I grew up going to Bible camp every summer. It was an amazing time, and I loved the experience. Through the worship, the teaching, the team exercises and the fun, my passion for Jesus was renewed each summer. The last evening of camp, I was ready to go back home and tell all my friends about Jesus and see amazing things happen!
But it seemed that in the span of the four-hour drive home, my passion had oozed out like the air in a leaky balloon. I made myself a snack, watched some TV and went back to life as usual, wondering how I had felt so differently less than 24 hours ago. Passion alone wasn’t enough to sustain my discipleship.
Listening to the predominant narrative of modern evangelical Christianity, you could get the impression that passion is all we need to live a life of discipleship to Jesus. If we can just become passionate and enthusiastic enough, we will have the fuel we need to fulfill the Great Commission and live the way of Jesus. It’s a “Bible camp” mentality that continues into adulthood for most of us, I think.
When Passion Falls Short
Jesus, however, tells a different story in the Gospel of Mark when he is approaching the cross. At the last supper with his disciples, he tells them they will all fall away, but none of them believe it! Peter passionately declares, “Even if all fall away, I will not!” Jesus responds will a dire warning: “Tonight … you will disown me three times.” Peter simply cannot believe it. How could it ever happen when he feels this passionately about it? “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you!” he proclaims.
Jesus takes his disciples from dinner out to their favorite camping spot, the olive groves of Gethsemane, where he finds it necessary to pray. He takes Peter, James and John with him and tells them to simply sit with him while he prays. Instead they fall asleep. Jesus comes back and wakes up the slumbering disciples, warning them with these important words,
Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
You probably know the rest of the story. They fall asleep again, right up until Jesus is betrayed. The whole situation takes them off guard, and, just as Jesus predicted, they all fall away, and Peter disowns Jesus three times.
Passion wasn’t enough for the disciples to stay awake and pray with Jesus. Passion wasn’t enough for them to remain firmly loyal to Jesus in the face of adversity and threat. Passion wasn’t enough for them to keep their promises of fidelity to Jesus. Passion just isn’t enough.
That’s why Jesus could predict they would all fall away. He wasn’t using some sort of divine omniscience when he prophesied the disciples’ betrayal, he was simply observing that they were attempting to live on passion alone, and he knew that it wouldn’t be enough for them when temptation came.