by Charles Eaton
What if Jesus meant what he said?
Ok, obvious, but humor me. I think we are often guilty of not taking Jesus as seriously as He intends us to. For example, consider Luke 18:18-22:
18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” 21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” NIV
Not an unfamiliar text, but one that strikes a chord of horror deep down in the recesses of our green capitalistic hearts.
Sell everything you have.
Not, give 15% tithe and offering combined. Not, donate 20% of your yearly bonus to the charity down the street. Sell it all. The 401k. The pension plan. The retirement fund. Kids’ college fund. Emergency fund. Stocks, bonds, CD’s, all of it. Every single monetary item you possess sold without pomp or circumstance.
Does this seem extreme to you? If it does, take a second to think about why. Jesus essentially labeled Himself a homeless wanderer: “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head” (Matt 8:20). Then, in Luke, Jesus admonishes His disciples to be homeless wanderers as well before He sends them off to minister: “Take nothing for the journey–no staff, no bag, no money, no extra tunic” (Luke 9:3). If worldly gain was so near the bottom of the list for Jesus and his disciples, how did it become such a priority in ours? I submit that the traditional axioms of the American Dream have duped us into balking at the idea of selling everything for Jesus. We have substituted Jesus’ call to go out into all the world and preach the gospel for a call to have two good cars, a white picket fence, and the NFL Sunday Ticket. We incorrectly perceive comfort and safety as Godly entitlements.
Has everyone been called to sell all their possessions? Not everyone–in one instance (Luke 19) Jesus was cool with a guy only selling half, but that doesn’t automatically preclude you or me from this sacrifice. Here’s the kicker: If you believe that God wouldn’t ask this of you, that this is a calling reserved for people who have achieved some sort of Super Saiyan level of spirituality, then you would most likely be the very type of person to whom God would say this. No one can serve two masters.
So many times I have reasoned myself out of a Godly impression, telling myself that the voice I just heard in my head was my own, or perhaps an overreaction to an emotional pull, or perhaps a product of stimulated guilt, or perhaps anything except the voice of the Holy Spirit. While every night I ask God to speak to me that I might know His will. Lip service.
This isn’t really about money. It’s about what you and I value and how much we value it. I’ve learned the hard way that God really hates idols. No matter if it’s good or bad, a blessing or a sin, a promise or a curse, anything that is more important than God is a stumbling block. Here is the litmus test: Imagine with me that God just asked you to give up forever that thing or person that is central to your identity—did your conscience revolt at the thought or start a sentence beginning with “God would never…”?
What’s worse is that for many of us, our idol is something unquestionably wrong. Maybe for you it’s porn, maybe it’s gossip, maybe it’s neglecting family and God for work. For me it was piracy—something so obviously wrong, yet so easy to gloss over. Faceless stealing is, after all, an offense that is obnoxiously difficult to feel bad about. Whether it was “sharing” music, downloading movies, or streaming popular TV shows, I am an expert at combing the net to find for free what mere mortals must pay for. But a few months ago, in the middle of a three-hour music download binge fest (gospel at that), God started disturbing my conscience about it. He, in His Divine rudeness, wanted me to delete my stash that I have literally taken years to build. Sell everything you have. 40 gigs of music. Dozens of DVD-quality movies. My favorite streaming site and my two backups. All of it. To some, this may seem like a trivial request. To me, it was back-breaking.
Eventually I submitted to God’s request, but I hesitated for weeks. That hesitation completely upended my spiritual life. I received no new inspiration of truth when I read the Word. My soul was enveloped in a murky soup of dread and guilt whenever I started to pray. My conscience was only cleared after I finally did what He asked.
The Bible makes it clear that the selling everything part comes before the following Jesus part. “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Meaning we can’t even call ourselves followers of God without first giving up our idols.
My prayer for you and me is a simple one: May God give us the ears to hear what He says, and the strength to do what we’re told. Honestly, I am terrified of what God might ask me to give up next. Yet swirling in the midst of my terror are strong streaks of anxious anticipation for the upcoming challenge. For this is truly Christianity.