An Unconditional Commitment to Christ

  • Text: Luke 9:57-62
  • Series: Individual Messages
  • Date: Sunday, April 8, 2018 – AM
  • Venue: Trinity Baptist Church – Seminole, Oklahoma
  • Speaker: Jared Byrns
  • Audio: mp3

Have you ever driven down the street and seen those signs on a street corner or in front of Walmart advertising legal services? I’ve seen a lot of them in the city and a few in Shawnee; I may have even seen some in Seminole, but I can’t remember. These signs advertise uncontested divorces. According to these signs, you can get out of the covenant of marriage for as little as a phone call and $100—or $150 if you have minor children.

When I see these signs, and I remember that it would take at least $300 to get out of my commitment to the satellite TV company, I realize that we have a horribly skewed idea of commitment in our country. This view of commitment, that it’s something we can jump in and out of that isn’t set in stone, explains why celebrity marriages that last a month or less aren’t all that unusual, and why so many young people are foregoing marriage altogether.

This view of commitment tells us that it’s okay to cut out when we don’t feel like things are working for us, when we’re not fulfilled, or when there’s something else we’d rather do. As bad as that is, it becomes even worse when we apply that same view to our relationship with Jesus. We may try to follow Jesus halfheartedly and then wonder why we’re not growing—why we don’t feel close to Him. We may know that these on-again-off-again attempts to follow Him aren’t working, but we don’t know what to do. And we may even convince ourselves that limping along in a kind of strained, indifferent substitute for discipleship is the best we can hope for spiritually.

It’s not. If you’re a born again believer in Jesus Christ, you were created to walk with Him in intimate fellowship, to follow Him by faith wherever He leads, and to grow to be more like Him. So what do we do? God’s Word has answers for us.

This lack of commitment isn’t just a complication of modern life. This was going on during Jesus’ time on Earth. Turn with me to Luke, chapter 9, where we will see how Jesus addressed the subject of commitment with three of His would-be followers. Luke, chapter 9, starting in verse 57, says:

“And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Being a follower of Jesus isn’t something we can start and stop when it suits us. To really follow Jesus requires a lifelong commitment: one that perseveres through inconvenience, trial, tragedy, and even death.

These three men were on the verge of being dissuaded from serving Jesus for different reasons. One was worried about being comfortable, one wanted to wait until all the circumstances were right, and one still had one foot in his old life.

Each one says he’s willing to follow Jesus, but the conditions each one places on his commitment serve to undermine what that word actually means. Each time we see the word follow in this passage, it is the Greek word ἀκολουθέω, which describes taking a journey down the road with someone. The same word is used several times in the Gospels to describe how the crowds literally followed Jesus from town to town. When Jesus calls a disciple and says, “Follow me,” He doesn’t mean that we should follow Him the way we follow someone on social media, where we press a button to create a virtual connection and check in every so often to see what they’re up to. Jesus calls His disciples to get up, walk away from what they are doing, and go on a lifelong journey, traveling the trail He blazes for us.

These men don’t seem to understand that. Look again at verse 57. The first man says, Jesus, I’ll follow you anywhere. But Jesus knows what is in the man’s heart and what is really important to him. He knows that this man is someone who worries about the future, who values his security and comfort. So Jesus points out that following Him is not going to be some luxury vacation; it’s not an easy road to travel. To drive this point home, in verse 58, He contrasts His own state with foxes and birds. He tells the man, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” Even the foxes have a place to hide when there’s danger, to rest when they get tired, to warm up when it’s cold. Even the birds have a place to retreat, to rest, and to keep their eggs from predators. Even the animals have this place of comfort, but Jesus had no place to call home. He’s not saying that we all have to homeless to follow Him; He’s telling this man that if he’s looking for a comfortable, easy life, where he’s always happy and he always gets what he wants, then he’s looking in the wrong place. On the contrary, Jesus tells us in John 16:33, “In the world ye shall have tribulation […].”

