Every Christian is called to a clear and dedicated life of discipleship, whatever the personal cost may be. The call to discipleship is a call to self-denial, to surrender all. Noted German evangelist and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer, follower of Christ during Nazi Germany, said in his book, The Cost of Discipleship: ‘When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die’.
Jesus was so plain speaking about the cost of discipleship and its demands that many of His initial enthusiastic followers, having considered the cost, walked with Him no more. Jesus exemplified for us this self-denial from an early age when searched for in the temple by His parents, His response to their rebuke was ‘didn’t you know I would be about my father’s business’ (Luke. 2:49). At the end of His earthly ministry battling in the Garden of Gethsemane He prays to His Father, ‘not my will but yours be done’ (Luke. 22:42). Jesus’ life was a surrendered life from start to finish; totally laid down for God’s purposes and plans.
I confess growing up in Northern Ireland shaped a negative view of the word surrender in my mind and heart. The word surrender culturally was often viewed as defeat, where you had fought something or someone better or stronger than you and, if they ultimately won, then you might forfeit your freedom and independence. Yet the Bible teaches that the surrendered life is where liberty truly lies; when you recognise a better strength, a better way to live. To surrender to God is to acknowledge that His way is the better and best way and the pathway to true freedom and is the most positive choice for your life.
So, the nature of true discipleship is a call to self-denial and a surrendered life. It is the process of coming to the end of ourselves, laying our lives down to pick up the life of Jesus. Martin Luther used a Latin phrase to describe the state of a person without the life of God. Luther said that person is incurvatus meaning bent inward into oneself. Surrender calls us to face our pride and ego and say I need God’s grace, strength and help to live well and for eternity. If all I have is me, I will not make it.