The Christian life isn’t hard. The Christian life isn’t even difficult. The Christian life is impossible. There’s only one guy who’s ever been able to pull it off, and He was so good at it that they named it after Him.
Many people are content with going to church and being “good” Christians. God is told which parts of life He is allowed to fit into and what areas He’s not allowed to enter. They want to have a faith without conditions – or restrictions; a faith that doesn’t cost anything or demand anything of them in return. These people seem to model their Christianity after themselves and a few “safe passages” in scripture.
Then there are those who are not content with simple-Christianity. They realize that Christianity demands more than they’re sometimes willing to give. “Following Christ, regardless” defines their faith. They want to be sold out to the fullest extent, and not sell out for anything less than what Christ has called them to. These types of people aren’t perfect, but they press on through the muck and mire to grab ahold of the One who is and who empowers them to press on. I would fit with this group of Christians. How about you?
In Mark 8, Jesus makes a bold statement:
34And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.
Other passages that reiterate this challenge: Matthew 10:38-39, 16:24-25; Luke 9:23-24, 14:27. It’s pretty clear that these words of Jesus shouldn’t be taken lightly. But what do they mean? And does following them really define what type of Christian I am?
To deny self means to agree that your life is nothing in comparison to the life Christ offers you, and to live a life that reflects this truth. In denying yourself, you allow God’s presence to lead you out of your comfort zones, to change you from within; it means that you align yourself with His will, and not your own.
Christians who deny themselves, align their life with God’s word and not vise versa. God sits upon the throne of their life – He doesn’t play second fiddle.
To deny self means to turn from the things that are keeping us from fully embracing God, and giving Him the honor that is due Him. A. W. Tozer wrote:
A moral being, created to worship before the throne of God, sits on the throne of his own selfhood and from that elevated position declares: I AM. That is sin in its concentrated essence; yet because it is natural it appears to be good.
The old self-sins must die, and the only instrument by which they can be slain is the cross.
Knowledge of the Holy (pg. 29-31)
All who partake of the name “Christian” are called to deny themselves – to leave “self” behind – and to embrace something that is greater than themselves: the Person of Christ. Sin is called out, dealt with, and buried at the foot of the cross. The person walks forth anew, empowered and led by Christ.
Take Your Cross
It is at the cross that everything changes. As we die to self, we are raised with Christ. He takes up residence within our mortal bodies, and begins to live through us. The cross shows us that on our own we can’t live this life – Christian or not. Instead, we see that life is lived through the power and presence of Him who conquered the cross and the grave.
To take up your cross means that we take hold of the life Christ offers, and begin to walk in faith forward – with Him and in Him. No matter what He calls us to, or no matter the obstacles we endure along the way, cross-bearing-Christians follow the path marked out before them. Not in foolishness or fear, but in the truth and security that He who called you is greater than any struggle, temptation, or force that rages against you. And this is a daily challenge we undertake (Luke 9:23), it’s not a once and done commitment. Each morning we have a choice to make: take up our cross, or leave it behind.
Walking with cross in-tow, then, followers of Christ do not move or live in their own efforts but in the power of Christ alone. As Paul notes in 2 Corinthians 12:9, it is Christ’s power that provides strength to his weakness; and again in Philippians 4:13, Paul says he can do all things through Him who gives the strength and means. This is God’s grace working within us. This is the grace afforded to us by the cross of Christ.
When God calls us to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses, He does so with the implication that we do these things through Him – His strength, His means, His grace – and not on our own efforts. It is in walking within His presence that we are able to follow Him rightly.
Jesus calls His followers to the same intimate connection that He shares with His Father. Jesus doesn’t call us to “works” but to a “relationship.” His words, “Follow Me,” challenge us to do just that. We follow His examples, His teachings, His words, His way of life; we live and love like Him, because He is the only standard we should ever align ourselves with. Following Christ is about “being” and “doing.” As we ground ourselves deep in relationship with Him, our lives produce the fruit that is Jesus-approved. Everything about us, things done in public and private, smells like Jesus.
Everything in our lives aligns with His standard, not because of force but because His love for us compels us to give nothing less. This means that our lives, our attitudes, our desires, our wants, our sexualities, our standards, our ethics, our faith, our struggles, our questions … EVERYTHING … aligns itself to the glory and authority of Jesus Christ.
Though salvation is free, following hardcore after God – which He calls all us to do – costs us something. This cost is great and should be considered before saying “yes” to Jesus. Our life, our total surrender, is required to be laid down. And, honestly, it’s fair of God to request such sacrifice on our part. He, after all, did make the greatest sacrifice for us, in the first place. The least we can do is set aside our lives in order to live through His.
The Savior is not looking for men and women who will give their spare evenings to Him – or their weekends – or their years of retirement. Rather He seeks those who will give Him first place in their lives … nothing less than unconditional surrender could ever be a fitting response to His sacrifice … Love so amazing, so divine, could never be satisfied with less than our souls, our lives, our all.
William MacDonald, True Discipleship (pg. 5)