Imagine that you are in the first century Roman Empire. You are a Christian going through a time of persecution. Some of your brothers and sisters in the faith have already been torn apart by lions in the arena. You know that you could easily be one of the next names on the list of people whom the authorities might arrest. You could have your turn facing the lions while the people cheered your upcoming death.
You have a friend who is not a Christian and you are concerned for his eternal destiny. You know that you need to share your faith with him because he will never become a Christian unless he hears the wonderful news that Jesus died for his sins and wants to give him forgiveness.
You want to tell him that it is possible to have eternal life. It is possible to be in a relationship with the sovereign God who created everything that exists. It is possible to have his life transformed by the love of Jesus Christ.
You have a question though and you aren’t sure exactly what the answer should be. Before you witness to him you need to figure out an answer because your answer will affect what you will say.
When you tell him about Jesus Christ, do you tell him about the lions?
I heard that question asked in an interview involving Bill Hybels and Dallas Willard some time ago but it is still a very relevant question today.
When we share our faith, do we talk about the cost of being a disciples?
The biblical foundation
Jesus certainly talked about the cost.
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Matt. 16:24, 25
Paul taught it.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not be conformed any longer to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:1, 2
It was part of God’s message to Paul at the time of his conversion.
“Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Acts 9:15, 16
Peter wrote about it.
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trials you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4:12, 13
I once heard a preacher say that becoming a Christian was as easy as saying a prayer. From his perspective it was just one simple prayer and the person’s future place in heaven was guaranteed.
The simplistic nature of his appeal bothered me then and it bothers me even more now.
What about the lions?
Preaching the lions
In the 21st century Canada we don’t have to worry about literal lions. It is unlikely that any of us is going to be thrown into an area with a bunch of hungry lions any time soon.
I still think though that we need to preach about them. We need to include in our sermons the fact that there is a cost to being a Christian.
Our churches are filled with comfortable Christians. People come on a Sunday morning to listen to good music, visit with their friends and hear a message from the Word of God. Seldom do they come to have their lifestyles challenged or their future plans changed.
What does it mean to preach the lions in our safe, comfortable, Canadian setting today?
We are called to make disciples and there is a cost that every disciple must be willing to pay.
John as an old man wrote the Book of Revelation. He describes his situation at that advanced period of this life in this way:
“I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” Rev. 1:9
For John it wasn’t lions. It was removal from his friends and co-works and exile to a lonely island at a point in his life when he should have been able to relax and enjoy his retirement. He could have complained but Jesus had taught him long ago about the lions and John knew that his exile was part of living as a disciple of Jesus Christ and he accepted it for what it was an opportunity to serve the one who had sacrificed everything for him.
I’m not sure exactly what it means to talk about the lions in your church setting but I do know that it is part of what it means to turn people from seekers into passionate followers of Jesus Christ. It is an important part of the process of making disciples that we in the Canadian church are in danger of missing.