Many times while writing this blog, I have been focused on one study, and during it I have already seen the undercurrents of my next topic. It is as if these studies are a very long form of associative thinking, where one talking point finishes by reminding me of another. I like the idea of just following that flow, and this brings me to the new topic which I will be beginning today.
One of the themes from my previous study was that halfhearted discipleship does not work. Side projects, passive income, and à la carte menus have their place in life, but God does not belong in any of those camps. If anyone is going to try to follow Him, then they need to be serious about following Him all the way.
And this all-in mentality applies to other aspects of spirituality as well. What is it that the gospel offers us in return for our total devotion? What unique benefits are in it that we cannot find elsewhere? Well it has to be one of two things: everything or nothing. Either the gospel is the one truth that it claims to be, or it is an entirely hollow lie. Either you follow it because it is irreplaceable, or you abandon it because it has no value.
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked
I had a desperate time where I felt afraid of losing all that I had: family, community, God, even myself. It took a while, but eventually came the day where I was motivated enough to start working on my heart, no matter the cost. I opened up about my struggles, and started attending group therapy for addiction recovery. There I met others in the exact same desperate situation. Each of us knew that we had nothing, and were willing to do whatever it took to get clean.
Well, most of us, that is.
There was one person who adamantly maintained that he didn’t have a real problem. Maybe just a little one, but nothing really serious, and so he was only here to appease the people that had made him come. He did not last long.
There was another who knew he had a real problem, but he also had very little to lose because of it. He was young, and still comfortable in his parents home, with no meaningful relationships being damaged, no bills stacking up, and not in danger of losing a job. Unlike the rest of us, he did not see the gates of Hell opening wide beneath his feet. He did not last long either.
When these two discussed their situation, it was evident that they were just as spiritually wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked as the rest of us. But they weren’t ready to face the music, because, like the scripture says, they told themselves “I have need of nothing.” Perhaps they will be back when they finally feel the heat.
I would thou wert cold or hot
As I said, I was afraid that I might lose my family, my fellowman, my God, and even my own self. And in that moment of terror, God was able to work with that because I was all in.
It’s been a couple years now, and I have not only seen a light at the end of the tunnel, I have started to drink deeply of it. I have feel so much more happy now, and I have a passion to care for my soul, to show love to my family, to support my fellowman, and to follow my God. Obviously, God is able to work with that, too, because I am still all in.
To “have need of nothing” is the greatest possible curse. If we are lukewarm, sitting on the fence, neither coming nor going, no skin in the game, got nothing to lose, not a care in the world…then our journey is over before it began. We are consigned to the ranks of the forever mediocre.
Get cold or get hot. Get desperate or get rapturous. Give a damn so you can get a taste of heaven.
Luke 15:11-14, 17-20, 22-24
And he said, A certain man had two sons:
And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:
For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me.
And not many days after the younger son wasted his substance with riotous living.
Each one of us can relate with the story of the Prodigal Son to some degree. Like the son, each of us began life with wonderful gifts from our Father. Whether we grew up in a religious home or not, our common inheritance at birth included a divine soul, the ability to feel God’s spirit in our hearts, and a desire to be connected with Him.
Like the son, though, so many of us (all of us?) undervalue the significance of such things. We take the greatest gifts that we have in life and squander them, vainly pursuing entertainment or medication in all the wrong places.
And when he had spent all, he began to be in want.
And when he came to himself, he said, How many servants of my father’s have bread enough, and I perish with hunger!
One cannot sever the soul from the body. One can try to muffle it, suppress it, and outright deny it. But it is there, and it does ache us when we fail to care for it. We cannot squander our birthright and not feel bad about it. Sooner or later, we “come to ourselves,” and realize that where once we had everything, now we have nothing.
I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
We had everything, we traded it all for nothing, and now we’ll gladly take anything. From one extreme to the next to the next, we learn to finally give proper value to that which was taken for granted. We are all in now, willing to do whatever it takes to receive whatever God is still willing to give us.
But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
And bring the fatted calf, and let us eat, and be merry.
And then, of course, the ending which turns would-be followers into full-blown evangelists. Grace and mercy that seem ridiculously over-the-top and totally undeserved. Complete forgiveness and restoration. Not because we’ve earned it, but because God just wants to and no one can tell Him that He can’t! From everything to nothing, to all in, to even more “everything” than we had at the beginning.
This is not some pretty fairy tale that describes an unreal hypothetical. It is not a limited allegory, that will only apply to one or two of God’s most special followers. It is the story that was meant for me, and meant for you, and meant for us all.
Matthew 6:24, James 1:7-8
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
No man can serve two masters
A double minded man is unstable in all his ways
There are many that are prepared to follow God…with caveats. Perhaps they wish to be His disciple, but still nurse a vice on the side. I myself have lived under the mindset that there was a cosmic set of scales in heaven, and I just needed to do enough good things to balance out all the bad things that I was doing, too.
It is an alluring philosophy, one that would permit willful indulgences while only making token good offerings now and again. However this notion is not supported in any passage of scripture. While on my mission I met quite a few people who said of their vices: “well, like the Bible says, ‘do, but don’t overdo.'” Which quotation…flummoxed me to say the least! You can open a search engine if you don’t believe me, but nowhere does the Bible say any such thing.
