By Mike Willis
The concept of “total commitment” has become associated with the Crossroads movement. Although we oppose “total commitment” in its specialized meaning to refer to an unbiblical commitment to the Crossroads philosophy, we certainly do not want to oppose the total commitment taught by the word of God. We certainly are not opposed to total commitment, though we stand opposed to the Crossroads movement. As Christians, we must be totally committed to Christ.
The word “commitment” means “an agreement or pledge to do something in the future . . . the state of being obligated.” We understand the meaning of commitment in various areas of life. When I purchase an automobile or house, I commit myself to making monthly payments for a specified period of time. When I married Sandy, I made certain commitments to her. Even our teenagers understand commitment when they start “going” together. Jesus also demands a commitment if we intend to be his disciple.
The Commitment of Discipleship
Jesus taught men to count the cost of discipleship. Read this account of his conversation with three would-be disciples:
And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. 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 (Lk. 9:5762).
I have often thought how I would have reacted had I met these three would-be disciples. Would I have been ready to take their confession and to baptize them into Christ, rejoicing in their decision to serve Jesus? Jesus paused to teach these disciples to count the cost of their decision. To be a disciple of Christ requires self-denial. Even as Jesus did not have a place to pillow his head, his disciple will have to deny himself of temporal pleasures. The kingdom of God must take precedence over everything else in one’s life – over his commitment to bury his father. The kingdom’s business is urgent, not even allowing one time to bid farewell to his friends.
One another occasion Jesus taught men to count the cost of discipleship saying,
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple (Lk. 14:26).
This verse teaches us that one’s obligation to Christ must be put ahead of his obligation to his parents, his spouse, his siblings, and even self-preservation. The man who puts his obligations to his parents, mate, children, siblings or self-preservation ahead of his obligations to Christ cannot be a disciple of Jesus Christ. No wonder Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).
Paul’s Example of Commitment
The apostle Paul understood commitment and applied it. On one occasion, he responded to his critics, mentioning what being a Christian had cost him. He described his sacrifices like this:
. . . in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches (2 Cor. 11:23-28).
The apostle endured innumerable sufferings for the Lord Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, he did not become discouraged, throw up his hands, and quit. Instead he wrote,
We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body (2 Cor. 4:8-10).
He taught others the necessity of living for Christ.
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not 1, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20).
Wherefore we labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. . . . And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again (2 Cor. 5:9,15).
In the face of death, he wrote,
For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
Truly, the apostle Paul understood commitment to Christ, as exemplified in his life.
The Devil’s Effort To Destroy Commitment to Christ
The Devil is trying to prevent a person from becoming a disciple of Christ. Many are deterred from becoming a Christian by false doctrine – doctrines which teach some way of salvation other than the gospel of Christ. The Devil tries to destroy the commitment of those who learn the truth, using various temptations. Many are lost to immorality’s temptation. However, most of our readers are more likely to be ensnared by the “cares of the world.” In the parable of the sower, Jesus described the seed which fell among thorns as the disciple who was choked by “cares and riches and pleasures of this life” (Lk. 8:14).
Many Christians become so involved in things not sinful in nature that they put them before their commitment to Christ. Paul referred to such men who “seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s” (Phil. 2:21). These are the “enemies of the cross . . . whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is their shame, who mind earthly things” (Phil. 3:18-19). I have witnessed those who allowed temporal concerns and pleasures to choke out their devotion to Christ. They “glory” in that of which they should be ashamed. One tells of the bass he caught fishing on Sunday morning; another tells of the bowling score he made on Wednesday night; another tells of the enjoyment he got at a movie he saw during a meeting. These are the kinds of “enemies of the cross” Paul described in Philippians 3:18-19.
Churches Suffer From Lack of Commitment
All across America, the Lord’s churches are being destroyed by lack of commitment. One evidence of this is the lack of attendance at the regular worship services, gospel meetings (at home and in the area), number not reading their Bibles, and many other things. Members excuse themselves from worship to attend school functions, business matters, recreational activities, and to rest. How can I look my Savior in the eye and tell him that I have placed my commitment to him above father, mother, mate, children, siblings, and even life itself, knowing that I excuse myself from worship to attend ball games, school activities, and business functions? To even suggest that being a faithful Christian requires that we “deny” ourselves some of these activities raises eyebrows among the membership.
Preachers need to be alert to their temptations regarding commitment to Christ. A preacher might be tempted to close his eyes to problems within the congregation because dealing with them might jeopardize his job and require a move. Here are some sermons which need to be taught because of the immorality in our society: divorce and remarriage, social drinking, mixed swimming and other forms of immodest dress, dancing, gambling (lottery tickets and all other forms), etc. Are we preachers willing to boldly proclaim what the Bible teaches on this subject, even though preaching on these subjects might alienate influential members where we worship? Is preaching a commitment to a job or a commitment to Christ’? Preaching a good “positive” sermon on love and grace might “win friends and influence people,” but will I fulfill my commitment to Christ without addressing these sins?
The Cost of Lack of Commitment
The lack of commitment which we witness among churches is costly to the Lord’s work – not so much in a financial way (although this too reflects commitment) – as in many other areas. We will pay the price for lack of commitment in these ways:
1. Worship services will be lifeless. Uncommitted people have no enthusiasm in their worship. The songs, prayers, and sermons of uncommitted people are lifeless rituals, easily detected by visitors.
2. The church will have poor attendance. The difference in attendance between Sunday morning and other services during the week will be distinct and growing greater.
3. The church will have few conversions. Whereas the early church baptized people regularly, a church filled with Christians who place the Lord’s work low on their list of priorities will convert few people.
4. The children of Christians will be lost to Christ. The children of uncommitted members will perceive the lack of commitment of their parents and frequently will decide not to waste their time going through the motions of worship. (One should not generalize to say that every unfaithful child was raised by an uncommitted parent.)
5. The church dies. As the membership grows old, members die, and few conversions occur, eventually the churches cease to exist.
Perhaps others can think of other consequences of an uncommitted membership, but these seem apparent to me. Those in the church who are upset by half-converted Christians are good seed-bed for Crossroads brethren. They sense something is wrong and sometimes fall for the Crossroads philosophy of commitment to a prayer-partner system rather than restoring New Testament commitment to Christ. Unless we can rekindle the first love of half-committed Christians, our lack of commitment portends sad days for the Lord’s people. May the Lord help us to awaken those sleeping Christians so that they may join in the work which Christ committed to us.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 23, pp. 706, 726-727
December 3, 1987