|LIFE IN JESUS-MINISTRIES
I AM REVEALED
Aug 25 2013
IMAGINE A WOMAN NAMED AYAN
Ayan is part of a people who pride themselves on being 100 percent Muslim. To belong to Ayan’s tribe is to be Muslim.
Ayan’s personal identity, familial honor, relational standing, and social status are all inextricably intertwined with Islam.
Simply put, if Ayan ever leaves her faith, she will immediately lose her life. If Ayan’s family ever finds out that she is no
longer a Muslim, they will slit her throat without question or hesitation.
Now imagine having a conversation with Ayan about Jesus. You start by telling her God loves her so much that he sent
his only Son to die on the cross for her sins as her Savior. As you speak, you can sense her heart softening toward
what you are saying. At the same time, though, you can feel her spirit trembling as she contemplates what it would cost
for her to follow Christ. With fear in her eyes and faith in her heart, she asks, “How do I become a Christian?”
You have two options in your response to Ayan. You can tell her how easy it is to become a Christian. If Ayan will simply
assent to certain truths and repeat a particular prayer, she can be saved. That’s all it takes.
Your second option is to tell Ayan the truth. You can tell Ayan that in the gospel, God is calling her to die.
To die to her life.
To die to her family.
To die to her friends.
To die to her future.
And in dying, to live in Jesus. To live as part of a global family that includes every tribe. To live with friends who span
every age. To live in a future where joy will last forever.
Ayan is not imaginary. She is a real woman I met who made a real choice to become a Christian – to die to herself and
to live in Christ, no matter what it cost her. Because of her decision, she was forced to flee her family and became
isolated from her friends. Yet she is now working strategically and sacrificially for the spread of the gospel among her
people. The risk is high as every day she dies to herself all over again in order to live in Christ.
Ayan’s story is a clear reminder that the initial call to Christ is an inevitable call to die. Such a call has been clear since
the beginning of Christianity. Four fishermen stood by a sea in the first century when Jesus approached them. “Follow
me,” he said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19). With that, Jesus beckoned these men to leave behind
their professions, possessions, dreams, ambitions, family, friends, safety, and security. He bid them to abandon
everything. “If anyone is going to follow me, he must deny himself,” Jesus would say repeatedly. In a world where
everything revolves around self – protect yourself, promote yourself, preserve yourself, entertain yourself, comfort
yourself, take care of yourself – Jesus said, “Slay yourself.” And that’s exactly what happened. According to Scripture
and tradition, these four fishermen paid a steep price for following Jesus. Peter was crucified upside down, Andrew was
crucified in Greece, James was beheaded, and John was exiled.
Yet they believed it was worth the cost. In Jesus, these men found someone worth losing everything for. In Christ, they
encountered a love that surpassed comprehension, a satisfaction that superseded circumstances, and a purpose that
transcended every other possible pursuit in this world. They eagerly, willingly, and gladly lost their lives in order to know,
follow, and proclaim him. In the footsteps of Jesus, these first disciples discovered a path worth giving their lives to tread.
Two thousand years later, I wonder how far we have wandered from this path. Somewhere along the way, amid varying
cultural tides and popular church trends, it seems that we have minimized Jesus’ summons to total abandonment.
Churches are filled with supposed Christians who seem content to have casual association with Christ while giving
nominal adherence to Christianity. Scores of men, women, and children have been told that becoming a follower of
Jesus simply involves acknowledging certain facts or saying certain words. But this is not true. Disciples like Peter,
Andrew, James, John, and Ayan show us that the call to follow Jesus is not simply an invitation to pray a prayer; it’s a
summons to lose our lives.
Why, then, would we think that becoming a Christian means anything less for us? And why would we not want to die to
ourselves in order to live in Christ? Yes, there is a cost that accompanies stepping out of casual, comfortable, cultural
Christianity, but it is worth it. More aptly put, he is worth it. Jesus is worthy of far more than intellectual belief, and there
is so much more to following him than monotonous spirituality. There is indescribable joy to be found, deep satisfaction
to be felt, and an eternal purpose to be fulfilled in dying to ourselves and living for him.
