Jesus of Nazareth “laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16) that we might have life through Him. He is the risen Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36), the one and only way to God the Father (John 14:6).
Some Bible-believers conclude that humans should be willing to forsake everything for Jesus’ sake, while others consider such a proposal to be a bit excessive. They feel that it is going too far (perhaps calling it “unreasonable or “fanatical”) to suggest that in order to be faithful to the Lord and go to heaven, one must give up everything for the Christ. What does the Bible say?
Let us consider first what the word “forsake” means. One standard English dictionary defines it as “to renounce (as something once cherished) without intent to recover or resume (~ a bad habit); to quit or leave entirely: withdraw from” [Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary]. When it comes to following Jesus, how much am I expected to forsake?
Our Lord’s apostles forsook all in order to serve Him. In John 1 we read of Andrew and Simon Peter coming to Jesus for the first time. At a later point in time, when the Master called those two brothers to be fishers of men, “They immediately left their nets and followed Him” (Mark 1:18). When He went a bit further and called John and James, they “left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went after Him” (Mark 1:19,20). Luke’s record shows that these men “forsook all and followed Him” (Luke 5:11). In the case of these fishermen, their commitment to the Christ led them to leave behind their occupation and family.
Levi (Matthew) did the same, as “he left all, rose up, and followed Him” (Luke 5:27,28). Speaking about himself and the other eleven, Peter told Jesus, “See, we have left all and followed You” (Mark 10:28). That does not appear to have been a boastful claim, but simply a statement of fact. Paul later showed the same level of devotion, saying, “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8).
The above examples demonstrate that it is at least possible to forsake all for Jesus. But does our Lord demand you and me to give up everything? In His counting-the-cost teaching, the Christ declared, “So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33). On another occasion, our Lord taught that those who abide in His word – they are His disciples indeed (John 8:31). It is clear that part of being Jesus’ true disciple and abiding in His word is to forsake all for Him. There is no way to avoid that conclusion.
How do we apply this truth? In other words, what is involved and required in the process of forsaking all? We certainly must “lay aside” all forms of wrongdoing (James 1:21). That is what the Spirit guided Paul to describe as “putting off the old man” (Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:8,9). Because it is a sin to violate our conscience (Romans 14:23), “forsaking all” would include the need to refrain from doing those things that would violate our conscience, even though such activities may not be sinful in and of themselves. We should be prepared to give up anything that might cause us or others to stumble (1 Corinthians 8:13).
What else? In reality, the “forsaking all” which the Master requires must take place in a person’s heart. Yes, He talked about being rewarded for leaving houses, lands, parents, spouses, and children (Mark 10:29,30). From other Bible statements, though, we know that the Christ wants spouses and families to stay together (Ephesians 5:22-6:4). Thus, the forsaking of family that He wants from us does not necessarily have to be a literal one. Instead, He wants us to love Him above all others – failing to do so makes us unworthy to be His (Matthew 10:37).
Followers of Jesus are those who seek first God’s Kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:33), setting their highest desires on spiritual things rather than earthly matters (Colossians 3:1,2). When the Lord ranks first in our hearts, then He is above all others. Though we love our family and friends dearly, because we rank our devotion to Jesus as the most important thing in our lives, in that sense we “forsake” our relationships with other humans.
What should motivate us to forsake all for Jesus? The Father sacrificed His Son for evildoers like you and me (John 3:16). And the Christ? He became poor so that we might be rich through His poverty (2 Corinthians 8:9). Without my Lord, “O wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:24). May we learn to appreciate our Lord’s sacrifice and be ready to apply the words that we sing: “I Surrender All.”
— Roger D. Campbell