The second man is there; one of the disciples, someone Jesus has already called to follow Him for a specific purpose. In verse 59, He asks Jesus for permission to go and bury his father before he begins his ministry. We might think that this is a reasonable request, after all, there’s nothing unscriptural about taking care of one’s family responsibilities. However, there are a couple of problems with this. Some historical records show that in the ancient Middle East, burial often took place the same day that one died. If this disciple’s father was already dead, the man would already be dealing with the burial. So the logical conclusion is that the disciple’s father is merely old or sick, and he’s wanting to wait until after his father dies to get started—having no idea how long that will take. Another issue is that sometimes the issues surrounding burial could take much longer than the burial itself. The body might be buried that day. But a mourning period and matters of inheritance could take up to a year to sort out.

There has been a lot of debate about this part of the conversation and what it means. But the bottom line is that this disciple has been called to preach the Gospel, but he wants to wait until all of his ducks are in a row—until all the circumstances are exactly right. But there’s always an excuse to put things off. We all know this. When the temperature warms up, I’ll clean out my garage. Then it’s too hot, and I have to wait for it to cool down. Then it’s too cold. Circumstances are never exactly right, so two years later my garage is still a mess. He’s doing the same thing, so Jesus tells him in verse 60, “Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.” Don’t be confused by what Jesus is saying. He’s not telling the man to disrespect his father or leave the body unburied. In their culture, it wasn’t unusual to call someone who wasn’t following God “dead.” So Jesus is saying that there are others who are not following Him who could attend to the burial; this man who had been called to preach the Gospel has a higher calling that demands his focus. Instead of splitting his attention among several good things he could be doing, Jesus is calling this man to focus his entire life on the best thing he could possibly do—following Jesus. We too, as followers of Jesus, are called upon to stop wasting our time focusing on things of lesser importance and waiting for the circumstances to be just right for us to start obeying. He calls us to follow Him now.

Then there’s the third man. He wants to follow Jesus; he is even willing to go through the challenges that might be involved; but at this moment he cannot bring himself to let go completely of his old life. In verse 61, he tells Jesus that he needs to run home and say goodbye. This too seems like a reasonable request. But the Bible indicates that he’s talking about more than saying goodbye. The word used in Greek implies an exit with everything having been set in order. What he’s asking then, is for time to go home and tie up all of his loose ends. Not only are there relationships that need closure, but there are financial and other responsibilities that he needs time to address. None of these things are wrong, in and of themselves, but they become a problem when they become an excuse not to commit to following Jesus.

We know that that’s what is happening because of the way Jesus responds. In verse 62, Jesus tells him, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” When Jesus says this, He compares the life of a disciple to the work of a plowman. Those of you in this room who have worked on a farm or in a garden at some point in your lives understand the truth of what Jesus is saying here. If you set out to plow a straight row in the ground, you fix your eyes on a single point in the distance and plow straight toward it. If you try to look back or look around—if you take your eyes off of where they’re supposed to be—the rows will get crooked. You’ll just make a mess of the job. He is telling this man that a plowman like that is not fit for service in the Kingdom. You cannot plow forward while casting longing glances backward and hope to be of any use in the fields of the Lord. Today we might say that this man had one foot in the Kingdom and one foot in the world. He wants to serve Jesus, but he can’t bear to tear himself away from his old life. He wants to follow Jesus, but that requires a willingness to walk away from everything else. Jesus makes it clear he can’t have it both ways. You and I are faced with the same choice. We can’t remain with one foot in the Kingdom and one in the world and expect that to be enough for God. We are called to jump in with both feet.

Each of these men was more than willing to follow Jesus, but on his own terms. There were conditions. You and I sometimes try to put conditions on our obedience as well. We’ll serve God when we’re getting what we want, but we may find obedience less enticing when it goes against our own desires.

We have to consider whether any of these men represent our attitudes. Do you see yourself in the first man, who says: I’ll follow you, Lord, as long as I’m comfortable—as long as all my preferences are met, as long as my routine isn’t interrupted, as long as I’m never challenged, or as long as you don’t send me to do something that I don’t want to?

Do you see yourself in the second man, who says: I’ll follow you, Lord, once everything falls into place just right—when I’m not so busy, when I’m not so tired, when I grow up, when I have more money, when my kids are grown, or when I finish this project?