That’s why I’ve written this book. In a previous book, Radical, I sought to expose values and ideas that are common in
our culture (and in the church) yet antithetical to the gospel. My aim was to consider the thoughts and things of this
world that we must let go of in order to follow Jesus. The purpose of this book, then, is to take the next step. I want to
move from what we let go of to whom we hold on to. I want to explore not only the gravity of what we must forsake in this
world, but also the greatness of the one we follow in this world. I want to expose what it means to die to ourselves and to
live in Christ.
I invite you to join me on this journey in the pages ahead. Along the way, I want to pose some particular questions about
common phrases in contemporary Christianity. My goal in considering these questions is not to correct anyone who has
ever used certain words, but simply to uncover potential dangers hiding behind popular clichés. Even as I ask such
questions, I don’t assume to have all the answers, and I don’t claim to understand everything that following Jesus
entails. But in a day when the basics of becoming and being a Christian are so maligned by the culture and
misunderstood in the church, I do know that there is more to Jesus than the routine religion we are tempted to settle for
at every turn. And I am convinced that when we take a serious look at what Jesus really meant when he said, “Follow
me,” we will discover that there is far more pleasure to be experienced in him, indescribably greater power to be realized
with him, and a much higher purpose to be accomplished for him than anything else this world has to offer. And as a
result, we will all – every single Christian – eagerly, willingly, and gladly lose our lives to know and proclaim Christ, for
this is simply what it means to follow him.
PRAY THIS PRAYER
I have a friend – let’s call him John – whose first exposure to the concept of hell was during an episode of Tom and Jerry
when he was young. During one particularly vivid scene, Tom was sent to hell for something bad he had done to Jerry.
What was intended to be a humorous cartoon scared John to death, and he later found himself at church talking with an
older man about what he had seen.
The church man looked at John and said, “Well, you don’t want to go to hell, do you?”
“No,” he responded.
“Okay, then,” the man said, “pray this prayer after me. Dear Jesus…”
John paused. After an awkward silence, he realized he was supposed to repeat after the man, and so he hesitantly
responded, “Dear Jesus…”
“I know I’m a sinner, and I know Jesus died on a cross for my sins,” the man said.
John followed suit.
“I ask you to come into my heart and to save me from my sin,” the man said.
Again, John echoed what he had heard.
“Amen,” the man concluded.
Then the man looked at John and said, “Son, you are saved from your sins, and you don’t ever have to worry about hell
Surely what that man told my friend in church that day was not true. Surely this is not what it means to respond to Jesus’
invitation to follow him. Yet this story represents deception that has spread like wildfire across the contemporary
Just ask Jesus into your heart.
Simply invite Christ into your life.
Repeat this prayer after me, and you will be saved.
Should it alarm us that the Bible never mentions such a prayer? Should it concern us that nowhere in Scripture is
anyone ever told to “ask Jesus into their heart” or to “invite Christ into their life”? Yet this is exactly what multitudes of
professing Christians have been encouraged to do, and they’ve been assured that as long as they said certain words,
recited a particular prayer, raised their hand, checked a box, signed a card, or walked an aisle, they are Christians and
their salvation is eternally secure.
It’s not true. With good intentions and sincere desires to reach as many people as possible for Jesus, we have subtly
and deceptively minimized the magnitude of what it means to follow him. We’ve replaced challenging words from Christ
with trite phrases in the church. We’ve taken the lifeblood out of Christianity and put Kool-Aid in its place so that it tastes
better to the crowds, and the consequences are catastrophic. Multitudes of men and women at this moment think that
they are saved from their sins when they are not. Scores of people around the world culturally think that they are
Christians when biblically they are not.
“I NEVER KNEW YOU”
Is that possible? Is it possible for you or me to profess to be a Christian and yet not know Christ? Absolutely. And
according to Jesus, it’s actually probable.
Do you remember his words near the conclusion of his most famous sermon? Surrounded by people who are actually
referred to as disciples, Jesus said,
Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in
your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away
from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23)
These are some of the most frightening words in all the Bible. As a pastor, I stay awake some nights haunted by the
thought that many people sitting in church on Sunday may be surprised one day to stand before Jesus and hear him say
to them, “I never knew you; away from me!”
