Addition by Subtraction

John Hill

"On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching.  Who can accept it?’…From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.  ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve.  Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’” John 6:60, 66-69 (NIV)

Several years ago, Hollywood made a movie based on a novel by Tom Clancy called, “The Sum of All Fears.”  If you know Tom Clancy’s work, you know that he specializes in spy novels that are filled with lots of cloak and dagger plot twists.  “The Sum of All Fears” follows CIA operative Jack Ryan as he discovers what turns out to be an unthinkable truth regarding the Cold War between America and Russia.  At a crucial point in the movie, Jack says to his boss, “it just doesn’t add up” as he struggles to accept what he has uncovered.  His boss’ reply: “It adds up…you just don’t like what it adds up to.”

Truth is often hard.  Sometimes it is hard because it is complex and difficult to grasp; and other times it is hard because it is simple and difficult to accept.  Jesus was constantly challenging His followers with the latter.  As you read through the gospels, you encounter many times when a crowd, a disciple, or even a critic would approach Jesus with some question, expectation, or personal agenda and He would make a hard statement that would serve to expose the true followers from those who were simply passive admirers, or even enemies.

In John 6, the hard statement that Jesus makes is that true fulfillment is not physical but spiritual.  And true spiritual fulfillment is only possible through Him.  “This is a hard teaching.  Who can accept it?” was the response from the crowd and many left.  I wonder how many statements like this are hard for us; consider the following list of hard teachings from Jesus:

“Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”  Luke 14:33

“Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you”  Matthew 5:44

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Mark 8:34

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it.”  Mark 8:35

“…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”  Matthew 20:26

“…apart from me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5b

Certainly the list above, while only serving as a partial sampling of the statements that Jesus made, quickly reveals a common thread: in order to follow Jesus, it has to be on His terms and our own personal agendas and expectations have to take a back seat.  If you are like me, you can hear the words of Jack Ryan’s boss: “it all adds up…but you just don’t like what it adds up to.”  Because in this case, what it adds up to is the subtraction of self; which is the most difficult truth for any human to accept.

Yet, in God’s economy, the reduction of self is the first step to the elevation of God and of others in our lives and the Bible calls that humility.  The funny thing is that when we find ourselves repentant, humble, and spiritually bankrupt before God, He fills us up with His Spirit and then “adds” to our lives more than we could ever imagine.

And when that happens, all those hard statements of Jesus that chase others away suddenly become sweet words of “eternal life” to our thirsty souls; leaving us with nowhere else to go. 

Would you pray today, and each day, that God would help you to subtract a little more of you so that He can add a little more of Him?  Then enjoy the abundance of God’s grace, power, and presence in your life.


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