Obviously it is unrealistic to expect total perfection while we live in this fallen state. For sure we are going to fall short and continually depend on grace. But accepting that we need grace is not the same as condoning sin. Though this philosophy of willful indulgence may come in many different forms and compelling arguments, the source of them is always the same. There is the only being that would teach a philosophy which indulges doing things that you know are wrong. And that being does not do this to be a nice guy, his intent is strictly malicious. He is no friend of ours.
Luke 9:61-62, 2 Nephi 28:21
And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.
And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.
No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God
Previously we examined the notion that we cannot follow God and indulge in our vices as well. The philosophy that we can leads to all manner of self-contradictions, not least of which is the Bible’s specific condemnation of it!
Some people try to get around this dilemma, though, by compartmentalizing their life. For them religion is an ornament on the shelf, something to add depth and dimension to the collage of their broader identity. It is a garnish to the main dish. It is living with an at-church-religious-self but also an ambitious-career-self. And because the two are separate, the ambitious-career-self does not have to answer to the expectations of the other.
The appeal of such an approach is obvious, but the simple truth is that none of us make it very long by trying to live good-ish. The above verse clearly condemns the notion of committing to God on Sunday, then looking away from Him on Monday. It is true that we play many different roles in life, but the gospel was meant to permeate them all. We should be trying to be Christ-like in how we interact with our community and our career and our friendships and our family and our side-interests, etc.
All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell
Imagine a castle wall made up of a strongly-fortified-bulwark-part, but also a gaping-hole-part. That is the effect of a compartmentalized discipleship. Are we going to hope that the enemy is kind enough to attack the strong area only? As the above verse suggests, I believe the reason why we even think that the gospel can be taken up and put back down stems from the notion that there is no enemy at all. Why bother patching the hole if there is no risk? Once again, though, which is the one entity who would be trying to convince us that there was no need to be protected?
Socrates and Pearls
The story is told (likely not true) of a young man who came to Socrates desiring knowledge. Cryptically, the master’s only response was to invite the young man down to the river. Once there, he further invited the man to wade out to the middle of the stream, where the water came pretty high on them. Once there, Socrates seized the man by the head and held him under, nearly drowning him before finally letting him go!
When asked why he had done such a thing, Socrates proclaimed that the young man came idly seeking knowledge, but that Socrates could teach nothing until the man was desperate for it, as desperate as he had been for air when smothered in the river.
There are things that I am very passionate about in life, which I love to talk about at length with others. But whether I actually do so depends on if the person seems to really care, or is just making idle chit-chat.
“So, what do you do for fun?”
“Oh, I just like writing some stories and stuff.”
Socrates and I wished to safeguard that which was important to us, reserving it only for the sincere. Similarly, Jesus cautioned his followers not to throw their pearls before swine, as it deeply hurts when sacred things are treated with irreverence.
God safeguards His greatest treasures as well. Many may walk through the doors of the chapel to seek Him, but He will remain hidden until most of them grow weary two weeks later and leave. And once the last of the insincere disappear, then He will step out from behind the curtain and let the remaining few find Him. Remember that God wasn’t going to do miracles with Gideon’s army until he had filtered it down to the core faithful (Judges 7).
These are sacred things, and they deserve the utmost respect. If you don’t feel that your soul craves the word of God like your body craves air, if you aren’t dedicating yourself to Him for the long haul, if you aren’t ready to be serious about your faith…then there are just going to be things that do not yet receive, plain and simple.
1 Kings 18:21, Hosea 10:2
And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.
Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty: he shall break down their altars, he shall spoil their images.
How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him
It is very hard to live a life divided. When the ancient Israelites were seduced by the theology of Baalism, they went to great lengths to make it compatible with their Hebrew beliefs. No matter how much they tried to contort things, though, Baal was Baal and Jehovah was Jehovah, and the two of them were not the same.
Today we also awkwardly try to combine the gospel with things that have no place in it. We do it as a society when we try to champion causes that make mockery of God, and we do it as individuals when we try to excuse our personal vices.
Their heart is divided; now shall they be found faulty
These back-breaking acrobatics leave us faulty in the end. I have far more respect for one who sincerely and whole-heartedly believes a different philosophy than my own, than I do for one who precariously tries to straddle both.
In the end we need to ask ourselves the same question that Elijah posed to the Israelites. Is the Lord truly God? Because if He isn’t, then we might as well cast that theology off entirely and fully embrace the ways of the world. I mean why not?
But if the Lord is God, then stop trying to make Him into what He is not. Accept that His commandments are what His commandments are, and that no amount of popular opinion is going to change them. Accept that even if you do not understand all the prescribed steps of His gospel, that they still are what they are, and need to be taken as such. If the Lord is God, then forsake the rest and follow Him.
John 6:67-69, Matthew 13:45-46
Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?
Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:
Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
To whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
Not all of Jesus’s followers stayed with him. Sometimes the doctrine he taught caught them off guard, and disciples that were offended by the message abandoned him. At such a time he turned to the twelve and asked if they, too, would leave him.
