*How can one enter into eternal life?
*What does counting the cost include?
*What did Jesus mean – faith of a mustard seed?
*What is true service to God?
*What is wrong with worldly ambition?
When Jesus spoke to His disciples, He was completely up front. He did not withhold those essential truths they needed to know in order to follow Him. An example of this is found in Matthew 16:24-26. “. . . if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Jesus spoke right out in the open so that they could see what choices they had to make. The above statement was one of those choices. To practice Christianity one no longer does the things he formerly did. The line has to be drawn. Not only must he deny himself, but he must take up a cross. What is this cross? It is the potential possibility of martyrdom for the cause of Christ. While this is not presently a danger in the Western world, there are countries today where this still remains a threat. So, in counting the cost one must be prepared.
What are some of the necessary things one must do in order to gain eternal life? Notice this example:
And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Matt. 19:16-19).
Keeping the commandments of God certainly flies in the face of what many believe today. Yet, Jesus was very clear. The Jewish people were adamant in observing the first four commandments, but lax in the last six. This is why Jesus told this man what he should do. The law Jesus referred to was the Ten Commandments. The young man averred that he had faithfully kept the commandments from youth. What else should he do? Then Jesus told him, “. . . if thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me” (Matt. 19:21). Jesus was actually inviting this young man to become one of His disciples. But the cost was too great. “. . . when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven” (vv. 22-23). He was not willing to give up the physical amenities of life in order to follow Christ. He could not deny himself.
When the Apostle Paul was struck down on the road to Damascus, his life was instantly turned around. He had to give up his status in the Jewish community and to accept whatever became his lot thereafter. This is why he could say in later years, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Ph’p. 3:7-8). Paul had been willing to count the cost. He had been willing to figuratively and literally die for the truth and to put sin out of his life. He wrote “. . . our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Rom. 6:6).
Counting the cost includes repentance and baptism. Baptism represents the death and burial of the old man-the man of sin. When one comes up out of the water, he symbolizes the resurrected new man, created in the spiritual image of God. “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Rom. 13:14). “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). What does the cost include? It means that “. . . denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:12). As Jesus counted the cost, so we too must count the cost. “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God” (1 Pet. 4:1-2). One who follows Jesus must be willing, if necessary, to sacrifice all. This is what counting the cost means.
Jesus and His disciples often encountered demons during His public ministry. On one occasion, when Jesus was not present, His disciples failed to cast a demon out of a lad. The father of the boy said to Jesus,
Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour (Matt. 17:15-18).
The disciples wanted to know why they had been unsuccessful. “. . . Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” (Matt. 17:20).
What did Jesus mean by this remark?
For one thing, it is not likely too many people would desire to move a mountain to some other location. So, it is not a physical mountain Jesus was talking about. The spiritual mountains that stand in the way of progress are what must be removed. Even a small measure of faith can accomplish this. Spiritual hindrances of one kind or another are what impede spiritual growth. These must be removed, and it requires faith to do so. But, one must have a proper relationship with God to exercise faith. This is done by prayer and fasting. This is why He told His disciples concerning the demon, “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matt. 17:21). Jesus was in constant contact with God. As a result He had the faith necessary to cast out the demon. The lesson here is that those who are in constant contact with God can also have the faith necessary to accomplish the seemingly impossible.
Jesus’ disciples were very human. They were far from perfect and occasionally got into arguments. Jesus asked them, “. . . what was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?” (Mark 9:33). “But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest” (v. 34). They did not understand what true service meant, so Jesus gave them some instruction.
. . . [H]e sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me (Mark 9:35-37).
What was the lesson here?
True service begins by humbling the self, being willing to do the most menial task without expecting any recognition or glory. Jesus used a child as an illustration of the attitude necessary to be a humble servant. For example, how many adults pay much attention to a child? A child is generally regarded as insignificant. They have little say in matters of importance. They are generally not given too much consideration by adults other than their parents. Who is the least in society as a whole? A child, of course. This, then, is the status of the truly humble servant, the one who does not seek for the approbation of others, but merely strives to serve. Decidedly, such a servant does not have an attitude of self-importance. He is not one who wants to call the shots and demand his way. Such an attitude is what the disciples had displayed and Jesus set them straight.
Some of Jesus’ disciples had wanted to be great in this Earth. They also wondered who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. They asked Jesus, “. . . who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matt. 18:1). Jesus used a child as the example in this case also.
And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me (Matt. 18:2-5).
What does conversion mean?
For one thing it means to rid the self of all these carnal ambitions to be important. People who are driven by ambition are those whose carnal nature impels them to want to become great, to seek some kind of office and recognition from men. Ambition is not necessarily wrong, but if it is physically oriented with a goal of some human accomplishment that hinders one’s spiritual growth, it is wrong. One should never become a Christian in order to become important in this world. “. . . for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). The Christian goal should be as Paul stated, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (Ph’p. 3:10-11). While physical goals are necessary, they should not become the all-consuming purpose in life.
Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? The answer: The one who presently regards himself as the least, the one who has the humble attitude of a child. To argue over who was the greatest either in heaven or Earth, Jesus told the disciples, sets the wrong example in front of spiritual babes. “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:6). One who persists in doing so would be better off dead. When one has the attitude of a child, it will matter little who is the greatest. Why? Because children do not view things the way adults do, and neither does God. He does not view “greatness” the way men do. Those who conduct themselves in a manner that leads to constant argument over who is the greatest have missed the point of Christianity altogether. “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The one who is the greatest in the sight of God is the one who has a childlike attitude of humility toward God and his fellow man.