by Michael J. Klassen
Centuries ago, kings converted to Christianity on behalf of their kingdom. Constantine (272-337AD), the Roman emperor, is the most well-known example, whose singular decision to become a Christian resulted in the “conversion” of thousands, perhaps millions, of people. Regardless of Constantine’s motivation, many people made sincere commitments to Christ as a result of his Edict of Milan in 313AD.
Oftentimes, when kingdoms “converted” to Christianity, their subjects were baptized en masse. One by one, clergy submerged tens, even hundreds, of people into the waters of baptism. The baptismal candidates understood that immersing themselves in the water meant immersing themselves in the faith.
But one particular group of people added a twist to their baptismal experience. Soldiers, as they were lowered backward into the waters, foisted their right arms in the air to avoid being completely submerged.
They were 85% “in” rather than 100%, or “all in”.
Their reason? Knowing that completely immersing themselves in the water—which they rightfully equated with immersing themselves in Christ—meant they could no longer kill their enemies on the battlefield (or at home), they chose to give him 85 percent. Their right arms wielded their swords.
This reminds me of Jesus’ parable about the hidden treasure and the pearl.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
Matthew 13:44–46 (NIV)
When Jesus called people to follow him, he wanted them “all in” 100 percent. Not 90 percent or 10 percent. Both subjects in his parables sold everything they had to win the prize. Everything.
All of us wrestle with the other 15 percent or whatever amount is true for us. And the contents of that 15 percent can vary. For some, it may include unforgiveness. To another it can involve an area of sexual brokenness or trust in God. We all have our reasons for wanting to hold back in our relationship with God.
But what is the cost of holding back?
In the same parable, Jesus likened the kingdom of heaven to a treasure and a pearl of great price. All too often we hang on to a piece of hell when heaven lies within our reach. We opt for oppression, addiction, fear, mistrust—darkness—instead of freedom, light, and God’s love.
Believe me, I’m talking to myself as I write this. When Jesus called us to follow him, he called us to trade all our shame, our addictions, our brokenness, our sin—in exchange for life. Real life. And Jesus.
Sounds like a losing proposition on God’s part. But that’s yet another example of God’s great love for us.
Michael serves as co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.