We are all prone to spiritual deception – every single one of us. When Jesus says these words in Matthew 7, he’s not
talking about irreligious atheists, agnostics, pagans, and heretics. He’s talking about good, religious people – men and
women associated with Jesus who assume that their eternity is safe and will one day be shocked to find that it is not.
Though they professed belief in Jesus and even did all kinds of work in his name, they never truly knew him.
Such deception was probable among first-century crowds and is probable in twenty-first-century churches. When I read
Matthew 7, I think of Tom, a successful businessman in Birmingham who started attending the church I pastor. Tom has
spent his entire life in church. He has served on just about every committee that any church has ever created. One of
the pastors from Tom’s former church even called one of our pastors to tell us what a great guy Tom is and how helpful
Tom would be as a member in our church.
The only problem was that although he had served in the church for more than fifty years, Tom had never truly become
a follower of Jesus. “For all those years I sat in the seats of churches thinking I knew Christ when I didn’t,” Tom said.
Jordan is a college student in our church with a similar story. Listen to her journey in her own words:
card while I continued to walk in sin. I looked better than all the other students in my youth group, so this served
to validate my faith. If this validation was not enough, my parents, pastors, and friends told me I was a “Christian”
whenever I questioned my faith because I had prayed that prayer and I looked nice on the outside, so they knew
for sure I was “in.”
probably not going to cut it. So what did I do? I did what anybody would do who was not yet willing to admit their
total brokenness and depravity before a holy God: I “rededicated” my life to Christ (a term that was not coined in
Scripture, I assure you).
would continue to do in the future counted for something. I could save myself; I was sure of it. I led Bible studies
and went on mission trips, but none of that mattered. I was still by nature a child of wrath.
sinful self and God’s holy nature. For the first time, I understood that the point of the cross was to justify the wrath
of God that should have been directed toward me. I fell on my knees in fear and trembling and adoration and
tears and confessed my need for Jesus more than I needed anything else in the world. Now I am pleased to
confess that “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
(Galatians 2:20, ESV)
After years in the church, Jordan underwent a massive transformation in her life from knowing about Jesus to living in
Jesus. She went from working for Jesus in an attempt to earn God’s favor to walking with Jesus out of the overflow of
I don’t think Tom’s and Jordan’s stories are unique. I believe they express a pandemic problem across contemporary
Christianity. Masses of men, women, and children around the world just like Tom and Jordan are sitting comfortably
under the banner of Christianity but have never counted the cost of following Christ.
THE HARD ROAD
This is why Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 are so critical for us to hear. He exposes our dangerous tendency to gravitate
toward that which is easy and popular. Hear his warning: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is
easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that
leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14, ESV). In other words, there is a broad religious road that
is inviting and inclusive. This nice, comfortable, ever-so-crowded path is attractive and accommodating. The only thing
that‘s required of you is a one-time decision for Christ, and you don’t have to worry about his commands, his standards,
or his glory after making that decision. You now have a ticket to heaven, and your sin, whether manifested in self-
righteousness or self-indulgence, will be tolerated along the way. But this is not the way of Jesus. He beckons us down
a hard road, and the word Jesus uses for “hard” is associated in other parts of the Bible with pain, pressure, tribulation,
and persecution. The way of Jesus is hard to follow, and it’s hated by many.
Just a few chapters after these words in Matthew 7, Jesus told his disciples that they would be beaten, betrayed,
mistreated, isolated, and killed for following him. “Be on your guard,” Jesus said, “[for] they will hand you over to the
local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and
kings…Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child…All men will hate you because of me.” (Matthew 10:17-
On another occasion, right after Jesus commended Peter for his confession of faith in him as “the Christ, the Son of the
living God,” Jesus rebuked Peter for missing the magnitude of what this means. Like many people today, Peter wanted a
Christ without a cross and a Savior without any suffering. So Jesus looked at Peter and the other disciples and said, “If
anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his
life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:16, 24-25).
Shortly before Jesus went to the cross, he told his disciples, “You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death,
and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” (Matthew 24:9). In each of these passages in the book of Matthew,
the call to die is clear. The road that leads to heaven is risky, lonely, and costly in this world, and few are willing to pay
the price. Following Jesus involves losing your life – and finding new life in him.
