A young Nigerian friend phoned me from the United States to ask an intriguing question: “In all your years of following Jesus, what have you gained?”
She was possibly at a crossroad, having a crisis of faith. Probably, she was confronted with the bankruptcy of the prosperity messages prevalent in the churches. She had discovered instead that being a disciple of Jesus offers precious little benefit in this world.
The psalmist warns but to little avail: “Behold, these are ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.” (Psalm 73:12). Jesus Himself tells us in no uncertain terms: “In the world, you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John16:33).
Therefore, I could not but tell my young friend that, rather than gain in the world from being Christ’s disciple, I have lost a great deal. what I have gained are entirely spiritual. I have gained the fellowship of God. I have gained a kingdom built on righteousness and peace and joy in the HolySpirit. (Romans 14:17).
Losing to gain
Jesus, our Saviour, sugar-coats nothing. He makes us understand that whenever we gain in this world, we lose something of greater value in the world to come.
Therefore, He insists: “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:34-37).
This is what prosperity gospel preachers have been trying to hide from Christians. They do not want us to know about the shame of the gospel. The true gospel of God’s kingdom is not glamorous. It will not make us great in this world. On the contrary, it is designed to bring reproaches. It is designed to make us hated in the world.
Accordingly, Jesus warns: “Whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when
He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38).
The gospel speaks of a spiritual kingdom that is attained by spiritual means.
Therefore, if the world admires us; if the world celebrates us; it can only mean that the power of the gospel is not at work in us.
David says to God: “For Your sake, I have borne reproach; shame has covered my face.” (Psalm 69:7). This is because, in the world, the gospel brings us to dishonour. It earns us evil reports. It makes us sorrowful. It makes us poor. It brings us shame. (2 Corinthians6:4-10).
The gospel crucifies us to the world, and it crucifies the world to us. Jesus, our Saviour, does not save us from the adversities of the world. Neither does He immunize us from its travails. On the contrary, He insists that we must endure them.
Paul says: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (1Corinthians 15;19). This means that this life holds very little for the believer in Jesus Christ. The believer has hope for the future, but no guarantee of present enjoyment.
Jesus himself was put to shame. His friends deserted Him. One of them betrayed Him. Another one denied Him. He was flogged, ridiculed, and crucified naked on the cross. He died the most ignoble death of all: hanging on a tree.
Jesus was killed because he had nothing to offer the world. There was nothing that the world wanted that Jesus was inclined to offer. He is the Saviour of the world but not the kind of saviour that the world wants.
When the people came for bread and fish, He offered them His body and His blood. When they asked Him to lead a revolt against the Roman government, He refused.
He is a Saviour that did not even save Himself from persecution, crucifixion, and death.
Jesus left the world the way He met it. He did not address the problems of homelessness, unemployment, or injustice. Instead, He saves by telling people to turn the other cheek. He saves by telling people to give their cloak to those who take their coat.
Because we are ashamed, Christians often make up things about Jesus. For example, we tell people that since we met Christ, our business has been growing by leaps and bounds.
We continue to glory in the vanities and vainglories of this world, deceiving others that these are the benefits of discipleship in Christ.
But we have been duly warned: “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame — who set their mind on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:18-20).
Think about this for a minute with the mind of Christ. Is it to a man’s credit to be worth 10 billion dollars in this world of poverty? Should he be admired for sleeping with over 100 women? Should he receive plaudits for drinking a whole bottle of whisky in one sitting? These are examples of the shameful glories of this world.
Thus, Jesus warns: “What is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke16:15).
Yes, the gospel is shameful, but we must not be ashamed. Paul says: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16).
How can we be ashamed of something that saves us from this sinful world? How can we be ashamed of something that grants us eternal life with theLord God Almighty?
No! Instead, we look steadfastly at Jesus: “the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2).
Nevertheless, the shameful gospel saves us from shame. The scriptures promise that:
“Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” (Romans10:11). If the gospel will bring us shame, how can it then be said that whoever believes in Jesus will not be put to shame?
We are only put to shame precisely because we refuse to believe in Him. From God’s perspective, the only shameful thing is sin. Jesus bore our sins therefore He bore our shame. He has cleansed us from all sin, so He has permanently removed all shame from us.
He has not remove barrenness. He has not removed poverty. He has not removed the shame of not having a husband, or not having a job, or not having a male child, or not having a house, or not having a good pedigree. But He has rendered them all inconsequential.