The point is this: Freedom sounds good until you get right down to what it costs and, when that happens, most people will opt for something less than freedom.
Most of us would rather have someone else tell us what God says than to listen to God speaking; most of us would rather read a commentary than the Bible; most of us would rather be in submission to a religious authority figure than to take responsibility ourselves; most of us would rather listen to a sermon than preach one. Someone has said that many Christians are running around with an umbilical cord looking for a place to plug it in.
And so, do you really want to be bold?
When the Christian gets serious about Christian boldness, there is a price to pay. What Jesus said about discipleship needs to be said about boldness: “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’” (Luke 14:28-30).
Most of us would rather have someone else tell us what God says than to listen to God speaking
The question this passage raises is this: If I decide to go the way of boldness, what is it going to cost me? Let’s talk about the price tag.
Risk Sometimes Ends in Failure
Christian boldness presupposes that you will sometimes fail because you are required to risk. The easiest way I know to avoid failure is never to risk. In my pagan days I played a lot of poker. As a matter of fact, you can learn a lot about life and people from playing poker. When you play poker and you are never willing to risk, you must face the prospect that you will never win. Most people who play poker and never risk may be down a little one week and up a little the next week but they will never have the satisfaction of taking a large “pot.” Life is like that. If you never risk saying something inappropriate, if you never risk a relationship by telling the truth, if you never risk the acceptance of your friends by being faithful to Christ, then you will be safe; but you will never know the excitement and the great rewards of risk.
One of the important points I try to make with seminary students is that if they are in doubt about saying something in the pulpit, they ought to say it. When I say that, there are often questions from the students. They wonder if that isn’t a bit radical; they wonder if maybe that kind of thing could lead to saying something improper in the pulpit; they think a lot of people will get upset. I always say, “Yes, all of that is true. However, if you risk, the people who sit under your ministry will never sleep, and you will find that much of the time it was in the area of risk that you communicated truth in a way the people could hear and understand.”
Martin Luther said that if we sin we ought to “sin boldly.” What did he mean by that? He meant that there is nothing worse than a Christian who cowers over in a corner, whining about the perils of the unbelieving world. For God’s sake, I think Luther would say, “Quit whining and do something—even if it is done badly.”
I live in a large city and, when you live in a city, you begin to think a lot about safety. You can put bars on your windows, spotlights in your yard and bolts on your doors. You can buy a big dog, a big gun and a big fence. You can set up a security system that no one could break and “Keep Out, Bad Dog” signs that no one but a fool would ignore. You can refuse to go for a walk or risk speaking to a stranger. You can have police patrolling the neighborhood and neighbors you are afraid to know. The problem is that, once you have done it all, you are no different from the man who is in a solitary confinement cell. He is usually safe too but his freedom is gone.
Jesus talked about a man who refused to risk. Before a certain master went away on a journey, he called his servants and gave one man five talents, another two and another one. When he returned from his journey, he called his servants to give an account. The servant who had received the five talents had made five talents more and the servant who had been given two talents also doubled his amount. But the man who had received the one talent said, “Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours” (Matthew 25:24-25).
Do you remember what the master said to that man? He said, “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents” (vv. 26-28).
One of the things I have noticed about a lot of Christians is that they are afraid to risk checking out their faith against the arguments of unbelievers. They operate on the general principle that their faith may not be much but it’s all they’ve got. If they challenge a pagan, the pagan may rob them of the little they have, so they just remain quiet.
Go out and risk in this area. I’ve learned that it is only in risking that I’ve discovered the truth of my faith. If I never risked, I probably would hold on to the little faith I profess but I would always wonder if it were true. Its truth is discovered in risk.
If you want to exercise bold Christianity, you have to be prepared to face the possibility of failure, because you have to risk. Too many Christians refuse to risk politically, socially or spiritually. They have traded a prison called security for the excitement of standing on the firing line.
Some People Won’t Like You
If you decide to be a bold Christian, you have to face the reality that not everyone is going to like you. Most of us have a great need to be loved and, because of that need, many of us sell our souls. We commit some of our worst and most sinful acts simply because we want to be loved.
One of the hardest lessons I ever learned was that I couldn’t please everyone. I want to; I want to be what everyone wants me to be; I want everyone to love me. The problem is that it simply can’t be done. We believe spurious doctrines, refuse to ask questions, are afraid to confront, stifle protests, keep quiet when we ought to speak, allow ourselves to be manipulated—all because we are afraid that people won’t love us if we don’t please them. And that desire to be loved causes more Christians to keep quiet at inappropriate times than anything I know.