Not long ago, I was serving in North Africa alongside persecuted brothers and sisters. I talked with one man who just
months before had his leg shattered in a church bombing. I talked with a pastor who shared with me how women in his
church were being kidnapped, abused, and raped for being Christians. I had dinner in a family’s house where just two
blocks away a follower of Jesus had been stabbed in the heart and killed.
I heard the story of three Christians who had moved overseas from the United States to work at a hospital in this region.
In a move that most people in the world (and many people in the church) would call foolish and unwise, they had left
behind their comforts, careers, family, friends, safety, and security to share the goodness and grace of Christ in a land
where it is forbidden to become a Christian. Day after day in that hospital, they met physical needs while sharing
They knew there was opposition to their work, but nothing could have prepared them for the day when a man walked into
their hospital with a fake bandage on his hand and a blanket bundled to look like a baby. He entered the office area and
immediately unwrapped the blanket to reveal a loaded rifle. Beginning in the office and working his way through the rest
of the clinic, he shot and killed all three of these brothers and sisters.
During my time in this country, the ten-year anniversary of that shooting was approaching, so we set aside time to
remember these three Christians. Our commemoration happened to be near the grave of Oswald Chambers.
Consequently, we thought it appropriate to read from Chambers’s well-known devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, on
that particular day. It was as if his words were written for the occasion. Chambers says:
What will you do? Will you hold back? If you get into the habit of doing something physically, you will do it every
time you are tested until you break the habit through sheer determination. And the same is true spiritually. Again
and again you will come right up to what Jesus wants, but every time you will turn back at the true point of testing,
until you are determined to abandon yourself to God in total surrender…
Jesus Christ demands the same unrestrained, adventurous spirit in those who have placed their trust in Him…If a person
is ever going to do anything worthwhile, there will be times when he must risk everything by his leap in the dark. In the
spiritual realm, Jesus Christ demands that you risk everything you hold on to or believe through common sense, and
leap by faith into what He says. Once you obey, you will immediately find that what He says is as solidly consistent as
By the test of common sense, Jesus Christ’s statements may seem mad, but when you test them by the trial of faith, your
findings will fill your spirit with the awesome fact that they are the very words of God. Trust completely in God, and when
He brings you to a new opportunity of adventure, offering it to you, see that you take it. We act like pagans in a crisis –
only one out of an entire crowd is daring enough to invest his faith in the character of God.
Chambers’s words, viewed through the lens of these three martyrs’ lives, challenge us to consider the seeming madness
of Jesus’ words:
yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot
be my disciple…Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-27, 33)
To everyone else in the world, these words seem crazy. But to every Christian, these words are life. For the few who
choose to abandon themselves to the will of God and put their trust in the character of God, following Jesus wherever he
leads, no matter the cost, is the only thing that makes sense.
WHAT ABOUT BELIEF?
Amid this emphasis on the cost of following Jesus, you might wonder about passages in the Bible where it seems that
salvation involves simple belief. Jesus tells Nicodemus that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Paul and Silas tell the Philippian jailer, “Believe in the
Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” According to the book of Romans, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9,
emphasis mine). Based on these passages, you might conclude that believing in Jesus is all that’s involved in becoming
or being a Christian.
This is absolutely true, but we must consider context in order to understand what the Bible means by belief. When Jesus
calls Nicodemus to believe in him, he is calling Nicodemus to be born again – to begin an entirely new life devoted to
following him. Likewise, when the Philippian jailer believes in Christ, he knows that he is joining a community of
Christians who are being beaten, flogged, and imprisoned for their faith. The cost of following Christ is clear. In the
same way, Paul tells the Roman Christians that to believe in the saving resurrection of Jesus from the dead is to confess
the sovereign lordship of Jesus over their lives.
In each of these verses (and scores of others like them), belief in Jesus for salvation involves far more than mere
intellectual assent. After all, even demons “believe” that Jesus is the crucified and resurrected Son of God (James 2:
19). Such “belief” clearly doesn’t save, yet such “belief” is common across the world today. Just about every intoxicated
person I meet on the street says he “believes” in Jesus. Scores of people I meet around the world, including some
Hindus, animists, and Muslims, profess some level of “belief” in Jesus. All kinds of halfhearted, world-loving church
attenders confess “belief” in Christ.
