In 1519, Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico and began his conquest of the Aztec Empire. The first order he gave on this new land was, “Burn the boats!” Cortes wanted his men to know there was no retreat—they must be fully committed to the conquest. Leaving an escape option would jeopardize the success of the mission. Similarly, for Christians, there is no retreat from our mission.
In the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), our Lord tells us to “Go into all the world and make disciples.” The mission of the church is to make disciples. The word ‘disciple’ is used as a synonym for ‘believer’ throughout the book of Acts. A believer is one whose faith expresses itself through a life of obedience to the Word and submission to Christ. One who thinks he can simply affirm a list of gospel facts and continue to live however he pleases should examine himself to see if he is a true believer (2 Corinthians 13:5). Disciples are not a separate class of more dedicated believers! Matthew 10:32-39 is one of the most definitive passages on discipleship. Here Jesus teaches three marks of genuine believers.
First, a genuine believer confesses his faith (verses 32-33). Confess means to affirm or acknowledge and is a statement of identification. Jesus isn’t saying that confessing Christ is a condition to become a Christian but that one who is a true believer will identify with Christ before men, like Paul who wrote in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ.” If one’s truly believes in Christ in his heart, his mouth will be eager to confess.
In 1 John 4:15, John writes, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” Affirming Jesus as the Son of God is one assurance of true Christianity. Like Peter, who denied the Lord, and Timothy, who was timid and fearful, we have all failed to confess Christ at times, but a true disciple doesn’t purposely keep his faith hidden.
False disciples deny the Lord by their silence, actions, or words. Unfortunately, some churches are filled with people masquerading as disciples, but denying the Lord in very obvious ways. For example, Hugh Freeze, a former Ole Miss football coach, texted Bible verses and loudly proclaimed his religious commitment yet resigned as a coach because he was making phone calls to an escort service.
A second mark of a genuine believer is that he pursues God’s priorities (verses 34-37). A true disciple loves Christ even more than he loves his own family. The parallel passage in Luke 14:26-27 is more forceful— “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” Do we have to literally hate our family? Obviously that would be a violation of other clear commands such as “Honor thy father and mother,” and “Husbands love your wives,” but Jesus is using a comparative term. Our love for Christ must exceed and outstrip all other loves. The Lord is saying we must be unquestionably loyal to Him above our own families, and especially above ourselves. Do birthdays, ball games and out of town guests come before the Lord’s House? The Lord uses severe language here because He is eager to chase the uncommitted away and to draw true disciples to Himself. He does not want to deceive half-hearted people into thinking they are in the kingdom.
The third mark of a genuine believer is that he bears his cross (verses 38-39). One who is not willing to lose his life for Christ is not worthy of Christ and cannot be a true disciple (Luke 14:27). How can these statements be reconciled to the casual Christianity that is normal in our generation? Jesus does not ask us to merely add Him into our lives. He asks us to be willing to die for His sake! When Jesus talks about taking up a cross, he isn’t talking about a difficult situation, a chronic disease or a nagging spouse. He is talking about dying like a criminal by the most excruciating death known to man. He calls believers to make the ultimate sacrifice for Him.
Jesus then adds the paradoxical words found in verse 39, “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” Someone who tries to insure his own physical well being or personal safety by denying Christ will lose his eternal soul. Conversely, one who is willing to forfeit his life for Christ’s sake will receive eternal life. The Bible does not teach salvation by martyrdom but a true disciple will follow the Lord even at the expense of his own life.
True discipleship is no small matter. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:31, “I die daily.” That means daily self-denial in every area of life. A genuine believer acknowledges Christ before men, puts Christ above family and all other priorities, and is willing to die for Christ.