help them ignore this difficult teaching, because they care more about material comfort and society’s expectations than they do about following Christ. As an admirable preacher (Francis Chan) put it, it’s about commitment level. People would rather be all-out committed to a sports team than to the Way, the Truth and the Life. [See the YouTube video Francis Chan – “Who is the Cult?”] Jesus asks for absolute commitment to the Way of life that He brings. That is the only way that we can share and be a part of the Kingdom of God.
One of the silliest arguments that people use against this teaching (as if you can argue with the Son of God!) is that followers of Jesus still have possessions, and therefore it is impossible to keep this commandment (i.e. that He meant something else other than what He said). In chapters 2 and 4 of the books of Acts, the first disciples (thousands in number) sold their possessions and shared all their resources with one another and with all those in need. People try to stumble on the fact that the disciples had things to share after they sold their possessions. Why?
Most churches accept the concept of baptism as being an essential part of Christian commitment. Jesus never actually baptized anyone with water himself, but the command is inferred by a few passages, including His statement to Nicodemus (that he must be born again) [Found in John 3:3-7]. The command to be “born again” was spoken to this one man (Nicodemus), but has been applied to the wide Christian body. The command to forsake all (possessions, family and even our own lives) was spoken by Christ many times and to many people[Luke 12:33 , Luke 11:41, Luke 14:33] (not just to the “Rich Young Ruler”[Mark 10:17-31; Matthew 19:16-30; Luke 18:18-30], as is often believed). But the Church often tries to explain it away as being a command that applies only to certain people.
Let’s take this parallel with baptism further. Baptism is a ritual that expresses commitment, an entering into a new life of trying to please God. It is seen as a first step on the Christian journey that never ends. No Christian who preaches baptism would say that that a person needs to stay continually wet after their baptism, but that they need to continue in the “child-like spirit” that started the moment they signified (through baptism) being “born again”. Very few Christians get baptized more than once. But they will still say that they are born again, even if it has been decades since their baptism.
Likewise, the act of forsaking all earthly possessions is a step into the journey of life with Christ, a sign of a never-ending commitment. There is an attitude that needs to be retained and fostered; the attitude of contentment no matter material circumstances needs to be constantly renewed as we put faith in God to provide.
Forsaking all is also a practice that lines up with many other teachings of Christ and in the Bible, as we will explore in Part 2.