Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:37–38)
It is good to wave the white flag of surrender before Jesus Christ. It is good to lay our lives down for him, to sacrifice our possessions, to bend and kiss his ring. To be sold out. To live radically. To lose our lives that we gain them (John 12:25). To decrease that he might increase (John 3:30). To refuse, by God’s grace, to be lukewarm (Revelation 3:16). As Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
This is indeed the beautiful life. This is the life that, once spent, will be given back to us with eternal interest. This is the wise life. The only life that does not end in eternal regret and horror. But this refusal to live half of a life for Jesus, this denying of self and picking up of our cross, is something else: the obedient life. This is the life, not of the A+ disciple fresh off a Christian conference. Rather, this is the normal life of the everyday Christian.
When we sing our hymns of surrender, we never go above and beyond what is expected of us; we never turn in extra credit. When we pour our lives out, when we don’t settle for compromise, we simply (and miraculously) obey what God has expected from the very beginning: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). That is his greatest commandment.
The Jesus We Might Not Like
Those who met God in the flesh in the first century felt the scandal of this. Jesus Christ, instead of being impressed and grateful to those who would follow him, said things like this to the crowds and disciples: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37–38).
Imagine Jesus looking a woman in the eye as she holds her newborn son, and telling her that if she does not love him more than her precious little baby, she is not worthy of him. This can only be the speech of God alone.
Jesus was not interested in self-dictated treaties. If we follow him, we do so on his terms. And his terms extend to all of us — even to our affections. No sovereign has ever demanded more holistic allegiance than Jesus has. Kings have commanded men’s purses, presidents have demanded men’s lives for war, emperors have ordered incense to be lit before them, but none could demand to be preeminent in their subjects’ affections. Who would dare command the highest love? Who would expect his servants’ hearts above their closest human relationships? The God whose name and glory stands alone as the supreme end of the universe.
The Secret to Living Wholly for God
This total commitment tells us volumes about one thing: the worth of Jesus Christ. We do not overreact or exaggerate when we live wholly for God. We give him what is his right. God’s command is not a requirement that the mother to love her son less, but a statement of the abundant love that flows as a natural response to knowing the real Jesus. After all our best strivings and sacrifices, after we have done what was commanded, we shall always say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10), all while lamenting that we didn’t trust, love, and serve more.
Here is the payoff: instead of focusing on our great devotion and trying to maintain it, we must look to the Christ who is worthy of that devotion. The secret to living wholly for Christ is to know the true Christ — and keep growing in knowledge of his love, his glory, his might. This is the fuel, this is the power, this is the secret: not that we love him, but that he has loved us and given himself for us (1 John 4:10).