One thing that has struck us as we’ve talked about this issue as elders is the fact that we don’t talk about sacrifice that much, certainly early on in someone’s Christian life.

I think we have a tendancy to see sacrifice as something that increases incrementally with someone’s godliness – the more godly they are, then the more sacrifice they will encounter and be able to make. There’s a degree of common sense in this. Sacrifice is hard! But as the Spirit works and we grow more like Christ then we will surely increase in our capacity to face sacrifice in an enduring, Christ-like way.

There’s just one slight problem with this approach. It isn’t actually Christ-like.

Jesus had an interesting approach when people came, and in modern terms said they wanted to become Christians. He homed in on the biggest barrier he could find in their lives and said that that had to go before they could follow him (cf. Matthew 8:19-22; 16:24-26; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 9:23-27.)

For Jesus sacrifice in following him wasn’t something that was to be expected, but introduced further down the track. For Jesus it was something that started on day one. And he didn’t just start with the small sacrifices to get people used to something that is alien to our wayward hearts. He didn’t ease people into sacrifice, starting with the chocolate a few days a week, moving on to the oversleeping, then into the more selfish lifestyle issues, culminating in attitudes to money, relationships and time.

No – Jesus went straight for the biggest issue and said you need to give that up. You need to know that’s the problem and get on dealing with it. This throne ain’t big enough for the both of us.

This complete sacrifice seems to be something that happens the instant we start to follow Jesus. In fact its almost like the packing of the bags to go on a journey. We are told to take up our cross and follow him.

We might sense a danger of people thinking that you need to be completely sorted before following Jesus, and be verging on a works religion. It is quite clear that Jesus wasn’t looking for the people who were already sorted. His disciples gave up much to follow him but there were issues in themselves that they were having to engage with throughout Jesus’ time on earth with them and even later (see Paul’s dispute with Peter in recorded in Galatians). Clearly you do not have to be sorted already to follow Jesus.

But this doesn’t negate the fact that Jesus calls would-be followers of him to immediate sacrifice that have massive implications for that individual’s life. There’s no dodging this fact.

In my experience there is one area that when someone wants to become a Christian we do seek to call them to sacrifice straight away as an expression of their faith in Christ. That is the area of relationships. If someone is sleeping with their girlfriend we will call them to immediate sacrifice to end this. If they are dating or living with a non-Christian again we’d call them to immediate sacrfice.

Why do we not do this in other areas? Where someone is clearly using their money largely for themselves. Or where someone is living alone and in a life-style that revolves around themselves. Why do we not call them to immediate sacrifice? Why do we not call them, as Jesus does, to take up their cross, leave behind these selfish ways and follow him?

No doubt this will be a struggle, what sacrifice is not? But surely not calling people to this is 1. un-Christlike and 2. actually going to make it harder for them when we do call them to that sacrifice further down the line.

One final thing to note. People who become Christians in countries politically hostile to the gospel can face the immediate prospect of death, imprisonment or at best alientation from their family. The sacrifice is great and the sacrifice is immediate.