After this past Sunday’s sermon on justification, an important question may be on your mind: What is the connection between justification and discipleship? How do we reconcile the gospel of free grace with the call to costly discipleship?
As I was thinking about that question, my mind went to a familiar story in Mark 8. As Jesus was walking down the road with his disciples one day, he asked them a question: “Who do people say I am? What’s the word on the street?” By the way, when Jesus asks questions, it’s never because he doesn’t know the answer. It’s always because he wants to reveal people’s hearts before he teaches them an important lesson. And the sense is that the disciples are almost laughing to each other as they list off the answers: “Some are saying John the Baptist, can you believe that? Some are saying Elijah, isn’t that crazy?”
Then everything goes silent, and Jesus looks them right in the eye and says, “You. Who do you say I am?” And Peter steps up as the spokesman for the disciples and says, “You’re the Messiah. You’re the Christ.”
Jesus’ question is not just for the original twelve. When you come to this passage, you’ve got to realize that you and every person since this moment has had to answer it. Jesus presents us with the single most important question ever: “Who do you say I am?”
But don’t just make this an abstract idea. Personalize it: Who do you say Jesus is? From this passage, we learn that there’s really only two legitimate answers: Either he’s significant, or he’s King. Either he’s important, or he’s preeminent. What’d the disciples say? “People think you’re significant. They think you’re important. They think you’re a great prophet and teacher.”
Peter, on the other hand, says, “You’re the Messiah. You’re the King to end all Kings. Jesus, you’re not just significant, you’re preeminent.” Do you know what that word preeminent means? It means taking first place. It means surpassing all others. Jesus says in response, “You’re right, Peter. I am King, but not the kind of king you’re expecting.” Peter and many other Jews in Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to be a Conquering King, not a Suffering Servant. You see that in Peter’s response to Jesus’ next statement. When Jesus tells the disciples that he’s going to suffer and die, Peter pulls him aside to rebuke him! Can you imagine pulling Jesus aside and saying, “Hey Jesus, maybe you should tone it down a little”?
Peter knew the right words to say, but his life proved that he didn’t have a clue what it meant for Jesus to be his King. He couldn’t handle the fact that Jesus’ agenda didn’t line up with his own. And the truth is: we’re a lot like Peter. We often try to use Jesus to get something we want.
So he pulls Jesus aside and he rebukes him. Jesus was the ticket for Peter to get what he wanted. But if Jesus is King, we don’t get to come to him negotiating. If Jesus is just a means to an end, we’re using him, not following him. If Jesus is just a “get out of hell free card”, or if he’s just a ticket to our justification and then we move on with unchanged lives, we don’t understand the gospel or the type of life to which Jesus is calling us. When we truly place our faith in Jesus, Scripture tells us that a revolution of sorts takes place in our hearts. We no longer live for ourselves and our own selfish, prideful desires. Rather, we deny ourselves, take up our own cross, and follow Jesus (Mark 8:34). If Jesus is King, if Jesus takes first place in our lives, we can’t make him a means to an end. You can’t come to a King negotiating the terms of your contract. You come to a King and you say, “You tell me where to go and what to do. You call the shots in my life. Here I am. Send me.”
This is what German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “costly grace.” He said “[Costly grace] is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.” Through our justification and through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, we have been freed from both the penalty and the power of sin. We are freed from sin to pursue Jesus.
So, friends, what does your life show you believe about Jesus? Does your pursuit of him show that he is one important person among many important people, or does it reveal that he takes first place above all others? If we’ve been justified and redeemed, we’ve been freed to walk down the costly road of discipleship, following closely behind our King. Justification calls us to give up on a life of comfort and ease, to deny ourselves and pick up the cross. It calls us to follow Jesus. As you do, you’ll begin to realize that the road of discipleship is a road of joy. Jesus said it best: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me and the gospel will save it (Mark 8:35).”
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