Jesus changes our lives
We have many idioms in the English language. Far too many, some might advocate. "You can't have your cake and eat it too," is one that bugs my wife in particular. She would argue that you can in fact have cake and eat it too. Part of eating cake is having it first, right!?! She and I like to joke about this, but as she well knows, the meaning of the phrase is that you cannot both possess the cake and eat it too. Once you have eaten the cake, you no longer "have it."
The expression communicates a self-evident truth that certain choices necessitate an impact in other areas. Once I have eaten my cake, it is no longer sitting on my counter for me to enjoy later - a problem that happens often in my household. Megan makes something delicious. I eat said treat. It is no longer there for someone else to enjoy later.
Megan and my decision to live in an urban area gives us access to innumerable parks, people and opportunities. It also means that we have a small yard and can't see the stars at night. Our decisions have an impact on other aspects of our lives. It is inevitable.
When someone makes a decision to follow Jesus, it is impossible to live an unchanged life. Following Jesus and remaining the same is an impossibility. It is like jumping into a pool of water and remaining dry. It cannot happen.
I mentioned in a previous post that I have been looking at the word "follow" (akoloutheo) in the Gospels. One of the first uses of that word in all four gospels is when Jesus calls his first disciples. Their decision to follow Jesus meant that they had to leave some things behind. In essence, it meant that Jesus had to be the number one priority in their lives. He was first, and all other things were subject to the decision to follow him.
Following Jesus means that we must leave some things behind.
The first disciples
When Jesus calls his first disciples, he invites them to "follow me." In response, they make the decision to follow Jesus as his disciples. Their decision forever changes their lives, and God uses them to change the course of history. You can read about Jesus calling his initial followers in Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20, Luke 5:1-11 and John 1:35-51. In these passages, Jesus calls four initial disciples, Simon who is called Peter and his brother Andrew, James son of Zebedee and his brother John.
Their response is remarkable. It says that "Immediately they left their nets and followed him (Mt 4:20, Mk 1:18)," or "Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him (Mt 4:22)," or "They left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him (Mk 1:20)," or "And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him (Lk 5:11)."
For the first disciples, following Jesus meant leaving some things behind.
It's a matter of priority
We could draw some extreme interpretations from these passages, and then generalize them for everyone - a common problem with interpreting and applying narrative passages. It would be poor Biblical exegesis to assume that based on the accounts of the first disciples, that everyone who follows Jesus needs to leave every part of their life behind. This isn't the case. Not everyone who follows Jesus is called to leave everything behind in order to follow him.
However, we are all called to make Jesus the number one priority in our life, and that will mean that we have to leave some things behind. It will look different for everyone. Some people will be called to move to a distant land, serving among an unreached people group so they can share a clear presentation of the gospel with people who would otherwise not hear. This will require them to leave behind family, friends and the comfort of American life. Others will be called to leave behind a job or dream that conflicts with God's call on their life. Everyone who follows Jesus will be changed in such a way that they must leave behind some of their former ways of life that are sinful and dishonoring to God.
This is all about priorities. When Jesus becomes the greatest priority in your life, it reorients everything. Your job, approval, marriage, family, money, acclaim, possessions or whatever used to be first in your life has to give up its place. Jesus cannot be primary when something else already claims that spot. When we follow Jesus, we must be ready to leave some things behind - at a minimum, they do not get to be our first priority any longer.