In the age of social media, political and social activism has taken on a whole new shape. While the old practices of picketing and marching still exist, a far milder form of activism has swept throughout the culture. In fact, it is such a large phenomenon that a whole new word had to be created for it: Slacktivism. If you look up its definition on dictionary.com, you’ll find that it describes a type of activism that requires little commitment or effort or risk on the part of the participant.
Just within the past few years I can think of several popular examples of this. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge blew up YouTube, Facebook, and other social media sites as participants were challenged to either dump a bucket of ice on their head within 24 hours of being challenged or donate to ALS research. While there was widespread participation and even an uptick in awareness and donations to the ALS, for the large majority of participants, this challenge allowed them to “support” the cause without really putting any time and money into it themselves.
Or perhaps a more prominent and recent example was the response of solidarity with the French people after the horrific bombings in Paris last November. If you went on Facebook in the days after the attack, you were given the option to place an overlay of the French flag onto your profile picture. Again, with minimal time or effort being put into a cause, you could take political or social action.
Slacktivism or Costly Action?
My point is not that these things are inherently bad. But they do provide people with a false sense of involvement. Imagine if the support of those showing solidarity with France on social media was actually testing. I doubt that anyone who overlaid their profile picture with the French flag would respond as readily to a call-to-arms from the French president François Hollande. When challenged with real, costly action for a cause, slacktivists shrink back from taking any substantial action.
That type of thinking becomes downright dangerous when it comes to following Jesus. Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus calling people to a discipleship that is absolutely incompatible with the slacktivism of that defines our culture.
Jesus constantly told people what it would cost to follow him. One such occasion is found in Luke 9:23. Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
And so, Jesus gives us three insights into what following him will mean.
Three Traits of Activist Disciples
1. Disciples deny themselves.
Firstly, he says that we must deny ourselves. We must put our me-focused dreams and desires in the backseat (or, in some cases, throw them out of the car). Following Jesus begins with a reshaping of our priorities. It’s no longer what I want, but what Jesus wants. Not only that, but denying yourself also means denying all that you had previously found worth and value in, considering Jesus of the utmost value in your life, instead (Philippians 3:8-11).
2. Disciples daily take up their crosses.
Secondly, he says that we must take up our cross daily. Even as Christians, we can often diminish this to anything that we may be struggling with in a given day. Maybe not having had coffee this morning was “my cross to bear” or even some flaw in your character can become “my cross to bear.” But the cross was a symbol of shame and death.
Jesus is telling his followers exactly what it will mean to follow him. They will have to endure shame daily. Just like Jesus endured ridicule and persecution for following the Father’s will, so we will face ridicule and shame for following God’s will. They will also have to experience a kind of death daily: death to themselves and death to the world around them. In the eyes of the world, we look condemned to death. We live a life that is foolish, pointless, and worthless according to the world’s values.
3. Disciples follow Jesus anywhere.
Finally, Jesus says that discipleship is following him. We must go where he calls and do what he says. To follow Jesus is to obey. This is what it costs to be a follower of Jesus. It means denying ourselves, bearing the shame and death that comes with submitting ourselves to God’s will, and following after Jesus wherever he may lead.
We cannot be true disciples of Jesus and be mere slacktivists. Following Jesus doesn’t consist merely in retweeting, liking, or sharing something on social media. Rather, it requires real sacrifice and submission. It doesn’t require minimal effort, commitment, or risk, but demands our entire lives.
Even in Jesus’ day there were people who walked around with him and ate with him, but never truly followed him. They were the mere slacktivists of their day. And to them he will say, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).