In my sermon this past Sunday on Luke 9:51-62, I touched on what seems to be a tension in the Christian life. On the one hand, we are justified by faith alone apart from works (Galatians 2:16). From the moment one puts his trust in Christ for salvation, he is from then on a redeemed sinner bound for heaven. God promises all true Christians, including brand-new believers, that our salvation is secure in Christ (Romans 8:31-39; Philippians 1:6). So we are eternally saved by God’s grace from the moment we turn from our sin and come to Jesus as our Savior.
On the other hand, God calls us to a life of discipleship. No one who doesn’t follow Jesus in this life will be saved (John 8:12). And following Jesus means living as he lived: serving God and others in a life of love, devotion, and self-sacrifice. We must (by God’s grace) turn from sin and walk in new obedience to the Word of Christ. When would-be followers came to Jesus, he didn’t sugar-coat the high demands of discipleship. A follower of Jesus must put him before all earthly comforts and even before family obligations (Luke 9:57-61). Anyone who turns back from following Christ is not “fit for the kingdom of God” (v. 62). This high call of discipleship is summed up in these words from our Lord: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
So I am saved by faith alone and by grace alone. But I cannot be saved apart from my taking up my cross daily and following Jesus. These are both biblical truths and appear to be in tension. The solution is found in the nature of faith. True saving faith, a gift of God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8), is a faith that not only unites me to Christ as my Savior but brings me to him as my Lord. No Christian is saved on the basis of following Christ but every true believer who is saved by faith in Christ will walk in the way of Jesus, however inconsistently or imperfectly his walk may be.
Another way to put it is this: God who saves us by his sovereign grace leads us by that same grace along the only path that brings us to our eternal home. That path is the path of discipleship, of walking in the steps of Christ as his followers. So to be a Christian means both to enjoy the already-bestowed gift of eternal life and to continually follow after Jesus until the day he brings us to our heavenly destination.
But the way of discipleship is often challenging. The world offers far easier paths to take than the path of Christ. But they lead only to destruction, not to eternal life (Matthew 7:13, 14). No one better illustrated this truth than John Bunyan in his allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress. Christian, having come to the cross where he was freed from his burden of guilt, is destined for heaven, the Celestial City. But he will only arrive there after an arduous and dangerous journey. At one point he sees that his road goes straight up a steep slope, the Hill Difficulty. Alternate, easier paths go around the mountain. But Christian stayed the course and as he climbed up the hill, he said:
This Hill, though high, I covet to ascend,
The difficulty will not me offend:
For I perceive the way to life lies here;
Come, pluck up, Heart; lets neither faint nor fear:
Better, tho difficult, th’ right way to go,
Then wrong, though easie, where the end is woe.
Pray for grace that when you are tempted to follow another way than the way of Christ, God will give you the courage and heart to stay the course of following Jesus. His way is sometimes difficult but it’s the “right way to go” for it is the “way to life.”
Soli Deo Gloria,