Is the call to follow Jesus a bait-and-switch?
At times it can feel that way.
Yesterday I was talking with my daughters about what it means to be friends with Jesus. At first I told them to be friends with Jesus is to be invited to his party. I was thinking about how Jesus invites people to his wedding banquet (Matt. 22:8-10; Rev. 19:9). But then the famous words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer went through my head,“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
What is the relationship between the invite to the party and the call to die? Is Jesus just trying to entice people?
In his classic book, The Master Plan of Evangelism Dr. Robert Coleman offers us some help. He writes:
Following Jesus seemed easy enough at first, but that was because [the disciples] had not followed him very far. It soon became apparent that being a disciple of Christ involved far more than a joyful acceptance of the Messianic promise: it meant the surrender of one’s whole life to the Master in absolute submission to his sovereignty. There could be no compromise. “No servant can serve two masters,” Jesus said, “for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13). There had to be a complete forsaking of sin. The old thought patterns, habits, and pleasures of the world had to be conformed to the new disciplines of the kingdom of God (Matt. 5:1-7:29; Luke 6:20-49). Perfection of love was now the only standard of conduct (Matt 5:48), and this love was to manifest itself in obedience to Christ (John 14:21, 23) expressed in devotion to those whom he died to save (Matt. 25:31-36). There was cross in it—the willing denial of self for others (Mark 8:34-38; 10:32-45; Matt. 16:24-26; 20:17-28; Luke 9:23-25; John 12:25-26; 13:1-20).
This was strong teaching. Not many people could take it. They liked to be numbered among his followers when he filled their stomachs with bread and fish, but when Jesus started to talking about the true spiritual quality of the Kingdom and the sacrifice necessary in achieving it (John 6:25-29), many of his disciples “went back, and walked no more with him”(John 6:66). As they put it, “This is a hard saying: who can hear it?”(John 6:60). The surprising thing is that Jesus did not go running after them to try to get them to stay on his membership roll. He was training leaders for the Kingdom, and if they were going to be fit vessels of service, they were going to have to pay the price.
Coleman shows us that yes, Jesus calls us as his followers/friends to the party. When we accept this invitation we experience “the joyful acceptance of the Messianic promise”. But at this point we have not followed Jesus very far. To keep walking with Jesus is to continue to hear his call to give up more, and to die. Why? Because, Jesus wants every follower, every friend, to not just be a Kingdom watcher, but a Kingdom leader. And such leadership only happens when we do what our Leader has done,–surrender our desires, die to self, and become obedient to the will of God.
So we see, the call to follow Jesus is not so much a bait-and switch. Rather it is simply a call to follow him–both to the party and in living like him.
Excerpt from Dr. Robert Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism pages 50-51.