Give up everything for the faith? Give up anything for the faith? Such questions never confronted me while growing up in the very large denomination my family belonged to. They did become an issue for me later on, though, and that for an amazing reason. But as a teenager, I simply stopped going to church. My high school and college years were unremarkable, but then my story took a surprising turn... well, actually, there were two or three surprises...
I was as surprised as any agnostic to find myself drawn towards the Christian faith. My attraction towards a young woman aglow with her newfound faith played a big part -- that and the influence of some sincere Christians on campus. They deeply impressed me and gave me hope that my life could make a difference.
As earnestly as I could, one early morning in an empty parking lot, I gave my life to Jesus, asking him to forgive my sins and come into my heart. I was now a Christian on my own, not just because I'd grown up as one. I would probably still be a Christian if it weren't for one thing. It was the second great surprise of my life.
One summer I did something that we just didn't do in the church I had grown up in. I opened up the Bible and read it from beginning to end, one book a day. Some days it was a lot of reading. Wow! I was never the same again. The disquiet I felt at reading the New Testament never left me.
No matter how committed or content I seemed at church, at Sunday school, or as I signed checks and mailed them off to some far-away ministry, I did not ever have true peace in my heart. If the Gospels had just been left out of the New Testament, I think I would have been content with my life. But they were there, and what they said was not the gospel I had been presented with. What did this all mean?
True gospel? False gospel? For a long time, I did not sense that I even had a choice to make. The Christian gospel was the only one I had heard. It was the only one anybody had that I knew of. Why it was different from what I read in the Gospels, I didn't know, but I couldn't deny the fact that it was. I could only wonder how a religion so great, so long-lasting, and with so many adherents could have so little to do with its charter documents, its alleged foundation.
So many disturbing words confronted me from the pages of the Gospels:
Were these the words of a cult leader to his deluded followers, or of the Son of God to His would-be disciples? Actually, I did not for a moment think it was the former. But I wondered, if people would be honest with themselves about the Gospels, would they say that He was to them as the Gospels say He must be? Because if He were truly their Lord and Savior, wouldn't they be doing what He said? And what of me? Shouldn't I be doing what He said? Was He my Savior, or was I just fooling myself that He was? Maybe I had believed in vain, as Paul feared of the Corinthians.5
Thinking things through, I began to realize that the Epistles weren't what I thought, either. There was another host of impossibles there. Were they just given to condemn us? I had heard teachings that said, more or less bluntly, that not only was the Old Covenant law given only to condemn us and cause us to see our sinful condition, but that so were the "hard sayings" of the New Testament. Were the commandments actually meant to be taken seriously? Paul and John seemed to think so.
It very much seemed, to paraphrase the Christian apologist, Josh McDowell, that the New Testament must be the work of madmen, evil men, or godly men.11 I believed that Jesus was the Savior, and that the men who followed Him were godly, but where was I to become His disciple? Among the multitudes who were not doing any of His "hard sayings"? I didn't think so. I keep reading, pondering, and praying. There wasn't much else to do.
Then one day, when I was alone in the sanctuary of my church, I experienced the third surprise of my life. Actually, there was no one else in the building. As Sunday school superintendent, I had keys to the place. So I cried out with all my heart to God, on my face in His sanctuary (as I thought it was), but I heard nothing. Not a hint that I was even heard; not a hint of response from Him could I detect in my spirit. Strain as I might, I heard nothing.
God was not there... or He was silent.
I knew then that I would not continue going to this place, to this empty building, where He was not. I looked around at the cavernous, empty space. Just why should He answer me there? What was in such a place for Him? Was it a place for His word to dwell? Where? In space? He already had space. He had a universe of space. He needed a people -- a people who would do His will.
That is what had led me to cry out to Him in the first place. I had recently met a people who seemed to actually be doing His will on the earth. So what I really wanted to know was whether I should stay where I was, or go and join myself to them. What decided the matter for me was the gospel.
Somehow there was within me a powerful urge and desire to keep the words of the Son of God. I can only thank God for this desire. My part was to respond. If you have made it this far reading this article, I presume the same desire is in you, too. I had come to the firm conclusion that I could not (nor could anyone) keep His words alone. It is only together, as they were together in the first community in Jerusalem,12 that we are able to keep His commandments.
No "born-again" Christian I knew ever had to give up anything dear to him. Yes, many will say, "I gave up drugs and booze and stopped being immoral." It is very good to stop doing the things that degrade you and hurt others. Most religions teach such right things, and quite often their members behave as well or better than Christians. Who in his right mind would hold up the Christian nations of the West as models of morality? Models of decadence, immorality, greed, and violence, yes. In these, they set the pace for the whole world.13
But disciples give up everything. They cast their lot with their brothers and sisters, "putting all their eggs in one basket," as the old saying goes. That is why disciples live together in community. They love both the Savior and His words about giving up everything:
So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:33)
Disciples hate their lives in this world. That's why they give them up. That's why they are so thankful to hear that giving up everything is exactly what the Savior calls them to do. More than that, hating "your life in this world" is prerequisite to gaining eternal life!
He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:25)
As Christians, all the things of this world that we clung to only served to divide us, just as the rest of the world was divided -- rich and poor, black and white, male and female. We were as divided as the world around us. Those divisions between Christians: personal, denominational, cultural, economic, and national, are why the prayer of the Savior in John 17 seemed as if it would never be answered:
That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. (John 17:21-23)
Did He really mean these words? Surely He was a righteous man! Wasn't He righteous enough to have His prayer answered?
Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. (James 5:16)
Was His prayer "effectual and fervent" or wasn't it? Was He righteous or wasn't He? These are questions that demand an answer. Couldn't you also say that John 17:21-23 is a judgment, a verdict, that demands evidence? What if there is no evidence? Must not the judgment be vacated, the verdict annulled?14
I believed He was Lord, and I believed He was righteous, and I believed His prayer was fervent and effectual. It was worth my possessions, my job, my place in the world, my life, my everything to see this righteous man's prayer answered. So on October 23, 1982, my wife and I forsook everything and were baptized into the true Body of Messiah, entering into a lifelong covenant with others who had done the same.15 I have not been disappointed.