Nowhere will you find in the Bible that following Christ is going to be easy. In fact, the apostle Paul told Timothy, “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3). Yet people seem to make that assumption on their own–and to their own detriment. They see all the blessings Jesus brings but have trouble accepting the responsibilities. The disciples following Jesus after He fed them did not come to Jesus expecting to take on responsibility or expecting to have to change. They came expecting easy street.
Instead they heard a message about true discipleship, but to this they did not react well. “Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?’” (Jn. 6:60). The word translated “understand” in the New King James Version should have been left as the original King James translated it: “who can hear it?” The saying was not hard because they could not understand it; they considered it hard because they did not want to do it. Just look at the whole of the conversation. These disciples understood very well what Jesus was saying, that He required complete acceptance of Him as the Son of God and complete allegiance to Him in all that He taught. This they would not accept. It was too hard.
In reality, Jesus was asking no more of them than of anyone else. But for them it was hard—not because they could not have done it, but because their attitude kept them from accepting it. My friends, we can make discipleship much harder than it really is when our attitude is not what it ought to be. We approach the Lord with preconceived ideas of what He wants based upon what we ourselves want. This ought not to be so! In the end, like these disciples, we will think the message of discipleship strange and burdensome and try to strike a bargain with God, as if He should lower His expectations to meet ours! Friends, discipleship will always be hard if we try to negotiate the depth of our obedience, the underlying message of the question this group of disciples asked (Jn. 6:60). Jesus did not approach His life in such a way. Rather, “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Heb. 5:8-9).
Discipleship can be difficult when we want wiggle room for our opinions and lifestyle when Jesus offers none. John records, “When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, ‘Does this offend you?’” (Jn. 6:61). These wavering disciples wanted some other way, some easier way. Perhaps they wanted a way where they could put the demands of discipleship to a popular vote. Perhaps they longed for a formalistic style of commitment. But Jesus offered neither. In this, as in all else, He never wavered. Even on the night of His betrayal He told the apostles, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn. 14:6). This offers no wiggle room for the broadminded who would compromise the essence of salvation. This offers no leeway even for those who would attempt to reinvent the gospel according to their own dictates. Discipleship does not come with a variety of options; it offers only one. Therefore, we must accept Jesus as He is and the gospel as it stands or we can receive none of the blessings God offers.
This is an excerpt from Kevin’s new book Follow Me: A Call to Authentic Discipleship. For more information or to order a copy, please go to www.hopkinspublishing.com.