During the Jesus Movement of the sixties and early seventies, I was the pastor of a Presbyterian church near Boston. We were the big Presbyterian church up on the hill and, if nothing else, we were certainly proper. And then Jesus began sending some rather smelly, unkempt, vocal young Christians into our fellowship. I must say that the dear people in that church, its pastor included, did quite well in accepting those kids. But to be perfectly honest with you, it wasn’t easy.
Occasionally during the Sunday evening service, I would ask a few of those young people to stand before the congregation and tell what Christ had done for them. You should have heard them. They talked about their rebellion, their drugs, their guilt and how Jesus had changed everything. The problem was that their language was rather graphic. To be perfectly honest with you, graphic language has no place in a Presbyterian church but I let them con-tinue because what they were saying was so real. There were times when I hid in the chair behind the big column to the right of the pulpit and prayed nervously, “Lord, help him/her to say it in a way that is a little softer.” But they never did. During those days—and they were exciting—I discovered what made those “Jesus people” so winsome. They cared more for what Jesus thought than for what anybody else thought. That was a good lesson both for me and the congregation.
If you are going to be bold, you have to face the fact that a lot of people won’t understand. If you are going to be different, you must realize before you decide to be different that most people want you to be like them and, if you aren’t, they won’t like it. So before you decide to be different, make sure you count the cost.
You Might Lose Your Peace
And then there is another cost that must be paid if you decide to become a bold Christian: It will sometimes rob you of your peace. “Wait,” you say, “I thought that Jesus gave peace in the midst of turmoil. The least I could expect is personal peace in the conflict.” Yes, that is true, but you need to know the kind of peace about which Jesus spoke.
First, let me give you a principle. The peace this side of conflict is not worth a hill of beans. In fact, it is not the kind of peace about which Jesus spoke. The peace this side of conflict is not biblical peace at all; it is simply apathetic contentment. If you want to be contented like a cow, drink lots of milk and keep your mouth shut. Only dead people and cows know that kind of peace.
In contrast, the peace on the other side of conflict is worth anything it costs you.
Have you ever heard those Christians who say they know God’s will because they “feel peace” about it? I don’t want to say that isn’t the way to know God’s will but let me tell you about my experience. I have never felt peace about anything that was God’s will. In fact, the place of my greatest turmoil and conflict has often come when I was in God’s will.
If you want to be contented like a cow, drink lots of milk and keep your mouth shut. Only dead people and cows know that kind of peace.
I want you to go with me to the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was about to die. He knew he was going to die and he knew that the death he faced was going to be horrible.
When a man is frightened, he wants someone with him. Jesus was God but he was also a man and he asked his disciples to stay with him as he prayed. Matthew told the story: “Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray.’ And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’ And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will’” (Matthew 26:36-39).
The physician Luke with his practiced medical eye said, “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
Now if you think Jesus felt peace in that garden as he prepared to face the cross, I have some land to sell you in the middle of a swamp in Florida. He was not peaceful and, if Jesus was not peaceful when he was in the center of God’s will, why in the world do we think we should feel peaceful when we are in the center of God’s will? But on the other side of the conflict we see a peace that is nothing less than supernatural. When Jesus was dying, he prayed for those who killed him to be forgiven and his final words were, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46).
If you decide to be different, to stand, and to risk, the resultant “feeling” might well be, “I wish I had kept my mouth shut. How could I have been so stupid?” But as time passes, there will be a peace that you have never known, a peace that says, “I didn’t like what I did. It made me feel out of sorts and anxious. But I did what God said.” At night, in those few minutes just before sleep, you will be able to “rest easy” and “sleep clean” with the peace of one who has been faithful.
As you become a bold Christian, I’m not going to promise you success, acceptance and peace. You have to pay a price for anything of value. However, I do promise that ultimate success will be yours, that the Father will accept you even if no one else does and that, when it comes your time to die, you will be able to say, “Father, I did what you told me to do.” Until then, remember that you aren’t Home yet.
Time to Draw Away
Read Mark 4:35-41 & Philippians 4:13
What are you the most afraid of? How is boldness risky…even dangerous? When you do what you’re called to do, God goes with you. Not only that. You have his strength. And in that is great freedom.