How many leaders do you know of, who at the very height of their popularity intentionally thinned their supporters' ranks? Precious few, I'd guess. Yet that's exactly what Jesus did!
Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them,
“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.
“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
“So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. - Lk 14:25-35
Evidently it was becoming misleadingly easy to follow Jesus. Too comfortable. Too much a country festival. Hey – free loaves and fishes, healing, great preaching – it's a party! What's not to like?
Here we see the essence of the man-centered Gospel: what can I get out of it?
It's natural and understandable, but Jesus would have none of it. It was the very antithesis of the attitude He Himself brought to earth, and He knew that those with their own agenda would quickly fall away. So He abruptly returned the focus to God by emphasizing the demands of discipleship.
It is God who is driving the whole plan of salvation. It's for God's pleasure that we were created, have been redeemed, and finally will be glorified. Yes, we reap unspeakably glorious benefits from being in relationship with Him, but the priorities of the Alpha and Omega must come first and last.
We are in a battle
Placing God's priorities first is especially crucial in the current battleground. Fallen creation affords us three enemies – the world, our own flesh, and the devil – that will do anything to get their own way. Each of them will come at us in turn with either the velvet glove of temptation or the iron hand of persecution in order to lure us or force us into their mold. Unfortunately, their mold is opposed to God's will of sanctification for us.
And so we have a choice - God's path or the path of least resistance.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. - Ro 12:2
The three enemies of our soul know exactly how to get to us. A cherished relationship, a personal need or the subtlety of the devil all can tear at the fabric of our being when we stand for God. But God works all things for our good, and it is this inner struggle that leads directly to His essential work of separating soul from spirit:
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. - Heb 4:12
That's not an easy process, but through it our spirit becomes free, indeed, of the fallenness of this present age. Remember, Jesus came to institute His Kingdom "ahead of time", before the ultimate Renewal of all things. We therefore do not have the luxury of sitting by, idly waiting for the Kingdom to come in its fullness. We are called to be faithful in "unrighteous riches" in order to inherit eternal rewards.
The peril of falling
Not to stand for God when a boss, a parent, a spouse, the state, or financial reality, is pressuring us to fall away leads to a hypocritical condition that can best be described as spiritual schizophrenia:
“But if that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’
and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards;
the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know,
and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. - Mt 24:48-51
The key to that evil slave's problem was his erroneous conclusion that his master was delaying. He let his focus drift away from the Lord and ended up losing faith. Without faith, he inevitably fell.
How to stand
Likewise, the way to stand firm against temptations and pressures is to keep our focus on the Lord. Jesus is always with us - right here, right now. If we're convinced of that, we will be strong and not deny Him.
“O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, In the secret place of the steep pathway, Let me see your form, Let me hear your voice; For your voice is sweet, And your form is lovely.” - So 2:14
Our pathway also is steep, and we need to see our Lover's form in the secret place in order to stay strong for the arduous ascent. This is why we should be continually abiding.
Jesus gave a hard word when He told us we had to cut soul ties to everyone and everything in order to truly follow Him. But as always, He spoke the truth. In response, the key for us is to count the cost and decide where we stand.
“For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?
“Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him,
saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ – Lk 14
For the glory!
And let us not forget the rewards:
Momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, - 2 Co 4:17
So for the glory, and for the glory of the Name, let us purpose to count the cost and then leave all to follow Christ.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, - Heb 12:1