For most Christians there is a basic understanding that persecution exists in some form against them, some believe it to merely exist as an extension of the forces of the devil, others believe that it only exists in harsh terms in other places. While both these statements have an element of truth they do not represent the entire situation. For a Christian to understand the reality of how persecution can exist, a Christian must also understand the process of salvation and transformation that leads to a life worth persecuting. Overall as a great many theologians have said again and again, there exists a steep price for the choice to believe in Christ and to begin living life in step with Christ, Christians must reach an understanding of the cost of their discipleship and growth in relationship with Christ.
First of all we must understand that submission is not the first step of our life as new believers. The first step is acceptance of God\’s authority. Once we, as new believers, have accepted the authority of God, then we begin the process of repentance, naming our sins and owning our faults, followed by the submission of our lives in various ways over the course of our development and spiritual growth as disciples of Christ. This acceptance of God\’s authority is a recognition that by accepting Christ we are being brought into our own subjection to God\’s authority. Our acceptance of Christ first yields our own subjection to the Commands of God.
Second we must truly understand that absolutely none of us have ever in any moment attained absolute submission to God, humans are incapable of achieving perfection, even for the smallest of units by which we can measure time, it is impossible. We, as growing disciples of Christ, come to recognize this as a result of increased understanding of the authority of God that we have been subjected too in our acceptance of Christ.
Moving forward to the outward impact of our decision to live in step with Christ, as much as we can in every moment, we must begin with a recognition of the cost our faith can have. Dietrich Bonhoeffer captured the essence of the greatest cost possible in his book, \”The Cost of Discipleship\”, here is one line that sums up the ultimate cost of our faith:
“When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die”
This single statement paints the picture of what so many Christians of both antiquity and modernity have grasped in the midst of fierce persecution, and the presence of great evil committed by humanity. The death Bonhoeffer refers to is both literal in its greatest sense and also fiercely metaphorical. To begin unpacking how we as Christians should be living our lives as an outward reflection of our inward faith, let us examine and walk through the ways in which Christ bids us to come and die as we follow Him.
Here are the verses we will unpack :
Galatians 2:20: \”I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.\”
Epheisians 4:22: \”You took off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires;\”
Luke 9:23: \”Then He said to them all, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.\”
Looking first to the Gospel of Luke, we see a picture of self denial in pursuit of following Jesus, this self denial can be metaphorically called the death of personal desire, this death is the submission and recognition that we, being disciples of the Living God, hold no ownership of our career, our wealth, our family, and our lives, I do not say this to mean we do not have free will. I say this to paint the picture that our choice to follow Christ also means we do not follow our own wills but rather the Will of God, by our own choice.
Turning to Epheisians, we are presented with the observation when we choose to pursue Christ we put to death our old ways of life, to the best of our ability. This death is a process of transformation that occurs throughout life as one grows in connection with Christ.
Finally Galatians offers a picture of the larger process of self death as a whole. In our acceptance of Christ, we begin putting to death our old life (as seen in Ephiesians) and we begin to live in accordance and in step with the Spirit of God, as an outward reflection of faith (Luke).
As we live the life of a Disciple of Christ, and we grow in faith, so too should the outward reflection of our faith. In this there will be a price for every step forward. For some it will be the straining of close friendships, for others it will be social pressure to conform back to the larger culture, and even further for others it will be mean the threat of death and imprisonment.
The reason this push back exists, is that people who do not experience the joy granted to those who walk in step with the spirit try to either distance themselves from those who do, or they try to drag the joyful one down. Both of these types of push back come from the desire for community, miserable people love being around miserable people.
Social pressure is best exemplified in Christian antiquity and roman persecution, it was operated out of a fear that the lack of recognition to the traditional culture would yield a neglect of the gods and cause the downfall of the empire. Hence, the Romans tried to push Christians back into the traditional culture.
Finally, the most violent attempts at suppression stem from a place of fear, Christianity places a larger authority over life than anything on earth, for some this is a threat to their own power, and for others it is an attempt to overthrow a perceived truth that is in conflict with Christianity. To accept Christ is to also recognize all these things. The Cost of faith is anywhere from loss of friends to loss of life.
In summary, when we first accept Christ, we are first subjected to God\’s authority, we then begin the process and transformation from the old to new self, by submitting areas of our life to God as we grow closer to Him and more aware of His authority, in this we die to ourselves and begin to live in step with Christ. When we begin to live in step with Christ, others will begin to push back against us