Or do you see yourself in the third man, who says: I’ll follow you, Lord, if you don’t ask to me give up my old way of doing things, if you don’t ask me to make any changes, or if you don’t ask me to drop everything else when you call?

If we look into our own hearts and see these attitudes there, we have to face the hard truth that we are trying to make our commitment to Jesus Christ conditional. Instead of acknowledging Him as our Lord and the one Who makes the rules, this conditional commitment means we are trying to make the rules and set up the conditions that Jesus has to meet in order for Him to earn our cooperation. This is the opposite of what it means to follow Christ. In His conversation with these three men, it becomes clear that to follow Jesus means to follow Him unconditionally.

The lesson we should take from this passage of Scripture is this: Commitment to Christ cannot come with conditions.

Commitment to Christ cannot come with conditions.

If it comes with conditions, it’s not a commitment—it’s a transaction. But when we read what Jesus says about the matter, you can see that He is not negotiating a transaction. He isn’t saying, If you’ll follow me, I’ll give you something in return. He isn’t saying, Well, because I’m not willing to agree to that condition, you don’t have to follow me in these circumstances. He looks at these believers and says, Follow me. Period. No conditions. No negotiations. Just, Follow me.

They brought Him their conditions. They tried to negotiate their terms. Still, Jesus’ answer was, Follow me. He wasn’t interested in conditions that they could use as loopholes or as excuses for disobedience. He called them to commit.

Commitment to Christ cannot come with conditions.

Maybe this morning you’re still in a place where you’re coming to Jesus with your conditions. Maybe you’re trying to negotiate your cooperation with Jesus like it’s a business transaction, instead of offering Him your obedience like a disciple of Jesus. But Jesus is calling you to commit yourself to Him as a faithful follower. He’s calling you like His first disciples to follow Him, as the original Greek tells us, to get up, walk away from what you’re doing, and go on a lifelong journey with Him. His plans for you are too important and His love for you is too great merely to settle for half of your allegiance. He calls you to commit—readily, fully, and unconditionally.

Commitment to Christ cannot come with conditions.

Saying that is the easy part. Doing it is much harder. I realize that and so does anyone in this room who has been following Jesus Christ for any length of time. Our sinful, human nature leads us, over and over, to take our focus off of Jesus. It leads us to disobey and then rationalize it because of our discomfort. It leads us to disobey and justify it because of all the other “good” things we do instead. It leads us to disobey and minimize it because we were obedient in some areas. Little by little, the flesh wears down our resolve to follow Jesus until our commitment is too conditional to matter.

We have to fight back. Because of the sin nature, we can’t just commit once and not worry about it. Every day, conditions will rear their ugly heads, and we have to refuse the temptation to follow Him conditionally. Every day, our commitment to following Jesus is worth renewing.

So how can we do this? How can we fight back against these fleshly conditions and follow Jesus the way a true disciple should? We can start by taking to heart what Jesus taught these three men.

First of all, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying life; but we’re not called to follow Jesus only when it’s comfortable. A commitment to following Jesus requires us to put our comfort on the back burner, step out in faith, and do something that makes us uncomfortable when He calls us to. But if we wait to make the decision in the moment, more often than not, we’re going to settle for what feels good or makes us happy in the moment. If you want to follow Him, make the decision ahead of time that what He wants matters more than what you want and that you’re willing to obey no matter how it may inconvenience you personally.

Second of all, we have got to rearrange our priorities. If you’re like me, you often find yourself distracted by all the things you have to do—and many of them are good and worthwhile. But as a friend of mine used to say, “The good is the enemy of the best.” It would be a shame if we allowed ourselves to squander the time God has given us on this Earth doing things that are merely good while neglecting those things that are most important. You can spend your time on plenty of good things every day, but the best thing you can spend your time on is the obedient thing. If you want to follow Him, you need to find out what He has assigned you to do, and make that your priority.

