The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21, “ For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,” (New International Version). Considering his long-term ministry, which included tortures, stonings, illness, starvation and imprisonment, among others (see 1 Thessalonians 1:21-17 for a list of sufferings he endured), this is a remarkable conviction to hold.
I think Paul was able to write this way because he understood 1) the impact of the Gospel in his life and 2) the measure of commitment it takes to follow Jesus with full devotion.
Unfortunately, the understanding that Paul displays, I think, escapes most who promote the Christian faith. For the most part, our devotion stops at our carnal natures. For some “would-be” Christians, pride in what they know (or think they know) about Christ, rather than esteem for Christ Himself blinds them from the Truth of the Gospel. Others ascribe to the notion of being a “good person”, considering this a mark of salvation. Still others justify sinful living, excusing themselves because they hold to a Christian (or “Christian-esque”) worldview. Instead of coming to the Throne Room of Christ in humility, too often we take snippets of the Truth and cut and paste them how we see fit, reducing Jesus to a caricature, and discipleship to a formula.
Paul recounts the measure of commitment it takes to follow Christ with an authentic heart in Philippians 1. This cost is rarely communicated and more rarely accepted. Regardless, the authentic believer will weigh the cost of following Jesus and commit to the following:
This is not something that our western world wants to believe. Quite the opposite actually. We are bombarded with messages about how we are due what is owed us or how we should hold to our individual rights. The problem arises when we hold to these values, and then confronted by Christ–who commands His disciples to deny our very lives to follow Him (see Luke 9:23-24)–we are required to surrender, to succumb.
Paul wrote in Romans 6:2-4 (NIV),
We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
We must remember that Christianity is not about making Jesus our Lord and Saviour. It is acknowledging the Lordship of Christ over us and surrendering to His Will, and giving up rights to our own. Surrender is God’s call to the sinner, a call that Michael Beck states is “to those who are still fighting His rule.” Yet, the believer’s life is one that reflects surrender by “put[ting] up no residual battle once we have fully accepted the reality of the Holy Spirit’s control,” (P. C. Walker).
Where surrender is to succumb to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, submission is our allegiant response to it.
For many in our society, submission is a negative term, denoting some kind of tyrannical force is at play. Rather, to submit under Christ is to concede willfully to Him, while remaining free to rebel just the same. Submission is the call to the saint to obey even when logic, emotion or the empirical counteract.
In short, understanding submission as obedience when it doesn’t make sense can be summed up in one word thematic in Hebrews 11–“faith”. Faith to obey in the goodness of God is a choice that bears much fruit. For beginning believers, submitting in obedience will be harder than for those who have walked with the Lord for longer. This is because, as we become more familiar with the goodness and loving character of God, the experience we gain is something on which we can rely. Therefore, submitting under God’s rule becomes more natural.
Submission is a requisite of the surrendered life. For by submission, we are moving toward holiness and away from rebellion. It is functional faith–the doing of our belief in Christ as Lord.
Once more, the words of Paul chime, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship,” (Romans 12:1, NIV).
The sacrifice is the most humble method of worship as it is the giving up of something valuable in order to give worth to something else. To worship anything is to proclaim its worth (worship = worthship). This is certainly a call of the believer and it is certainly not without cost.
The authentic disciple will learn to live sacrificially, esteeming Jesus Christ above all, whether materials, relationships, beliefs, even principles. Living sacrificially does not necessitate that we forfeit such things. However, we are called to value Christ to the point where we would forfeit materials, relationships, etc. in light of the worth Christ has in our lives (see Matthew 10:37-39). A simple way to know how much worth we ascribe to Christ is by evaluating our willingness to forfeit all other things we hold dear in exchange for Him.
One thing, in my experience, that makes western Christians squirm is the biblical calling to suffer, as Paul continues in Philippians 1. He states, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him,” (Philippians 1:29, NIV).
Suffering is to lay down our own well-being or self-interest in order to bring God glory.
A. W. Tozer once regarded sanctification (the process of becoming godly) as suffering:
In human experience [the self] is made of living spiritual tissue; it is composed of the sentient, quivering stuff of which our whole beings consist, and to touch it is to touch us where we feel pain. To tear it away is to injure us, to hurt us and make us bleed. To say otherwise is to make the cross no cross and death no death at all. It is never fun to die. To rip through dear and tender stuff of which life is made can never be anything but painful. Yet that is what the cross did to Jesus, and it is what the cross would do to every man to set him free.
Yes, the call to suffer for Christ involves the continuing pain of exposed sin and repentance. As the Holy Spirit convicts us, we must learn to relinquish those things that we have worshiped, loved and on which we have become dependent that take God’s place as Lord. These could be the things as mentioned above, but also the carnal patterns in our lives that God regards rebellion.
We are called to remove these things that have become normal in our lives. When they are removed abruptly, it is as unsettling as a sliver removed from under the skin. But this is the suffering that occurs when we are committed to godly living.
It is when we are responsive to suffer in this way that we can take on the suffering as stated in 1 Peter 4:1-2 (NIV):
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.
Weighing the Cost
We as Christians must weigh the cost of our life under Christ’s rule by consider the 4 S’s: Surrender, Submission, Sacrifice and Suffering. For by weighing these things, others can truly know where our allegiance lies and will not wait for us to confirm nor deny our position with God. It will be clear by our lives that the Gospel has impacted us and that our response is to follow Jesus with full devotion.