I just watched the film, “Tortured for Christ,” and many years ago read the book of the same title. It’s about Romanian pastor, Richard Wurmbrand. Opposing the Communist regime, he was imprisoned for fourteen years and repeatedly and brutally beaten for his refusal to forsake his Christian faith.
In his own words, “It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners. It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their [the communists’] terms. It was a deal; we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching. They were happy beating us, so everyone was happy.”
While watching the film, I was deeply convicted that I have suffered almost nothing in order to follow Jesus Christ. When Jesus told us to make disciples, He did not tell us to build large buildings and put on entertaining services so that we could fill them with passive pew-sitters. He told us to go and make disciples everywhere we went. And before that, He called us to be disciples ourselves, not considering our lives as precious, but giving them away and pouring them out in service of Him for His greater honor and glory.
I have to ask myself often and honestly, am I really and truly a disciple of Jesus? The reality is, being His disciple, as well as making disciples, is extremely difficult. It is backbreaking, heart-rending, self-effacing work. And following Jesus involves more than theoretical sacrifice. It involves making concrete commitments and costly choices to follow that might result in becoming uncomfortable, being fired, straining relationships, and losing popularity. For some, it could even mean far more—a significant loss of freedom and/or the forfeiture of one’s life.
When Peter and the apostles were arrested and questioned by the Pharisees for sharing the good news about Jesus, Acts 5:40-42 tells us that the Pharisees “beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” They were willing to suffer and even die for Jesus because they trusted, loved, and wanted to honor Him. Any difficulties endured for His sake were a privilege to thank God for, not a hardship or humiliation to be avoided at all cost. And as they obeyed Him, they experienced deep and genuine joy.
While I know in theory (and by limited experience) that there is great joy and fulfillment in following Jesus, no matter the risk or cost, I am still constantly tempted to make my life more comfortable, less arduous, and inoffensive. I often love the world more than God, because I do not really believe he deeply cares for me and is a loving, gracious God. I constantly think I know better how to live my life because I do not really believe God is wiser than I. I repeatedly give myself over to sin because I do not really believe that the holiness of God is what I was designed to reflect and exhibit in this world. And ultimately, I continue to fear hardship, suffering, and death because I love the things of this life more than the eternal things of God. I don’t really believe that heaven will be magnificently, indescribably better than even the sweetest and most joyous moments in this life.
Am I a disciple of Jesus? In the broadest sense of that term, I hope I can answer yes. But in the concrete daily struggle to be faithful, I must admit, I am a continuous and consummate failure. And yet, in His grace, He still offers the promise that He is with me always, even to the end of the age. For all my foibles, failures, fears, and faithlessness, He remains faithful and promises that He will never leave or forsake me. He is still in the process of making me His disciple and, praise God, the journey toward joy is only just beginning!