I have spent the past couple of days reading online blog postings and listening to audio recordings of what Jesus meant when he called his disciples to forsake all. This is a major sticking point for many people, and their interpretation of that particular scripture can be very telling.
WHAT IT MEANS:
What I’ve read and heard has by turns appalled and saddened me. The gospel message is crystal clear, yet people still find a way to muddy it. There is no question that Jesus tells us to “forsake all” if we are to be considered worthy of his kingdom on Earth and, ultimately, the kingdom of Heaven. There is no question that forsaking all means to leave your family, your spouse, your children, your employment, your home town — whatever it is that makes you “you”, because in becoming a disciple of Jesus, you are no longer you. The physical act of forsaking all material possessions and family relations is equivalent to the spiritual act of rebirth: You become an entirely different person. Possessions, jobs, friends and family members will hold you back from being that new person, which is why Jesus had to forsake his own family and leave Nazareth to become the Messiah. In forsaking all, you stop relying on the world’s support networks and start relying 100% on God.
WHY YOU DO IT:
Note that when he did make his return visit to Nazareth as the emerging Messiah, Jesus was referred to by the locals as Mary and Joseph’s son and the brother of many brethren, not as the Son of God (or even as the Son of Man, as he called himself); and then when he announced in the synagogue that he was the fulfillment of prophecy, he was attacked for blasphemy and driven out of town. The same Jesus who for many years had been a loved and respected resident of Nazareth became a despised outlaw in the eyes of the Nazarenes when he revealed who he had become in God’s eyes.
This is precisely why Jesus calls his disciples to forsake all — they cannot become who they really are if they continue being who they were. In other words, you cannot become what God is calling you to be if you instead answer the calls of family, friends, the boss, telemarketers and other people who are still firmly entrenched in the world. Family, friends, possessions and jobs tie you to an identity that is no longer valid for you if are called by God. Family members might even physically try to prevent you from living your new life (think of how Jesus’ mother and siblings came to take Jesus back to Nazareth from Capernaum, thinking he was out of his mind and a danger to himself). The act of forsaking all draws a line between your old life and your new life that is clear not only to yourself but to others.
WAIT ON THE LORD:
Having said this, you also need to wait to be chosen before forsaking all. “Many are called; few are chosen.” You will know if and when you are chosen, and you will know when the time is right. That is something between you and God. Even Jesus had to wait until the time was right before forsaking all; he could easily have started his ministry earlier (he certainly knew his stuff, even at age 12), but he waited until God gave the sign — and as soon as he did, off Jesus went, forsaking all.
This is the same with the disciples — Jesus gave them the sign, and they forsook all. They didn’t just throw everything away with abandonment because they felt obligated to do so or some random person told them to do so — no, Jesus let them know it was time, and then they immediately walked away from their former lives.
Not everyone was invited to follow along with Jesus: the man who was healed of the Legion was told to go home and tell his family what had happened to him, even though he wanted to join Jesus’ entourage right away. That’s not to say that at some later date the same man wouldn’t have been given the sign to forsake all; it just wasn’t his time to do so. It was, however, the right time for the rich ruler, but sadly he declined.
GOD, OR THE WORLD
So, yes, to forsake all literally means what is described in scripture, but people should wait first for God to give them the sign. And like Jesus telling Matthew or Peter and John to “Follow me” — the sign will not be hazy or indefinite: It will be very clear. At that point, it will be up to you whether, like the hundreds of people who followed behind Jesus in his ministry years, you will choose what God is offering or, like the rich young ruler who couldn’t part from his possessions, you will choose what the world is offering. The decision will be yours, but the obvious better choice will be to forsake all and follow Jesus.
Wait on the Lord: Be of good courage, and he will strengthen thine heart:
Wait, I say, on the Lord.