We can all profess publicly belief that we don’t possess personally, even (or should I say especially) in the church. Hear
the shouts of the damned in Matthew 7 as they cry, “Lord, Lord!” Jesus replies to them, “Not everyone who says to me,
‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. “ (Matthew 7:
21). Clearly, people who claim to believe in Jesus are not assured eternity in heaven. On the contrary, only those who
obey Jesus will enter his Kingdom.
As soon as I write that, you may perk up and ask, “David, did you just say that works are involved in our salvation?” In
response to that question, I want to be clear: that is not what I am saying.
Instead, it’s what Jesus is saying.
Now I want to be very careful here, because we could begin to twist the gospel into something it’s not. Jesus is not
saying that our works are the basis for our salvation. The grace of God is the only basis of our salvation – a truth we will
explore further in the next chapter. But in our rush to defend grace, we cannot overlook the obvious in what Jesus is
saying here (and in many other places as well): only those who are obedient to the words of Christ will enter the
Kingdom of Christ. If our lives do not reflect the fruit of following Jesus, then we are foolish to think that we are actually
followers of Jesus in the first place.
Consider a recent study which found that four out of five Americans identify themselves as Christians. In this group of
self-proclaimed Christians, less than half of them are involved in church on a weekly basis. Less than half of them
actually believe the Bible is accurate, and the overwhelming majority of them don’t have a biblical view of the world
The pollsters went even deeper, though, to identify men and women who are described as “born-again Christians” (as if
there is any other kind). These are people who say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus and who believe
they will go to heaven because they have accepted Jesus as their Savior. According to the research almost half of
Americans are “born-again Christians.”
But out of this group of “born-again Christians,” researchers found that their beliefs and lifestyles are virtually
indistinguishable from the rest of the word around them. Many of these “born-again Christians” believe that their works
can earn them a place in heaven, others think that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, some believe Jesus
sinned while he was on earth, and an ever-increasing number of “born-again Christians” describe themselves as only
marginally committed to Jesus.
Many people have used this data to conclude that Christians are really not that different from the rest of the world. But I
don’t think this interpretation of the research is accurate. I think the one thing that is abundantly clear from these
statistics is that there are a whole lot of people in the world who think they are Christians but are not. There are a whole
lot of people who think that they’ve been born again, but they are dangerously deceived.
Imagine you and I set up a meeting for lunch at a restaurant, and you arrive before I do. You wait and wait and wait, but
thirty minutes later, I still haven’t arrived. When I finally show up, completely out of breath, I say to you, “I’m so sorry I’m
late. When I was driving over here, my car had a flat tire, and I pulled over on the side of the interstate to fix it. While I
was fixing it, I accidentally stepped into the road, and a Mack truck going about seventy miles per hour suddenly hit me
head on. It hurt, but I picked myself up, finished putting the spare tire on the car, and drove over here.”
If this were the story I shared, you would know I was either deliberately lying or completely deceived. Why? Because if
someone gets hit by a Mack truck going seventy miles per hour, that person is going to look very different than he did
In light of this, I feel like I’m on pretty safe ground in assuming that once people truly come face to face with Jesus, the
God of the universe in the flesh, and Jesus reaches down into the depth of their hearts, saves their souls from the
clutches of sin, and transforms their lives to follow him, they are going to look different. Very different. People who claim
to be Christians while their lives look no different from the rest of the world are clearly not Christians.
Such deception is not just evident in the United States; it’s prevalent around the world. As I was praying through the
countries of the world recently, I came across Jamaica, a country that is supposedly almost 100 percent Christian. The
prayer guide I use made this statement about Jamaica: “It enjoys one of the world’s highest number of churches per
square mile, but the majority of self-proclaimed Christians in Jamaica neither attend church nor lead a Christian life.” As
I read this, my heart was overcome by the unavoidable conclusion that multitudes of men and women in Jamaica think
they are Christians when they are not. They join scores of people in countries around the world who call themselves
Christians yet don’t follow Christ.
