SPIRITUAL NOURISHMENT FOR TODAY
Passage: Luke 9:23-27
Take Up the Cross and Follow Him
“23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.
24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.
25 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?
26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.
27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Kingdom of God.”
Memory Verse: 2 Timothy 2:11 (NIV)
“HERE IS A TRUSTWORTHY SAYING: IF WE DIED WITH HIM, WE WILL ALSO LIVE WITH HIM; IF WE ENDURE, WE WILL ALSO REIGN WITH HIM. IF WE DISOWN HIM, HE WILL ALSO DISOWN US.”
THE COST OF TRUE DISCIPLESHIP (Part 1)
In a previous edition of Spiritual Nourishment for Today, we made the point that suffering usually precedes victory, implying that suffering can be a passage into victory. This also means that believers should see suffering as part of the Christian journey and ask for the ability to endure during hardship. This is important because the Master, Yeshua Ha’Mashiack, had to go through suffering before his eventual resurrection and glorification. This theme is also found in our passage for today. Jesus talks about the cost of true discipleship and admonishes his followers to be prepared to go through it.
After informing the disciples about his impending rejection and his subsequent death and resurrection, Jesus started to prepare his true disciples for the hard times ahead of them. He did not hide the truth from them or give them any false hopes. He told them emphatically that discipleship involves self-denial. According to the text, Jesus was not only speaking to the few disciples but to all those who would like to be his disciples. The Master told all those who want to follow him to where he would go later must deny themselves and take up their own cross. What then does it mean to deny ones’ self?
The ‘self’ is the central being of the individual. To deny the self means willingness to forsake one’s earthly desires or comforts. It is an act of love and not coercion. It is not asceticism which believes that denying the body of food, or drink or even isolating oneself from society would draw one closer to God. Self-denial is the conscious effort to bring one’s whole body, will and intellect under the control of the Holy Spirit. It means that the individual has the right to do certain things but has chosen to ignore those rights for the sake of following Christ. This is the mark of a true disciple of Christ because that is the way the Master went. According to Apostle Paul, Jesus denied himself when he chose to set aside his rights as God and took upon him the nature of a human servant (Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus is thus saying here that everyone who wants to follow him must also deny himself by taking a decision to forsake all earthly things. The earthly things here could mean materials or activities which obstruct our relationship with God.
This is very important for all believers today. Many claim to be Christians but are still holding on to the earthly things and not the things above. What the Master is saying here implies that anyone who is not focusing on heavenly things is not a true disciple of his and by extension cut off from the Kingdom of God. I pray that all who claim to be followers of Christ will examine themselves to know whether they are in Christ or not. The truth is that anyone who cannot deny himself of the earthly things on daily basis cannot claim to be one of Christ’s disciples.
Self denial is not the only mark of a true disciple according to the Master. Jesus also said that those who want to be his disciples must also take up their own crosses. To the Jews at the time Jesus was teaching the cross symbolized suffering or hardship. This is because the cross was a punishment for the armed robbers, the murderers and those who attacked the Roman government. They therefore understood the cross to mean a sense of hardship.
The question then is, why should Jesus tell them they would suffer when they were expecting to hear some kind of ‘good news’? It is all because he wanted to teach that discipleship and suffering are inseparable. The Master taught and is still teaching that anyone who wants to follow him must be prepared to suffer just as he did . But the truth is that the sufferings of those who follow him will not be in vain. The suffering can come in many forms such as direct or indirect persecution. He even told the disciples in Matthew 5:11-12 as follows:
“BLESSED ARE YOU WHEN PEOPLE INSULT YOU, PERSECUTE YOU AND FALSE SAY ALL KINDS OF EVIL AGAINST YOU BECAUSE OF ME. REJOICE AND BE GLAD FOR GREAT IS YOUR REWARD IN HEAVEN”.
It is very obvious from the passage that taking up one’s cross and following Christ is a daily activity. This means that the Christian will have to suffer daily and still follow Christ daily. This cross is not something a person chooses; it is a cross the Master puts at the door of everyone according to sovereign wisdom. Christians are not to go out there to look for their own crosses but to take up the crosses put before them by the Master.
