Take Up the Cross
Today Americans tend to believe being on a "church roll" guarantees entrance to heaven. They therefore tend to choose their "church" based upon the programs offered, the things that the individual or his family can get from association with that "church."
Other than some sense of a need for membership in a church, very few of my countrymen seem to understand what is required by God of all men in all places. Worse, very few of those who profess to be preachers of the gospel actually teach the truths of the Bible, choosing instead to speak of more popular and acceptable topics. They teach the words desired by "itching ears."
In Matthew 10, a rich young man approached our Lord and asked what he must do that he might inherit eternal life. In His response, Jesus first spoke of the ten commandments--condemning adultery, murder, stealing, false witness, fraud, and a failure to honor our parents. The young man replied that he had kept these commandments since his youth.
Jesus then looked at him, and loving him, said "One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me." But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. NKJV (Mark 10:21-22)
Many today, if they happen upon such teachings, do not believe they apply to them but rather to "other people." Like the young man, they wrongly believe that living a reasonably good life and, in their case being part of a church, is all that is expected by God.
Luke records the following. "Then He (Christ) said to them all, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? “ NKJV (Luke 9:23-25)
We must, on a daily basis, take up our cross and follow Him. The daily phrase means this is an integral part of our life, not something done occasionally or weekly or on some other periodic basis. What is meant, though, by the phrase “take up his cross?” Must we physically carry around a large wooden cross everywhere we go? No, but we must do so on a figurative and spiritual basis as the cross signifies sacrifice.
Note the following.
1. We must deny ourselves.
2. We must daily take up the cross and follow our Lord.
3. “Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.”
To follow Christ we must be disciplined in order to set aside everything in the world that is not involved in following Him. Athletes make great sacrifices in order to prepare themselves for the contest at hand. Soldiers prepare themselves for the battle by putting aside those things that would hinder them from fulfilling their duties. In each instance the participant denies themselves to achieve a greater goal.
As Christians we must take up the cross, subjecting ourselves to God's service, giving up our entire lives so that we can walk with God. The disobedient take extreme measures to preserve the pleasures of this life a bit longer, but after "saving" their life here on earth, they will have lost their eternal life. The obedient deny themselves, choosing to lose their own lives and aspirations in order to follow Jesus.
Note Romans 12:1-2. We are commanded to be not conformed to the world, but instead to be transformed by the renewing of our mind that we might be able to present our bodies a living sacrifice. Some profess that their faith is sufficient that they would die for the Lord as a martyr. That is noble. I wonder which is the more difficult path--to die once, even in a most horrible way, or to die daily as a living sacrifice to God. The former requires a single decision though indeed with a terrible physical price, the latter a daily commitment that lasts a lifetime.
Paul said, "To live is Christ, to die is gain." (Phil. 1:21) In living Paul gave his life to serve the Lord, in dying he gained the final rest and the ultimate reward, the only one that matters in this world. Paul rejoiced at the thought of "being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service" of the faith of the Philippians. (Phil. 2:17-18) We too must learn to rejoice as the Lord pours us out in His service.
What is your attitude? Once I tried to turn a friend away from divorcing her husband by showing her the Biblical teachings against that action (no adultery involved). She responded "God wants me to be happy. I am not happy in this marriage. Therefore God surely does not expect me to remain in that marriage, regardless of what the Bible says." At that time I was stunned at such a dismissal of the clear teachings of the Bible. I now know that such an attitude is quite common among many who profess to follow Jesus. Our self-service "saves" our life on earth, but it ultimately results in the loss of our eternal life.
The truth is that God does indeed expect us to be happy--in serving Him and walking with Him. That walk should be our only source of true comfort and happiness. We should be unable to be happy when we are doing things of which God does not approve.
Many think that putting God first can be reduced to attendance at a certain number of services, being part of a certain congregation, maybe even going so far as to pray on a regular basis. All of those things are good, but in no way are they adequate to discharge the great debt we each owe our Father. We have been bought with a terrible price, the death of our Savior. We therefore must put to death that old man in baptism so that we are raised a new being, one wholly and completely committed to serving God. God is both our Master and our loving Father.
Let us not be confused about the straight-forward decision we must make. We will either serve God or Satan. Whom will you serve?