Believing in Jesus isn’t something that’s unheard of among most people in America. In a 2015 Gallup poll, an astounding 75% of Americans claimed to be Christians. With the growing stark opposition of Christian values regarding abortion, homosexual marriage, feminism, and transgenderism in this country, I’m hesitant to put stock in the piety of those claiming Christ and His Word as their foundational truth. Something isn’t adding up. It seems as though many have been deceived into a false sense of assurance—perhaps a false deity based on morals rather than grace through faith in Jesus and His redemptive work on the cross.
Consider the words of Jesus in John 12:25-26: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” The true cost of following Jesus is the call to essentially give what He gave—His life. As morbid as this verse may sound, Jesus’ purpose in saying this was to give the hope of freedom from this world. The world may offer ungodly momentary and fleeting pleasures, but Christ offers the freedom of eternal life through the pursuit of holiness in Him.
This world and its sinful desires will pass away. (1 John 2:17), but there is freedom in Christ. There is freedom from the bondage of sin that we are all naturally born into. A popular, but damning, modern evangelical proclamation is that because of forgiveness of sins in Jesus, we are free to sin—to be carnal Christians. “Grace abounds!” Amen, but In verse 25 above, you can see that Jesus’ words firmly dispute that claim that His followers and servants are able to live carnally. Whoever loves sin and remains in it as a way of life will perish, but if we cherish Christ and His commandments above all, there is life. Jesus bids us to follow him unto death so that we may live.
What does this death that Jesus is referring to look like? It isn’t necessarily outside the realm of a very real and physical death. After all, all but one of the Apostles suffered horrific deaths for the sake of the Gospel. Why should our lives be any differently? While death by persecution is very possible for the Christian, there are other meanings we can draw from this text.
“They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:19-24
The death that all past, present, and future Christians everywhere are called to is the death of our old self. In Christ, our spirit is regenerated and are transformed to no longer desire sin, but desire the things of God. However, in our flesh, we still are tempted to give in to sensual behaviors, and there is a very real battle between flesh and spirit in this life. Contrary to the popular evangelical position mentioned above, this is a battle that every Christian is called to fight. And if we take Jesus seriously in John 12:26a, failure to fight this battle will result in losing one’s life eternally.
This doesn’t mean the Christian never sins. This doesn’t mean that we all don’t fall into snares and traps the enemy has laid out for us. No, what sets the Christian apart is the war that is waged on sin. What sets us apart is the fleeing from sin and pursuit of holiness. The litmus test is to first determine whether sin essentially bothers you. If you ultimately feel no conviction other than a moralistic, shallow guilt over your sin, you do not know Christ. If there is no true, change-producing desire for Christ and His character, you do not belong to Him. Romans 6:15 and following outlines the freedom from sin that we have in Christ Jesus. How can we be free from sin and remain captive to it?
The core of the Gospel is that Christ, being perfect and blameless, condescended to incarnation and though tempted in every way, lived the sinless life that we could not. Giving Himself up as a sacrifice for His people, Jesus took on our sin, and bore the wrath of God that we all deserve. In return, He clothes us in His righteousness so that we would stand blameless in Him before the Father, shattering the bondage that death and sin had over us. Who can go on living a life practicing sin if this is true for them?
The true cost of following Christ is the death of self and pursuit of Him. Put off the old, and put on the new—every single day. If you are in Christ and still struggle with sin (that’s all of us), rest in the Father’s promises. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). What this means for our sanctification is that the Father planned it, the Son secured it, and the Spirit brings about the fruit of it. If you are in Christ, the victory has already been won. If you are a true follower of Christ, He is faithful to carry you through it all.