Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Cross or Life?

Who does your allegiance belong to?

We live in a world where almost everything is instant. We have instant coffee, instant tea, instant news, instant entertainment, instant dessert; and, now we are moving ever closer to instant life—the cloning of human beings (God forbid!). The western world has become a world of easy living. Whatever is not easy should not be accepted. It has become a life of hedonism—believing that pleasure is the ultimate goal in life. We have gone so far in the west to believe that if it does not bring joy then it has no worth at all! It is for this reason that free sex and drug and alcohol abuse have become so wide spread. Of course, the free sex—in many cases—leads to HIV/AIDS. In the western world, if we cannot have the latest gadgets we feel that our lives are becoming too difficult to live. Will it really be that difficult without the latest microwave?

We went to visit my mother's stepfather of 95 some time ago (my grandmother died in January 2003). At that time he lived on a farm in a farmhouse about 130km (81mi) from where we live. The farmhouse is on one corner of the farm where he and my grandmother could graciously live for free. The owner of the farm let them live there for free on a very small piece of the farm. He and my grandmother have lived there for many years. They never had electricity. Neither did they ever have free flowing water delivered by the local town council. Their refrigerator is an old gas refrigerator. Water is delivered from a windmill that had to be maintained all the time. Most of his food he has to grow himself since his pension is puny and he could not live on his pension alone. When we arrived there the windmill was broken and he only had water in a container left. He'd been trying to fix the windmill but to no avail. To top it all, it had been of the driest seasons in the area for decades. All his crops were drying in the hot sun and without water he would soon be without the extra food he grew on the little piece of ground he lived on. However, when we arrived he told me that he enjoyed living there and that his trust was in the Lord. This is the life that the Lord had given him to live and he was content with that. It makes me think of what Habakkuk wrote Hab 3:17-19, "[17] Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls, [18] Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. [19] The Lord GOD is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds' feet, And makes me walk on my high places."

Jesus told His disciples, "And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." (Mt 10:38) What does this mean for Christians? To some Christians this means not having the modern conveniences of life. Taking up their cross—in their minds—means not having that wonderful paying job that Joe Soap has. Perhaps taking up my cross means not having the latest BMW? Maybe it means I must not quibble about the latest losses on the stock market and the losses I have made with my own shares? If this is all you see in taking up your cross, then you are indeed a modern western Christian, influenced by the hedonistic world-view of the prevailing times. It is a culture that has created Christians who are only in the race for their own personal gains. Profit that they feel God owes them. Taking up our cross means so much more than this and is also so far different from this!

What does it mean to take up my cross? Paul wrote, "And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Phil 2:8) When Jesus took up His cross He died. Why should the taking up of our own cross have any different meaning than the cross of Christ? The whole idea behind the cross in the New Testament is that of death!

Taking up our own cross is to show our total commitment to Christ. Modern Christians know all about being involved with Christianity. They know to give up their time to go to prayer meetings and church services. Oh, yeah! They also have to sacrifice their time for additional Bible study meetings. This involvement with the church is like the chicken that lays an egg. However, the gospel demands much more than an egg! It should be more analogous to the pig that gave himself up to become the bacon! Chicken Christians are merely involved in the church and its day to day activities. Bacon Christians are those committed Christians that are committed to the point of death. They are the ones who will give their lives for the furtherance of the gospel. These are the Biblical Christians! They understand what it means to take up their cross!

Looking at the context of Mt 10:38, we realise that this is exactly what Jesus meant when he said those words! Back in verse 28 Jesus told His disciples not to "fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul." In verse 39 Jesus His dialogue on the meaning of discipleship with "whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." The NASB Study Bible note on Mk 8:34 says, "The picture is of a man, already condemned, required to carry the beam of his own cross to the place of execution (see John 19:17). Cross-bearing is a willingness to suffer and die for the Lord's sake."[ 1]  An unwillingness to take up our cross and follow after Christ proves that we are not worthy of Christ!

The interesting thing concerning the matter is that it is not optional to take up one's cross. The modern Christian's New Testament tells him at Mt 16:24 that "Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." The reality of the matter is that Jesus said "
let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow" Him. Luke adds one little word that makes the statement so much forceful, "And he said to all, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.'" (Lk 9:23) It must be a daily consideration. Christians in countries where Islam rules have to consider this daily as they are being harassed and persecuted by Muslims. Christians are beaten daily; their houses and churches are burnt to the ground daily; some are sent to prison on false charges almost daily. Others are murdered almost daily, for their faith in Christ!

In our modern life we have learnt that most, if not all, of us have low self-esteem and we need to build up our self-esteem. We have taken that wholeheartedly into the church to the point that we have forgotten that if we are to be the disciples of Christ we must deny ourselves, not assert ourselves! Hudson Taylor (1832-1905), the great missionary of a little more than a century ago, wrote that "self-indulgence and self-assertion [are] temptations to which we are ever exposed, and to which we constantly give way, without even a thought of the un-Christlikeness of such conduct."[ 2]  Nowhere in the beatitudes (Mt 5:3-11) do find Jesus saying, "Blessed are those that assert themselves, for they will find promotion in life!" Rather, Jesus said, "[3]  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  [4]  Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  [5]  Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.  [6]  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.  [7]  Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.  [8]  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  [9]  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.  [10]  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  [11]  Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account." A life of self-denial in the face of Christ's death for us certainly is not a life of asserting ourselves for our own self-promotion! In our own self-denial we must be willing to stand naked before the world, clothed only with Christ! If we died today, what would people write on our tombstones?

What is the driving force behind your life? Is it your work? Your family? Money? Recognition? A nest-egg for retirement? Fame? Or, can you say with Paul, "to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain?" (Phil 1:21) Are you willing to echo the words of Paul, "far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world?" (Gal 6:14) Finally, will you be able to stand before Christ, and without any guilt, repeat the words of Paul, "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified?" (1 Cor 2:2)

Walter Chantry writes concerning Mt 7:14, "For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few", "No one with an inflated ego can squeeze through the door. There must be self-effacement, self-repudiation, self-denial even to become a disciple (a student) of Jesus Christ."[ 3] Chantry continues on self-denial, "It is this most obvious aspect of our Lord's teaching which has been forgotten or ignored by modern evangelism. Anxious to bring sinners to life, peace and joy in the Lord, evangelists have failed even to mention that Christ insists upon denial of self at the outset. Having failed to pass on our Lord's requirement, and forgetting it themselves, evangelists have never questioned whether their 'converts' with self-centred lives are true followers of Christ… our text [Lk 9:23-24] will show that unless a man lives a life of self-denial, he has not received a first work of grace."[ 4]

In our modern world we, as Christians, have forgotten that Christ demands our all, all the time. We must carry our cross daily! We must deny self daily!

Just thinking...

1. NASB Study Bible, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1999.
2. Taylor, James Hudson, Meditations on Cross-Bearing,
3. Chantry, Walter, Take Up Your Cross,
4. Ibid.

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