Spiritual deception is dangerous – and damning. Any one of us can fool ourselves. We are sinful creatures, biased in
our own favor, prone to assume that we are something when we are not. The Bible says the god of this world (Satan) is
blinding the minds of unbelievers to keep them from knowing Christ (II Corinthians 4:4). Couldn’t it be that one of the
ways the devil is doing this is by deceiving people into believing they are Christians when they are not?
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF REPENTANCE
So how does a person truly become a follower of Jesus? What happens when the Mack truck of God’s glory and grace
collides with someone’s life? The rest of this book is consumed with an answer to that question, but consider for a
moment one word that summarizes Jesus’ summons.
The very first word out of Jesus’ mouth in his ministry in the New Testament is clear: repent (Matthew 4:17). It’s the
same word that John the Baptist proclaims in preparation for Jesus’ coming (Matthew 3:2). This word is also the
foundation for the first Christian sermon in the book of Acts. After Peter proclaims the good news of Christ’s death for
sin, the crowds ask him, “What shall we do?” Peter decidedly does not tell them to close their eyes, repeat after him or
raise their hands. Instead, Peter determinedly looks them right in their eyes and says, “Repent” (Acts 2:37-38).
Repentance is a rich biblical term that signifies an elemental transformation in someone’s mind, heart, and life. When
people repent, they turn from walking in one direction to running in the opposite direction. From that point forward, they
think differently, believe differently, feel differently, love differently, and live differently.
When Jesus said, “Repent,” he was speaking to people who were rebelling against God in their sin and relying on
themselves for their salvation. Jesus’ predominantly Jewish audience believed that their family heritage, social status,
knowledge of specific rules, and obedience to certain regulations were sufficient to make them right before God.
Jesus’ call to repentance, then, was a summons for them to renounce sin and all dependence on self for salvation. Only
by turning from their sin and themselves and toward Jesus could they be saved.
Similarly, when Peter said, “Repent,” he was speaking to crowds who not long before had crucified Jesus. In their sin,
they had killed the Son of God and were now standing under the judgment of God. Peter’s call to repentance was a cry
for the crowds to confess their wickedness, turn from their ways, and trust in Jesus as Lord and Christ.
Fundamentally, then, repentance involves renouncing a former way of life in favor of a new way of life. God tells his
people in the Old Testament, “Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!” (Ezekiel 14:
6). Similarly, in the New Testament, repentance requires turning from the idols of this world to a new object of worship (I
I remember a particular moment with a house church in Asia. We were meeting in a secret, isolated location on the
outskirts of a remote rural village. The impoverished homes in this village were virtual warehouses for idols. Satanic
superstition abounded as village residents were convinced that they needed a multiplicity of gods to protect and provide
One woman in particular caught my attention during our meetings. She listened eagerly to everything I shared from God’
s Word, and it was evident that the Lord was drawing her to himself. At the end of the day, she expressed a desire to
follow Jesus. We were thrilled.
The next day, this new sister in Christ came back and pulled the church’s pastor and me aside. She told us that her
home was full of false gods she had worshiped all her life and that she wanted to get rid of them. The other pastor and I
accompanied her to her house, and I was overwhelmed by what I saw.
Inside the small, dark, two-room home, black and red posters of false gods covered the walls. Demonic-looking clay and
wooden figurines were resting on the floor and sitting on tables everywhere we turned. In the middle of one room, a
large idol was mounted against the wall with its foreboding face staring directly at us.
We immediately began taking down the posters and taking hold of the idols, praying aloud for this woman and for God’s
blessings on her home for his glory. We brought every one of the idols back to the house where we were meeting, and
we lit a fire outside. That day, we began our time in the Word amid the smell of smoldering gods.
This scene is an illustration of what happens in every person’s life when we repent of our sin, renounce ourselves, and
run in faith to Christ. We humbly see and gladly sear the idols of this world that we have worshiped. We turn from them
to trust in Jesus as the one who we now realize is exclusively worthy of our exaltation.
