Following Jesus Christ is difficult. In fact, without the grace of God, following Jesus would be impossible (Matthew 19:25–26). Jesus demands total surrender and complete submission. He will not settle for second place in our lives. Jesus calls us to be willing to give up anything and everything in following Him. Our most intimate family bonds, our careers, our material wealth, even our very own lives must be subordinate to our love and allegiance to Jesus (Matthew 10:37–39; Luke 14:26). To follow Jesus means to recognize and submit to Him as our Savior, Lord, and God (Luke 2:11; John 20:28). Following Christ is difficult because it demands not only a willingness to die for Him, but to live for Him through sacrificial service (Romans 12:1; Philippians 1:22). Following Christ is difficult because it requires self-discipline and God's discipline (1 Corinthians 9:25–27; Hebrews 12:3–11). In following Christ we must discipline our hearts, minds, and bodies so that we are fighting ready because following Christ also means that we are at war. Followers of Christ are at war with the Devil, the world, and the old sin natures that reside in us (Ephesians 6:11–12; 1 Peter 5:8; John 15:18; 1 John 3:13; Romans 7:21–25; Galatians 5:17). Following Christ is difficult because it involves suffering (2 Timothy 3:12).
At this point you may see very little cause for rejoicing. However, our encouragement begins as we look to Jesus Christ. He is our high priest who has been tempted in all ways like us, yet did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). Because Christ took on human flesh, He can sympathize with our frailty and weakness. Jesus was a man of sorrows and was acquainted with grief. He knows what it is to be rejected, betrayed, beaten, and even crucified. Jesus, though Himself God, humbled Himself and took on the form of a servant in order to fully obey the Father's will and to give His life as a ransom for many (Philippians 2:8; Matthew 20:28). While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Whatever difficulties we face or hardships we endure, they cannot be compared to the sufferings of Christ. Jesus alone knows what it is to suffer the punishment for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Furthermore, Jesus has not left us alone in our difficulties but He has sent His Holy Spirit to dwell within us, guide us, comfort us, pray for us, and strengthen us (John 14:16, 26; John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:10; Romans 8:26–27).
Following Jesus is a narrow path (Matthew 7:13–14). In following Christ, we go against our natural, sinful natures and against the fallen and corrupted world system. We live contrary to the reign of Satan and sin in our world (2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:1–3), and it can be challenging to go against the natural stream. We are set free from sin, yet also still struggle against it (Romans 7:15—8:2). Waging war against sin is hard, both because of sin's deceptive and alluring draw and the fact that, knowing it only leads to death and is displeasing to God, we hate it so much. The world at large is dead because of sin. In Jesus, we are spiritually alive (Ephesians 2:1–10). We know there is something much better and we yearn for it. We have the light so we more deeply understand the tragedy of the darkness. This understanding is both an encouragement in following Christ and a difficulty in living in this world as a follower of His.
God has granted it to us as a privilege not only to believe in Christ, but to suffer for His sake (Philippians 1:29). It is for our ultimate good and God's ultimate glory that following Jesus is difficult, because only those who suffer for Christ will reign Him (2 Timothy 2:12; Romans 8:17). The process of being conformed into the image of Jesus Christ is not always easy or comfortable, but it is always a cause for rejoicing because it results in our maturity in Christ (James 1:2–4). Just as Christ's suffering resulted in His exaltation (Philippians 2:5–11), our sufferings are preparing for us an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17–18). God has promised those who follow Christ that our sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory to be revealed in us. For in heaven, we will be like Jesus, and we will dwell with Jesus forever in a place where there is no pain and no suffering (Philippians 3:20–21; Revelation 21:3–4).
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