The Radical, Risky Way of Jesus

6 December 2023


Following Jesus is not for the fainthearted. It involves risk and radical surrender, but it is the only way to true life.

The following is an excerpt from Kurt Mahlburg and Warwick Marsh’s latest book, Jesus: The Centre of It All. Buy the book here.

The Radical Call of Jesus

There were a lot of counter-intuitive skills that I had to learn before I started to enjoy surfing. One of those was the ‘duck dive’. Paddling out towards the break zone, you will inevitably face an approaching wall of water, sometimes as high as two or three metres. In that instant, you have a choice. Either you can give in to fear and let the wave take you tumbling back to shore. Or you can size the wave up, paddle towards it at full speed and thrust yourself under and out the other side. Nothing compares to the feeling of punching through the lip of a big wave into the morning sunlight, a second before it crashes behind you.

This is a powerful picture of the choice that Jesus, radical revolutionary that He is, gives to each one of us. Our instincts tell us that if we want the good life, we should live by the prevailing mores around us and inside of us: let the world set our moral compass, succumb to our prejudices, view the world through mere natural eyes, and accept the religious, political and social status quo.

The way of Jesus is counterintuitive. He calls us to do the very thing we fear most. To abandon our instinct of self-preservation. To surrender our lives entirely to Him, come what may. To give up our place on the throne of our lives and let Him be King. Only then do we gain true life and the everlasting peace that comes with it (Matthew 16:24-27).

A Life of Non-Conformity

Jesus was deeply loved by many people who encountered Him. But He was also ferociously hated by those who resisted His radical, revolutionary demands. As C. S. Lewis quipped, “Jesus produced mainly three effects: hatred, terror, adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval.” Jesus was extremely self-aware about this fact. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first,” He told His disciples. “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19). It was a warning Jesus gave on many occasions, also promising, “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22).

“The Christian life is a life of non-conformity,” wrote R. C. Sproul. We agree. To be a Christian sometimes means to walk out of step with mainstream culture. Following in the footsteps of Jesus certainly involves acting with kindness, compassion and care. But we must not forget that Jesus was often a magnet for controversy. If we follow Him, we will inevitably be seen as controversial too. When Paul and Silas visited Thessalonica, their presence caused a commotion. Soon a mob had formed, accusing the missionaries and their converts of turning the world upside down. The mob complained, “They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” (Acts 17:7). While followers of Jesus should not set out to cause a stir, following Jesus will sometimes mean being seen as radical revolutionaries. In the words of theologian William Barclay, “Jesus promised His disciples three things—that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.”

The Way to True Life

Every instinct in us may want to go with the flow, give into the headwinds and let the wave of external expectations and internal impulses wash us back to shore. According to Jesus (Luke 9:23-25), there is a better way:

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?

These are radical, revolutionary words, almost too heavy to bear—until we understand Jesus’ underlying logic. There is a way to find true life, He says, but it is the opposite of what we might assume. The way to experience true, abundant, eternal life is to take the plunge; to join the radical revolution; to give your life away to Jesus.

Buy Jesus: The Centre of It All here.


Image via Unsplash.

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One Comment

  1. Kim Beazley 7 December 2023 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    Kurt, this reminded me so much of a reading from my daily devotional, “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers:

    “Nay, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. — Romans 8:37

    Paul is speaking of the things that might seem likely to separate or wedge in between the saint and the love of God; but the remarkable thing is that nothing can wedge in between the love of God and the saint. These things can and do come in between the devotional exercises of the soul and God and separate individual life from God; but none of them is able to wedge in between the love of God and the soul of the saint. The bedrock of our Christian faith is the unmerited, fathomless marvel of the love of God exhibited on the Cross of Calvary, a love we never can and never shall merit. Paul says this is the reason we are more than conquerors in all these things, super-victors, with a joy we would not have but for the very things which look as if they are going to overwhelm us.

    The surf that distresses the ordinary swimmer produces in the surf-rider the super joy of going clean through it. Apply that to our own circumstances, these very things – tribulation, distress, persecution, produce in us the super joy; they are not things to fight. We are more than conquerors through Him in all these things, not in spite of them, but in the midst of them. The saint never knows the joy of the Lord in spite of tribulation, but because of it. “I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation,” says Paul.

    Undaunted radiance is not built on anything passing, but on the love of God that nothing can alter. The experiences of life, terrible or monotonous, are impotent to touch the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

    You’re in excellent inspirational company there, Kurt!

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