Peter’s response is an important lesson to us all. The Savior offers us things that simply cannot be found anywhere else. If we leave to pursue other paths, we are closing the door on things that will never be replaced.
When he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
In the parable of the merchant and the pearl, we similarly see a man who finds a treasure of greater worth than any other. It doesn’t matter what else fills his coffers, none of it can compare to this one ultimate jewel. So he lets all other possessions go, and gladly. At this point they would only get in the way.
It is worth considering whether we view the gospel of Christ with the same reverence as this merchant and Peter. Do we view at as just a nice thing that we accept parts of, but then abandon as soon as it challenges us? Or do we hold it as the ultimate treasure, irreplaceable by any other, and worthy of every sacrifice to obtain?
Half-hearted discipleship is a terrible limit on one’s soul, our own tepidness would forever hold us back from becoming the people we were meant to be. And I know this, because I have spent a great deal of time in this state! This study was absolutely meant for myself, a reminder for why I need to recommit myself body, mind, and soul every day. I’ve lately started a morning ritual where I reflect on the upcoming day, the temptations I am likely to face, and then make resolutions for how I will stand a little taller.
So much of it comes down to just living intentionally, not allowing myself to slip into autopilot mode. But to do that requires constant engagement, and I find that I cannot maintain it unless I am diving all in.
Anything that compromises me in one area, will tear down my defenses in all areas. I cannot try to be mostly good, I have to try to be all good. And though I will fail to be all good, just because I sincerely tried, the grace of Christ will come in to make up the rest.
PARTIAL COMMITMENT IS NO COMMITMENT
God loves us and fights for us whether we are entirely devoted to Him, partially devoted, or even if we are not devoted at all. When He calls on us to be fully invested in His gospel, it isn’t because of His ego. It is for our own sakes. He knows that “all in” is the only way that discipleship can work for us. I spent years trying to live a double life, frantically filling my coffers with good deeds, to try and make up for the indulgent vices I was also doing on the side. It didn’t work, the vice robbed the coffers, and every good thing I tried to do felt hollow and insincere.
We know that Satan entices us to be full-blown sinners, but he is also perfectly content with part-time Christians. Both groups are left within his power. If we think that we are serving God and the world, in reality we only serve the world.
Lest it sound like I am demanding perfection, I wish to stress that our actions will inevitably be flawed, forever falling short of the ideal. But even if we never measure up to perfection in action, we can be perfect in picking ourselves back up again after each slip. Our commitment can still be complete, we can be invested in always trying once more. That is enough. That much God is able to work with.
Matthew 6:24- No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Luke 9:62- And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
THE GOSPEL IS AS VALUABLE AS YOU MAKE IT
But what does it take to have a full commitment? Nothing less than the promise of all things. Only the assurance of every eternal happiness will compel a man to sacrifice all that he has. The question arises, then, do you believe that every happiness is offered within the gospel? Perhaps you don’t. Perhaps you only see it as able to offer some insights and some pleasantries, but not necessarily as the end-all-be-all ideology. If that is the case, then you will not be able to follow it wholeheartedly.
That doesn’t have to be the end of the story, though. One can work from this point forward. First and foremost is to accept that all things are promised by the gospel. Whether or not you think they can be delivered is another matter, but let there be no doubt that the gospel claims to be able to provide you with every eternal blessing.
Then the question is whether those promises of the gospel can be trusted or not. And to determine that, one only needs to test its various parts. Really lean into prayer and see whether you feel the presence of something eternal or not. Really dive into the scriptures and see if they are alive with an unseen Spirit. Really adhere to the commandments that you can and see whether you experience the promised change of heart. Test the gospel in enough areas, see it bear the fruit that is promised in each, and soon enough you’ll have faith in it all. But do your testing sincerely. Be all in each step that you take.
Luke 15:17-18- And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him: make me as one of thy hired servants.
WITHOUT THE GOSPEL YOU HAVE NOTHING
Who is willing to make such an experiment, to sincerely commit to something so demanding, and all on only a sliver of hope? Well, usually none of us until we are first broken and desperate. Most of us have to try and live without the gospel first, find ourselves in dire straits because of it, and only then become willing to try the things we had previously scorned.
But let’s back up a bit. At the outset, the world offers many things, and the pleasures it promises make it very easy for us to dismiss the gospel. Entertainment, recognition, diversion, stimulation…these are all pleasant things, and the first tastes of them are so intoxicating that we believe they will forever be enough. When you have enjoyment like this, what need is there for things like resurrection, grace, eternal life, and forgiveness? We are content without them.
In time, though, all the getting still leaves us wanting, the pleasures grow stale, some of them are even taken from us on a whim. Eventually we realize that the everything of the world means nothing to us anymore. And the spiritual things we considered to be nothing now mean everything. The soul grows desperate for the eternal, and one becomes willing to sacrifice everything of the world, just to obtain any of the grace that God is willing to measure out to them. And God, of course, is willing to measure out all of it.
John 6:68- Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
Matthew 13:45-46- Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.