A man interviewed for a job at a famous art gallery that housed dozens of priceless masterpieces. As part of the interview process, he was asked, “If a fire broke out in this gallery and you could only save one picture, which one would it be?” The man’s answer was, “I’d save the one closest to the exit.”
The survival instinct: we’ve all got a touch of it, don’t we? As a character in an episode of an old western series once said, “When it comes to living a little longer, every man has some wolf in him.” For the Christian, however, this wolf poses a problem. I’ll state the problem by playing off that quote: “When it comes to following Jesus Christ and serving Him, every Christian must have some sacrificial lamb in him.” Consider the following passages (all from the N.K.J.V.):
Jesus: “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)
Jesus: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)
Paul: “I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.” (1 Corinthians 15:31)
Paul: “As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.'” (Romans 8:36)
Paul: “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (1 Timothy 3:12)
Peter: “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” (1 Peter 4:12-13)
John: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15)
How out of place these passages (and others like them) seem in this age of “health and wealth” and “prosperity” preaching when you are encouraged to live, as one best-selling religious book puts it, “your best live now.” In such a time, sermons on subjects such as self-sacrifice, turning the other cheek, and enduring persecution certainly don’t fill the pews of the average church, do they? And yet, this is the life of radical faith. This is the life of selling out to Jesus completely regardless of the consequences. This is the life of standard New Testament discipleship.
Again, we aren’t talking about self-preservation here. We aren’t talking about making comfort your top priority or leisure your life’s goal. You say you want safety, comfort, earthly treasure, and praise from the masses? Then you’ll never live under the lordship of Jesus Christ. Why not? That simply isn’t the life He is proposing when He says, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Trust me, no one ever took up a Roman cross to play it safe, enjoy himself, and live a little longer.
It’s not that Jesus wants us to go around with a death wish. To the contrary, He wants us to appreciate life, get out there, and really LIVE it for Him. But let’s be clear about one thing: His idea of LIVING it for Him is far different from our worldly ideas about what LIVING it for Him looks like and produces. We mustn’t forget that this is same Savior who promised, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). Those aren’t words that we Christians want to hear, are they? Undoubtedly, though, they are every bit as true and as relevant to us as John 3:16.