An Interesting Reader Question
I received the following email from a customer of my book. His question brings up a insight I got a while back that I’ve never written on before.
The last few months have really been bothering me! I can’t stop thinking about “forsake it all.” What does forsake it all really mean? I have listen to a gentleman in Australia who has been making YouTube videos, “a voice in the desert.” This guy is really convincing! Have you heard of him? He is teaching to be Jesus’ real disciple, you must forsake it all. Stop working, making money and live in an RV or homeless. I have went as far as I have sold all my retirement and I am getting ready to forsake it all. I still have doubts. Could you shine some light on this?
(Poor guy, I hope “sold all my retirement” is not as bad as it sounds.)
Although I am unfamiliar with this YouTube channel, the error in this teaching is not new. People have been taking the words of Jesus out of context and putting others in bondage with them ever since Jesus spoke.
Of course, when reading actual quotations from Jesus containing instructions, it’s going to be very convincing—until you see what the missing context was.
Here’s where Jesus said things to this effect:
Luke 14:33 — In the same way, any one of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be My disciple.
Matthew 19:21 — “Sell all that you possess, and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
Matthew 19:27 — Look, Peter replied, “we have left everything to follow You. What then will there be for us?”
Jesus required would-be followers to forsake everything to follow him. Peter and the rest affirmed that the Twelve had done exactly this.
This makes sense when you consider that to be Jesus’ disciple meant following him around as he roamed. You did not show up to a classroom close to home in order to be taught by him. He was constantly on the move. This meant leaving family businesses behind, such as the family fishing business that Peter and Andrew did (and James and John).
Jesus Has No Disciples Today
But if you had not noticed, Jesus is not around anymore. You cannot “follow Jesus” or be a “follower of Jesus” in the sense that he was referring to in the quotes above, as a direct disciple or student of his.
As such, what Jesus said above does not apply to anyone today. Anyone who tells you differently is mistaken and guilty of taking verses out of context.
Oh, people try to allegorize Jesus’ words and make them apply today. They talk about how serving God requires being open to his plan for your life and giving up your own plans. No, it doesn’t. There are some 30, some 60, some 100 (Mt 13:8), but they are all saved, regardless of how much they overcame and produced. The ones who go for the highest reward, will have sacrificed more.
Great servants of God have lived that way, nearly forsaking everything. Abraham left his country, but did not leave his wife behind. He was willing to sacrifice his son when commanded, but he got him back. The apostles gave their lives for the Gospel, most of them literally. But those are great servants of God who went for a higher reward, beyond salvation.
What Does God Require?
You won’t find this high level of sacrifice and commitment in Jesus’ teaching to non-disciples on pleasing God. When he spoke to the masses in the Sermon on the Mount and other passages he did not say eternal life required sacrificing everything. He actually said his yoke was easy (Mt 11:30).
To these normal people with no special calling of an apostle or father of God’s nation, his message was simple. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Mt 7:12), shine your light (Mt 5:16), bear fruit (John 15:8). You don’t have to leave your job, leave your spouse, leave your country or anything quite so radical to be saved. It’s a lot closer to what Paul told the Thessalonians:
1 Thessalonians 4:10-11 — 10 And indeed, you are showing this love to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to excel more and more 11 and to aspire to live quietly, to attend to your own matters, and to work with your own hands, as we instructed you.
You can please God very well by setting a good example by loving others in faith to God as you go about a “quiet life.” Doing that alone will make you stand out in this Laodicean age of lukewarm, materialistic believers (Rev 3:16). Heck, it would make you stand out in any time, like a light in the darkness (Mt 5:16).
Optional Sacrifices Later? Sure
Now don’t get me wrong. This is not to say that God may not call you to do something different than you had planned at times after. Everything is on the table and nothing can remain above God. God may call you to leave home, say move to Costa Rica or Germany (or both, one after the other =). But generally speaking, this is optional and if you “choose to accept this mission,” you will probably receive big blessings for making the sacrifice. God’s not forcing you to become great.
Further, I’m not talking about a Jonah situation where you heard the voice of God commanding you to go to another country to deliver a message and then you disobey the voice of God. That’s not optional in that case where it’s clear and explicit. However, the typical situation is where signs seem to point to God opening a door for you to go in new direction, not when you have heard the clear voice of God saying you must do that. You’re just not as accountable in the former situation as the latter.
Remember, the point of this post is to dispute the idea that a “front-loaded” all-in sacrifice is a requirement to be in compliance with Jesus’ teaching. That all must sell all to call yourself a believer in Jesus. That is not so and does damage to the simple message of Jesus to love your neighbor as yourself for God to be saved (Mt 19:17-19).