Following Jesus is hard. Obeying Jesus is hard. Sometimes even hearing his teaching can be hard. When we hear these hard teachings we grimace, raise our eyebrows, open our eyes wide and say, “Surely, Jesus doesn’t really expect me to do THAT!” Here are some of the hardest, but most central and critical teachings of Jesus that so many Christians and so many churches seem to ignore.
1. You cannot serve both God and money – Luke 16:13
We have probably all heard this one before and yet most of us have probably spent a good part of our lives living like it isn’t true. Jesus makes it very clear that it is not possible for us to fully love and serve God and money at the same time. We must choose. If we choose to love our money, our stuff, and our jobs that provide us with money more than we love serving God and doing gospel ministry – we might as well declare to the Lord that we don’t really worship and serve him because we’d rather serve our money.
2. Love and pray for your enemies – Luke 6:27-28,35
An enemy is a person who is actively opposed or hostile to something. As Christians, our “enemies” are therefore many. Jesus not only encourages, but commands that his followers both love and pray for those who are hostile and actively opposed to everything that they stand for. Are you regularly praying for and seeking to do good to those who are actively fighting against religious freedom in America? Those who seek to kill Christians worldwide? Those who post on Facebook about God’s “non-existence” and ridicule and condemn all who believe in such “nonsense”? In recent months it has become more clear to me than ever how many Christians in our country seem to think that evangelism means condemning the unbelieving world. Jesus doesn’t command us to sit on our computers and condemn those who disagree with our beliefs or are even hostile and actively opposed – instead he commands us to pray for them and do good to them.
3. Turn the other cheek – Luke 6:29
When was the last time someone hurt you or insulted you? I don’t mean called you a name, I mean really hurt you. How did you respond? For most people, our natural response is either to lash out and strike back or run away. But Jesus commands his disciples to fight the natural response and instead to simply take the beating, absorb the insult, and respond with kindness and love. Paul hints at this when he writes about Christians suing one another – he says, “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” instead of striking back and suing a brother in Christ. Jesus also modeled this throughout his trial, torture, and crucifixion – “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Christians are called to be hurt, wronged, defrauded, cheated, abused, and get hit on the cheek without retaliation.
4. Deny self, take up Christlike suffering – Luke 9:23
In a nutshell, Jesus explains what would-be disciples must do in order to become followers. They must 1) deny themselves, 2) take up their cross (meaning suffering for Jesus), and 3) follow Him. But if we’re being honest, many of us think we can jump straight to step 3 without denying ourselves or suffering. Paul writes extensively about Christian suffering in 2 Corinthians. He says, “Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies.” Paul is arguing that if we do not receive daily suffering for Christ we will not be able to receive daily life with Christ. Suffering brings life. Denying self brings life. Losing our life means finding it. If we are truly, honestly, authentically, sacrificially living a Christ-centered life focused on gospel ministry – there will be suffering. Do you suffer on a daily basis for Christ’s name and his mission in this world?
5. Following Jesus is more important even than family – Luke 9:57-62, 14:26, 21:16-17
This may be a difficult one to swallow and it is not always easy to explain even for someone who believes it to be true. Following Jesus and preaching the gospel is more important than caring for elderly parents (Luke 9:60). Following Jesus and preaching the gospel is more important than our relationships with our parents, our siblings, or even our spouses and children. Don’t believe me? In Luke 14:26 Jesus says, “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.” Loving my wife more than I love Jesus prohibits me from being a disciple. Loving my children more than I love Jesus prohibits me from being a disciple. Jesus demands such a strong and resilient love from his disciples that our love for our families must by compassion look like hate. Think about how much you love your closest friends and family. Multiply that significantly and you are only beginning to scratch the surface of how deep your love for Jesus should be.
*It may sound harsh initially, but I believe that loving Jesus first and foremost is the only way to truly love our families.
6. Hell is real and most people are headed there – Matthew 7:13, 13:50, 25:46
Many who identify as Christians either don’t believe hell is real or don’t believe that hell is eternal. Hell is both real and eternal and it will be far worse than even the most creatively sadistic mind could begin to imagine. Jesus spoke more bluntly about the realities of hell than most churches and pastors do today. Even those of us that do believe that hell is real, eternal, and terrible rarely live our lives like we care about the many who are headed there. Jesus said in Matthew 7:13, “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way.” Many/most of the people around us – even the people that we love dearly and have strong relationships with – are on the highway to hell. But do we do everything in our power to make sure that doesn’t happen? Do we pray every day for the unbelievers in our lives? Do we talk about God with them often and purposefully? Do we actually share the good news with them? You may believe that hell is real, eternal, and terrible – but do you share the gospel with your friends who are headed there?
7. We cannot be loved & accepted by both Jesus AND the world – Luke 21:17
Jesus told his disciples just days before his death,”And everyone will hate you because you are my followers.” Paul understood this when he wrote, “Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.” Most of us spend our whole lives trying to find love and acceptance from other people. The way we dress, the hobbies we take up, and the things we spend our money can usually be traced back to us trying to find love and acceptance from the people in our lives. But Jesus warned his disciples against this. If we are living lives that are truly obedient to Christ – the world will hate us. Being Christ’s servant rarely pleases the masses. So many Christians spend their lives trying to have both – love and acceptance from both Jesus AND the world. And in the process, many have found acceptance in the world while sacrificing obedience to Christ.
8. Forgive others, or God won’t forgive you – Matthew 6:14-15
Forgiveness isn’t always easy, but for Christians, it is always required. We have been forgiven a greater debt than any debt anyone on earth could possibly owe to us. We wronged God more severely than anyone could possibly wrong us – and yet he forgave us. Jesus said, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” If we do not forgive those who wrong us even in the worst possible ways, God will not forgive our sins.
9. Deny Jesus before men, get denied by him before God – Luke 12:8-9, Matthew 10:32
We must not be ashamed of Jesus. I always tell my youth group kids when no one will volunteer to pray, “Don’t make Jesus that person that you’re embarrassed to let everyone else know you’re friends with.” The point is that we cannot only identify with Christ quietly and internally. Part of following Christ is acknowledging him and identifying with him publicly to the world. Jesus says,“I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels. But anyone who denies me here on earth will be denied before God’s angels.” Again, many of us might claim to know Jesus and be Christians, but do we tell the whole world that we are? Do we publicly identify with Jesus and associate ourselves with him in spite of the rejection from the world that it will bring? We should – because if we don’t, Luke 12:9 will apply to us.
These are just a few of the radical teachings of Jesus that so many Christians and churches have either chosen to ignore. What other major, crucial teachings of Christ would you say that many Christians fail to acknowledge regularly?