Third of all, take a look at where your affections lie. Is there something that you love as much as Jesus, or even more? Is there something that has such a hold on your heart that it keeps you from following Jesus unconditionally? Maybe you’re concerned, like the third man, with what the folks back home will say. Maybe you’re attached to your old habits or your old way of life. Maybe you’re trying to put one foot in the Kingdom while keeping one foot in the world. Maybe you’re trying to push the plow forward while stopping to cast longing glances backward. But you will never be able to follow Jesus while you remain divided. If you want to follow Him, look for those things that compete with Jesus for your allegiance and get rid of them.

The times that you and I live in are substantially different from Jesus’ day, but human nature hasn’t changed, and the temptation to become distracted or dissuaded from our service hasn’t changed. The temptation to place conditions on our commitment to Christ hasn’t changed. But the truth of what Jesus said that day also hasn’t changed: we can’t just follow Him when it’s convenient; our commitment to Christ cannot come with conditions.

Unconditional commitment looks like this: in Luke 14:26-27, Jesus says, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”

He’s not saying we should literally hate our families—the Bible clearly teaches the opposite. He’s engaging in a comparison here. Commitment to Jesus, following Jesus, means this: that our love for Jesus should be so strong, so broad, so deep, so overwhelming that it makes all other love look like hate in comparison.

And then, with that kind of love in our hearts that makes our obedience to Jesus our greatest priority, we can then take up our cross, dying to our fleshly desires and willingly—even joyfully—enduring every challenge that we come across for His sake. Though this idea of taking up the cross to follow Jesus is a picture of embracing death, it’s relatively unlikely that you or I, living in America, will lose our lives as a direct consequence of following Christ. What this likely means for us is a willingness to die to our old way of doing things, our old selfish habits, our preferences, our pride, and all the sinful things that we enjoy for a season, all for the lasting joy of walking with Jesus.

Each one of us has a choice to make this morning, whether or not we’re going to follow Jesus Christ the way He calls us to.

Some of you have already trusted in Christ for your salvation, and you’ve been trying to follow Him ever since. But maybe you haven’t been consistently obedient because in your mind and in your heart you’ve placed conditions on the commitment you’ve made. That’s not a question I can answer for you; it’s one that only you can answer. But I’d invite you this morning to look inside yourself and see if there’s any area of your life where you’ve said,No, Lord, I can’t follow You there. If so, today is the day to let go of what you’re holding on to and to commit to following Him unconditionally.

Some of you may not have trusted Jesus as your Savior. That’s the first step on this journey. You cannot follow Him unless you’ve put your trust in Him. It’s about more than believing He exists; it’s more than even believing He’s God’s Son. It’s about believing that He died to pay for your sins. Each of us has disobeyed God—by doing what God says is wrong or not doing what God says is right. God calls this disobedience sin. And God is a righteous judge; He can’t simply ignore our sin or act like it’s okay. It has to be punished.

The consequence for our sin is that we are separated from God—both in time and in eternity. In eternity, that separation means that instead of enjoying His presence in Heaven, we are destined to remain separate from Him in Hell. But God is also loving. The punishment for sin has to be handed out, but He didn’t abandon us to endure it ourselves. He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to live a perfect, sinless life, so that He could take responsibility for our sins and be punished in our place. That’s exactly what He did. Jesus was nailed to the cross, He shed His blood, and He died—all to pay for my sins and yours, so we wouldn’t have to.

Now, because of this, God offers salvation to us as a free gift. We don’t get it by working for it or paying for it. We can have salvation because Jesus paid the price in full on the cross. This salvation means that your sins are forgiven, you’ll have a relationship with God, and you’ll have eternal life in Heaven, all because of what Jesus did. Receiving that gift is so simple. All you have to do to have it this morning is realize that you’ve sinned and can’t save yourself, believe that Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sins in full and rose again to prove it, and ask God to forgive you for the wrong that you’ve done. When you ask God for the salvation that Jesus provides, and you believe with your whole heart that He’ll save you like He promised, God will save you: He’ll forgive you, He’ll call you His child, and He’ll welcome you to eternal life. Then He’ll also give you His Holy Spirit, to change you from the inside out, help you to follow Jesus, and make you more like Him.

###


The above text is a rush transcript of the message and may contain errors.

© 2018, Jared Byrns. All rights reserved.