It is Costly to Follow Jesus, Even in the Suburbs.
Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt 16:24). For 11 of the 12 disciples this meant a martyrs’ death (for 3 of them literally died on crosses). For many Christians throughout the age of the church this have meant dying for Christ or suffering severe and often brutal persecution.
Yet, for other Christians following Jesus may not mean dying a martyr’s death—it certainly did not mean that for John the Apostle. For many Christians, following Jesus will probably not cost the loss of life or even physical pain. This certainly is the case at the moment for us in the Modern West and especially for us in the suburbs. Because of the influence of Christianity, we are in place where we are not suffering physically for following Christ. But does that mean we who live in the Modern West—especially those of us who live in the safety of the suburbs—get a pass from suffering to follow Jesus?
I would argue that the answer is NO. For every follower of Christ, there will be a point of denying oneself and taking up one’s cross—even in the suburbs and this will look like suffering in some form. The Apostle Paul said that it has been, “graciously given to you not only to believe the gospel, but also to suffer for it” (Phil 1:29). This suffering will come about as we deny ourselves and take up our crosses.
DENIAL OF SELF
Denying oneself means putting Christ before our comfort, interest, and agenda. It means denies ourselves the right to live for ourselves and for our own glory. It means following Jesus and refusing to give our hearts to sin and the idols of suburbia.
It may mean looking foolish in the eyes of our friends, because we have chosen to live a lifestyle centered on pleasing Christ. It will mean forgoing the pleasures of sin, denying ourselves the fleeting pleasures we get from them. The denial of self will take place and it will show itself—even in the suburbs. This denial will be a form of suffering in some form, but it is a suffering mixed with pleasure as we experience the sweetness of knowing God in the midst of our trials.
TAKING UP OUR CROSS
To take up our cross means dying to ourselves and following Christ on a path that looks like death. It will look like death to outsiders, but for those who have come to know Christ, it is the path of life. Taking up our cross will look different for each of us, depending on the circumstances God has sovereignly placed in our lives. But it will show itself in some way: perhaps the death will be financial; perhaps the death will be emotional; perhaps the death will involve some social elements. Christians—even in the suburbs—will have to take up their cross if they want to follow Jesus.
There is no free pass out of suffering and denying ourselves if we are to follow Jesus in this life. Because we live in a fallen world, to embrace Christ as our life and the Bible as the truth will mean that we will suffer. It may mean just grieving over the brokenness of the world and the darkness of sin—something that a believer’s eyes have been opened to see (the opening of eyes leads to both pleasure of knowing God but also the pain of seeing more clearly the sin in one’s heart and the world).
I think sometimes in the suburbs we believe that we should get a pass from suffering, because we live in a place that does everything it can to minimize suffering or discomfort. It is good to beware of this, and not allow the idol of comfort trick us into think that we who live in the suburbs will not have to suffer for following Christ.