About once a week, I get a text message from a good friend of mine out of the blue. This week, it read like this: “Half of what causes my heartache on a daily basis is parts of my pride dying on a daily basis.” Simple, sweet, but very true. This one sentence communicates something many Christ-followers can probably relate to – following Christ can be painful, it can hurt. It often means giving up your own desires.
This idea got me thinking, saying things like “Following Jesus can be painful,” or “Following Jesus is dangerous” aren’t exactly attractive phrases that build church attendance. So why would we continue to preach a message that doesn’t initially sound attractive? What does it mean to suffer for the gospel?
Not everyone faces intense persecution in this life. Following Christ will always inevitable come with the sacrifice of your desires and your wants. Why?
Jesus is the great physician, and like any good physician, he diagnoses and heals the sick. When Jesus enters your life, he’s like a surgeon who lays out your very soul on the operating table and he pronounces it “sick, dying, near death.” He informs you that you’re dying from the worst of all diseases and it is eating away at the lifeless shell you call a body. What makes matters worse is your sickness is so severe that it has made you delusional, to the point that you don’t even think you need help. But the surgeon unapologetically asks no questions. He wastes no time. This is an emergency procedure. He takes no time giving you medications to lessen the pain, he has no qualms over what it will cost. This surgery will be painful, and you will suffer.
And like a good surgeon, he begins his operation. He tells you that while you think you have life-giving blood flowing through you, it is actually poison. So he begins hooking up an IV. Immediately the liquid begins to flow. But the solution pumping through you isn’t a clear medicated solution. Its dark, its red, its thick. What is this, you ask this surgeon? “My blood. This is my blood. I’ve shed it for you.“
As his blood begins flowing, he takes out his knife. This isn’t just a small looking knife like you would expect from any other surgeon, it looks more like a machete. It’s large, sharp, and looks more suited for chopping down a tree than operating on a human. “Your pride has made you delusional,” he says “and this will allow me to address the problem.” And with a giant swing, he hacks off what looks like a life-sucking mass and it falls to the floor. Immediately you’re overcome with a realization of your need. You begin to wonder what is wrong with you. “Humility and a realization of your need. It is necessary for life.“
The procedure continues. The pain is extreme. You know you loved your pride, it was what fed your life. You don’t want to give it up. You can’t help but scream and weep. But a new feeling overtakes you, and for the first time you feel a new sense of life beating through you. “What is this,” you ask. “Life. You’re beginning to feel life.”
Having experienced such immense pain and what felt like great personal loss, surely the surgery must be over. You feel content with this new idea of life that is flowing through your veins. Why hasn’t the surgeon let you off the table? He pulls out his smaller knife, a scalpel. What is this new knife for? “I need to get in your heart,” he says. “You have idols in your heart and they’re obstructing the flow of my blood.”
With excruciating precision you can feel the shape of your heart change. Incisions so deep are being made that you can’t fathom why this might be worth it. You begin to think that you might’ve just preferred death.
“The end of the procedure is near now,” he says.
Just a little bit longer.
Finally, the procedure is done. You ask the surgeon to take off the bindings that were holding you down to the table. “What bindings? The only bindings I removed were the ones to bring you here.”
He soon holds up the mirror, and the person you see is not the person that began the operation. You’re astounded by what you see. It’s beautiful. You don’t even remember what you used to look like. You ask for a picture so you can see what you used to be. “We don’t keep those kind of records here.”
You ask the surgeon, “What is this, and what have you done?”
“I’ve made you like me, child.”
“I put you through all of that pain because I love you, and I’m the only one who could save you.”
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.