There is only one side: the cross!
It is customary to warn believers, new and old, of the “dark side” of discipleship, namely, suffering. Whether it presents itself in persecution and the threat of one’s life for the sake of Christ; intolerance for one’s religious views and their public manifestations; exclusion from the public square–whatever one’s impending struggle is, at least here in America where I’ve lived in my formative years, that struggle is categorized as “the dark side.” But is it?
Jesus says in the gospels to “carry your cross daily. The one who does not do so cannot be my disciple.” For Christ, there was only the cross. That is discipleship. But it is not understood in the modern binary of good and bad–it simply is what it says it is. (It’s interesting the kind of warning label that some evangelical Christians put on discipleship as a cautionary tale, and yet, for example, marriage deserves just as much of a warning label [judging by the rising popularity in divorce], and yet the latter is like an amusement park that everyone is chomping at the bit to enter into–despite the ever-present challenges, difficulties, struggles, disappointments, and pain. Why is it easier to see past all of that for marriage but not for discipleship? Is it because we can’t have sex with each other as disciples?)
To suggest that there is a dark side of discipleship that we should be wary of is to implicitly put forth a prosperity theology whose premise is: shy away as far away as possible from pain, discomfort, and anything that would hinder the individual from “realizing” their dreams. It is true, however, that Jesus also said, “count the cost.” He offers Neo the red pill or the blue pill, but before he puts his hands forward for the young catechumen to choose, he reminds him, “Ain’t no turning back, son! Choose wisely! If you want to follow me, there is only one way, and that is the path which I myself take. There is nothing else.”
This is not a pessimistic or cynical assertion, though. Jesus was “anointed with the oil of joy more than his companions.” The life lived for Christ is one which is filled with incredible joy; with unsurpassed peace and fellowship with God and with other people. As Bonhoeffer says at one point: “The ethical basic-relations that were severed in the corpus peccati [body of sin] (Bernard) are renewed by the Holy Spirit…I and You face each other no longer essentially in a demanding, but in a giving way, revealing their hearts that have been conquered by God’s will” (DBWE 1:189). This means that, in Christ, we are dead to sin, and can discover anew our relation to God and to each other in love, not in sin, through the Holy Spirit’s power. That is a life worth living. A life whose success, vibrancy and tenacity are in God’s hands.
That is discipleship. To follow Jesus into life, into freedom, by way of the cross. There is no dark side. There is only the cross!