And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord permit me first to go and bury my father.” But He said, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59-62)
At first glance Jesus’ words to these two men seem harsh and unfeeling. After all, what is wrong with burying one’s father or bidding farewell to your loved ones before leaving on a journey? Yet, Jesus was not telling them they should not be devoted to their family; He was illustrating the urgency of following Him today and making discipleship one’s top priority without reservation or excuses.
I have heard similar sentiments from people who are unwilling to serve the Lord wholeheartedly—or at all. For example, one individual may know what he needs to do to be saved, but says he is waiting on his spouse to “get her life straightened out first.” Another is unable to commit to following Jesus because in doing so she would condemn a beloved but erring relative. Still someone else cannot bring himself to be baptized because he realizes he cannot be perfect, or because he sees many baptized “believers” living hypocritically and does not want to be one of them.
While we appreciate the concern for others’ eternal destiny and for living consistently, each of these are excuses which mask a greater problem. The real problem is not with others but with ourselves and, specifically, the condition of our hearts before God. At the risk of being too blunt, it must be said plainly that excuses come from nothing but a stubborn and self-willed heart. This is especially true when we know what is right but for one reason or another will not do it.
True, sometimes we have genuine questions or hang-ups that need to be overcome before committing ourselves to the Lord. Jesus Himself cautions that those who might follow Him must first “count the cost to see if he has enough to complete it” (Luke 14:28). But in that same passage, He also cuts to the chaste when He said to the crowds, “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” (Luke 14:26). Eventually, we must make a choice—family, myself, or Christ.
At the end of the day (and this life!), we are only accountable for our own choice. Each of us will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give account for what we have done (2 Cor. 5:10). Why, then, do we talk as though everyone else is accountable except us? And why do we let others stand in our way of doing what we must do to prepare for that moment?
I marvel at the people who try to convert their spouses to the Lord, while they themselves are not serving God faithfully. The human heart can be very deceptive if we trust in it, to the point that we become convinced we will somehow escape the judgment of God. “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?” (Rom. 2:21). Like the proverbial log and speck in the eyes, it is far easier to see how others should change than how I should change. Along the same lines, it is far easier to let someone else’s speck be the reason we don’t remove our log.
But, there is hope. Excuses can be overcome. Many Christians serving God faithfully today once made the same excuses, but at some point decided to no longer do so. They humbled themselves, repented, and took responsibility for their own souls. Naaman first refused to obey the Elisha’s instructions because they did not match his expectations for how he could be cleansed of his leprosy—until his servants came and asked him, “My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash and be clean?’” (2 Kings 5:13). Wise words—and very applicable to our pathetic excuses for not saving ourselves!