When that woman became a Christian, it was obvious that she could no longer bow at the feet of false gods in her home,
and she needed to get rid of them. Similarly, I think of Vasu, an Indian brother who used to give offerings and present
sacrifices daily before a multiplicity of Hindu gods. Upon becoming a follower of Jesus, Vasu began to turn away from
these idols. Or I think of Gunadi, a man who used to be a devout Muslim but recently trusted in Christ as Savior and
King. In repentance, Gunadi turned aside from the teachings of Muhammad to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
In circumstances like these, repentance seems clear and obvious. Christians from animistic, Hindu, or Muslim
backgrounds must turn aside from false gods in order to follow Christ, and repentance is evident in the transformation of
their lives. But what about people in a predominantly “Christian” setting who aren’t bowing down before idols or offering
sacrifices to false gods? What does repentance look like in their lives?
This question is extremely important, for it exposes a fundamental flaw in the way we often view ourselves. When we
think of worshiping idols and false gods, we often picture Asian people buying carved images of wood, stone, or gold or
African tribes performing ritualistic dances around burning sacrifices. But we don’t consider the American man looking at
pornographic pictures online or watching ungodly television shows and movies. We don’t think about the American
woman incessantly shopping for more possessions or obsessively consumed with the way she looks. We don’t take into
account men and women in the Western world constantly enamored with money and blindly engulfed in materialism. We
hardly even think about our busy efforts to climb the corporate ladder, our incessant worship of sports, our temper when
things don’t go our way, our worries that things won’t go our way, our overeating, our excesses, and all sorts of other
worldly indulgences. Maybe most dangerous of all, we overlook the spiritual self-achievement and religious self-
righteousness that prevent scores of us from ever recognizing our need for Christ. We can’t fathom a Christian on the
other side of the world believing that a wooden god can save them, but we have no problem believing that religion,
money, possessions, food, fame, sex, sports, status, and success can satisfy us. Do we actually think that we have
fewer idols to let go of in our repentance?
For every Christian in every culture, repentance is necessary. This doesn’t mean that when people become Christians,
they suddenly become perfect and never have any struggles with sin again. But this does mean that when we become
followers of Jesus, we make a decided break with an old way of living and take a decisive turn to a new way of life. We
literally die to our sin and to ourselves – our self-centeredness, self-consumption, self-righteousness, self-indulgence,
self-effort, and self-exaltation. In the words of Paul, we “have been crucified with Christ and [we] no longer live, but
Christ lives in [us].” (Galatians 2:20).
And as Christ begins to live in us, everything begins to change about us. Our minds change. For the first time, we
realize who God is, what Jesus has done, and how much we need him. Our desires change. The things of this earth
that we once loved we now hate, and the things of God that we once hated we now love. Our wills change. We go
wherever Jesus says, we give whatever Jesus commands, and we sacrifice whatever it costs to spend our lives in
uncompromising obedience to his Word. Our relationships change. We lay our lives down in love for one another in the
church as together we spread the gospel to the world.
Ultimately, our reason for living changes. Possessions and position are no longer our priorities. Comfort and security
are no longer our concerns. Safety is no longer our goal because self is no longer our god. We want God’s glory more
than we want our own lives. The more we glorify him, the more we enjoy him, and the more we realize that this is what it
means biblically to be a Christian.
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
In the pages ahead, we will explore this revolution that occurs when a person comes face-to-face with God in the flesh
and he says, “Follow me.” We will consider the magnitude of the “me” we are called to follow and marvel at the wonder
of his mercy toward us. As we discover how God transforms disciples of Jesus from the inside out, we will see the
Christian life not as organized duty but as overwhelming delight. We will debunk popular Christian slogans and politically
correct positions that keep us from truly knowing and passionately proclaiming Christ. In the end, we will find ourselves
joined with brothers and sisters around the world accomplishing a grand and global purpose that God set in motion
before the world even began.
The journey begins, though, with truly understanding what it means to be a Christian. To say that you believe in Jesus
apart from conversion in your life completely misses the essence of what it means to follow him. Do not be deceived.
Your relationship with Jesus and your status before God are not based on a decision you made, a prayer you prayed, a
card you signed, or a hand you raised however many years ago. And the Christian life does not ultimately begin with
inviting Jesus to come into your heart. As we’ll see in the next chapter, that invitation comes from him.
FOLLOW ME: A CALL TO LIVE. A CALL TO DIE., by David Platt, Copyright 2013, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.