Because it is mandatory for every Christian to experience daily sufferings, Christians should not attempt to step over their crosses. If you shun your test today, you will have to take it again another time. In fact you need to pass the test before you can qualify for the glory set before you. Let us understand that the cross must be carried before our glorification.
We should not refuse any cross the Master puts before us because he shall grant us the strength to carry it if we shall lean upon him. If we deny the cross put before us, we shall lose what we have now as well as what we hope for. This will be treated fully in the next edition. May the Lord Jesus Christ help us to as we deny ourselves of the desires of the flesh and carry our crosses in our heavenward journey.
THE WORD OF THE LORD!
THE COST OF TRUE DISCIPLESHIP (Part 1)
After making self-denial and the need to carry one’s cross and following him daily the requirements for being his disciples, Jesus further explained what he meant by denying oneself and the benefits thereof. According to the Master, a major cost of discipleship is the loss of oneself, that is, those who desire to save their lives will lose them but those who will lose their lives for his sake will eventually save them.
Jesus’ statement means that anyone who loves himself to the extent of doing everything possible to satisfy the desires of the flesh will eventually miss out of the Kingdom of God. On the contrary, those who will do everything possible, under the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit, to kill the desires of the flesh for the sake of Christ, will inherit the Kingdom of God. This implies that salvation does not lie in any human effort but can only be obtained through faith in Christ and allegiance to him. Those who love their lives more than Christ will have no eternal life, but those who love Christ more than their own lives to the point of dying for the sake of Christ will have eternal life.
This act of losing one’s self can be looked at from different angles. It may include a conscious effort to submit one’s whole will under the authority of Christ, thereby giving up one’s self desires in order to please God. It may also include the love for Christ more than oneself which drives a person to maintain total allegiance to Christ even at the point of death such as the early Christian martyrs. It also includes a deliberate attempt to send the gospel to very dangerous regions of the world without any fear of dying or being ashamed to proclaim the gospel. Anyone who does all or any of the above depending upon the prevailing circumstances will have eternal life. The reverse holds.
Beloved in Christ, the world in which we live is a carnal world and many Christians are aware of it. We are also aware that God does not want us to conform to the set pattern of this world but to rather transform it (Romans 12:2). Unfortunately, many Christians have fallen so much in love with the things of this world that they are unwilling to sacrifice their natural desires for the sake of Christ. I mean many are unwilling to lose anything for the sake of Christ.
This means that many Christians love themselves more than Christ. Many Christians love the things of this world more than the things above. The truth is that those who love themselves or the things of this world more than Christ are not his followers. In other words, those who are not prepared to lose what they have in order to embrace Christ have no place in the kingdom of heaven. Many are controlled by their love for money or their love for sexual pleasures. They have submitted so much to those desires that they are not ready to lose them for anything. Like the rich young ruler who went to Jesus, many have fallen so much in love with their assets such as buildings, cars, business interests, land, marriage, children, education, jobs, careers, power and so much authority to the extent that they are unwilling to exchange them for anything. Those who satisfy the desires of the flesh and are unwilling to lay down their mortal lives for the sake of Christ will have no place in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus further explained that it is unnecessary for anyone to gain the whole world and lose his own life. This means it makes no sense for anyone to chase after the riches of this world while forfeiting the riches above. This implies that instead of anybody desiring after and seeking the things of this world, they should seek after the things above as Apostle Paul admonishes us in Colossians 3:2 as follows:
“SET YOUR MINDS ON THINGS ABOVE, NOT ON EARTHLY THINGS.”
This is in line with Jesus’ teaching in admonishment in Matthew 6:19-20:
“DO NOT STORE UP FOR YOURSELVES TREASURES ON EARTH, WHERE MOST AND RUST DESTROY, AND WHERE THIEVES DO NOT BREAK IN AND STEAL. BUT STORE UP FOR YOURSELVES TREASURES IN HEAVEN…”
Let us therefore put away any hindrances to our relationship with Christ and deepen our love for Christ more than the things of this world. This is how we could be countered among the disciples of Christ and given entry into the Kingdom of God. May the Lord Jesus Christ help us to love him more than anything else!
THE WORD OF THE LORD!
Pastor Nana Kobina Baisie
Teacher/Pastor at Nadrim Mission International School, Busan, Korea.