Do We Need To “Forsake All” (Like Jesus Said)?

Do We Need To “Forsake All” (Like Jesus Said)?

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 18:22 — “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 the instructions of Jesus to the masses, such as the Sermon on the Mount or other passages teaching the regular person how to please God.

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.

8 thoughts on “Do We Need To “Forsake All” (Like Jesus Said)?

  1. To refer to the painting you use as an illustration… what about the answer Jesus gave the rich young ruler regarding having eternal life and entering the Kingdom of God? Where is the line drawn between following the Commandments then and now and in following Jesus physically at that time?

    • Kathryn, there is no difference between then and now as far as the love commandments Yeshua told the Rich Young Ruler to follow to enter the Kingdom/have eternal life (Mt 19:17-19). But to follow Yeshua was a special privilege where you learn how to master the commandments and gain secrets to mysteries of the Kingdom. He told him to give up all as the other disciples did (as Peter attested in Mt 19:27) for this privilege, probably knowing this was a test and a great chance to teach how riches often keep people from even seeking the Kingdom, unlike the Rich Young Ruler. The RYR was willing to keep the commandments but not become a disciple. He was saved up until the point if the riches got in the way of keeping God’s law.

  2. 28Peter began to say to Him, “Look, we have left everything and followed You.” 29“Truly I tell you, said Jesus, “- no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for My sake and for the gospel 30will fail to receive a hundredfold in the present age—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields, along with persecutions—and to receive eternal life in the age to come.…

    Not sure if the audience Yeshua spoke to was limited to those around him then, but it is clear that the Gospel of the Kingdom as explained by Tim in recent articles does apply to all of us now and then. I remember when I was 20 yrs. old and gladly gave up what little I had in life (it was far less than most of my time and social class, but that is another story…) for Yeshua’s sake and for the Gospel. I did not become much of a saint or preacher, and separated from the world of churches after barely a year or so. Nonetheless I kept the faith and did most everything as a prayer unto the Father. Today I now have exceedingly more than then after coming through some very unique experiences, almost always on a tight budget, even as now. My only real goal besides being true to my lady and mother of our three children, is to be able to fill more of my days with the study of His Word, so abundantly available from good sources online recommended by Tim as I transition out of my profession into an austere retirement some 45 yrs. later, but surrounded by my own extended family, with a good name and a beautiful happy home of my own.

    Why do I say this, so immodestly? Because I cannot refrain from witnessing that it is real not just theory, the Gospel, in that “all these things shall be added unto you”… My life is a witness of it! May the Father be glorified in our lives always and may his Commandments sustain us always!

  3. oh, and yes, “along with persecutions”, I believed this was for people out on the go, preaching, etc., but looking back I have always endured a type of persecution in my profession for sticking to a moral position, when the one expected of me by a client or others would have made me feel ashamed in the presence of Yeshua. Here again, a witness, that very often I had to risk foregoing or forego entirely the income necessary to take care of my family in my independent (God-dependent) practice, and no matter how scary it felt, our Father always provided sooner or later in such a way I prospered more than had I followed the ways of the world. Not easy always, and I feel often the way I treated by many as a result was “persecutions” for living a more righteous life… not easy worldly wise, but more profitable soul wise!

  4. One should only forsake such as stands in the way of worshiping the One True God as shown by Yeshua. If you think you should forsake all to follow another man(woman) to be closer to Him, you are mistaken! Stop, and ask Him to bless you with His presence… and seek independence (God dependent) from man(woman) so nothing stands between you and your Creator.

  5. When giving up ‘all’ for ones Rav, you need to be very sure that Yeshua has asked you for the sacrifice, and not simply be following what others tell you is what they think you should do.

    It is similar to being told that you must be ‘perfect’, as your Father in heaven is perfect…even though the term translated as ‘perfect’ is actually about completion, and is done in us through the Holy Spirit after beginning to follow Yeshua, and will not be completed until we are made immortal and righteous in the Millennial Kingdom. Being told to be perfect in my own strength at 7 years of age with the threat of hellfire behind it (gorily portrayed in a colored drawing of Dante’s Inferno the size of a chalkboard) set me into a chase after perfection that I could not reach, and into deep self hatred, and depression for decades until freed of it through Yeshua.

    I have had, also, the bat kol’s where you are impelled to do as you are told, although in my case it was two short orders on how G-d wanted my live to be lived. They were not onerous requirements, just hard to learn to do, but I did as I was told, and although I do it badly, Abba blesses me extremely, and I continue to be changed in him…by him.

  6. Who among us can argue that True Love is at times its own life-giving sacrifice?

    John 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

    Galatians 5:14 “The entire Law is fulfilled in a single decree: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

    John 15:12-14 “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are My friends if you do what I command you.…”

    Now if we can love ourselves the way Y’hovah loves us, loving others as ourselves takes on new meaning doesn’t it? It is not as easy as it sounds. If we can be ready on a moment’s notice to lay down our lives even for the sake of a complete stranger, and also be ready to sacrifice ourselves for sake of the small things short of getting snuffed out (which are even harder) — we are fulfilling the Law, when we DO those things. Take it from my disabled wife’s caregiver.

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