I was at the gym last summer on one of the elliptical machines that faces the window. I was looking out at the parking lot and watching the people come in for a workout before heading home for the day. After a few minutes a guy pulls up and gets out of his car. He’s a large guy and it takes some effort for him to get out of his small sedan. He’s still in his office clothes, but I watch as he reaches in to grab his gym bag. He puts it over his shoulder and then leans into the car one more time to get something else. He emerges with a cup that has a red spoon in it. You get what’s happening? This man is finishing off his Blizzard from Dairy Queen as he walks into the gym for his workout. He stands right outside the window in front of me to take his final bites. I’m pretty sure it was cookie dough. He throws the empty cup in the trash and walks in for his workout. He wanted to get in shape, but he didn’t want to make any personal sacrifices.
That’s how a fan will try and follow Jesus.
A fan will try and accept the invitation of Christ to follow, but they don’t want to say no to themselves. In Luke 9:23 Jesus makes it clear that if we are going to follow Him, a casual no-strings-attached arrangement isn’t a possibility:
If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself…
You can’t “come after” Jesus without denying yourself. The phrase “deny himself” isn’t just the idea of saying no to yourself — or even resisting yourself. The idea here is that you do not even acknowledge or recognize your own existence.
We talk a lot about the truth that being a Christian means believing in Jesus — but we don’t say much about denying ourselves. That is such an unappealing message.
How do you deny yourself in a culture that says it’s all about yourself?
In Matthew chapter 19 we meet a man whose name we don’t know. We learn enough about him from the Gospels that he is referred to as the “Rich Young Ruler.” He’s followed a path that has led to wealth and power. That’s the path that most of us are trying to find. He comes to Jesus with a question. In Matthew 19:16 he asks:
Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?
You have to give him credit for asking the right question. He wants to know, how do I get to heaven? But even the way he asks it reveals the heart of a fan. He says, what must “I do.” That word could be translated acquire or earn. He thinks it’s going to be an impressive resume that will get him in. Eventually Jesus tells this man what he needs to do. In Matthew 19:21 Jesus says:
Sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.
Jesus invites the man to become His follower, but first the man is told to sell all his possessions and give to the poor. He’s faced with the choice of following Jesus or keeping his stuff, but he couldn’t do both. There was no way to follow Jesus without denying himself.
Many people want to make this story about money, but it’s not as much about money as it is about following Jesus. Jesus puts this man at a crossroads.
He can follow the path that leads to money, or he can follow Jesus; but he can’t follow both.
So what does all this mean for you and me? Is selling everything a requirement to follow Jesus? Well, it may be. In fact, I would say, the more defensive you are of Jesus’ words to this man, the more likely it is that Jesus might be saying them to you. What is true is that everyone who follows Jesus will find himself or herself at a similar crossroads as this man in Matthew 19.
You won’t be able to take the path of following Jesus without walking away from a different path.
He wanted to follow Jesus, but when forced to choose between Jesus and his stuff, he chose his stuff. He wouldn’t deny himself. What choice will you make?
Watch the Video for Not a Fan
Excerpted with permission from Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman, copyright Zondervan.
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