Take Up Your Cross and Follow Me!
A Committed Life
It was Deitrich Bonhoeffer who said: "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." He clearly meant that we are to die to self, to abandon our own ambitions, and commit our lives fully to Jesus as Lord. A true disciple says: "Not my will but thine be done."
Bonhoeffer, who was a German theologian, pastor, and spy during World War II and was known for his staunch resistance against the Nazis, certainly lived this out in his own life. He was arrested by the Gestapo in April 1943 and was imprisoned for one and a half years then transferred to a Nazi concentration camp. He later was accused of being part of a plot to kill Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer was quickly tried and then hanged on April 9, 1945. Ironically it was done just as the Nazi regime was collapsing. If he had survived two weeks longer he would have been saved by the U.S. military who liberated the camp at which he was imprisoned.
Compared to people like Bonhoeffer and other martyrs for the cause of Christ, we live a soft form of Christianity here in America. I find it quite interesting that we in the 21st century take the symbol of the cross and make jewelry out of it to hang around our necks. Yet, in Jesus' day, the cross was an instrument of capital punishment. It would be akin to us wearing a miniature electric chair. However, the cross was a very cruel form of torture and execution and no one would ever want to die in this way.
Yet it was our Lord who told his disciples:
"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it." (Luke 9:23,24).
Those of us who claim to be Jesus' disciples need to reexamine what it really means to follow Christ. We may not ever be called upon to be martyred for our faith, but we have to realize that the Christian life is a total commitment to the one who gave himself fully for us.
I. A Change of Relationships
One thing that is clear from the Gospels is that becoming a disciple and taking up our cross includes a complete change in how we see ourselves and the relationships that we had in our former non-Christian life.
When we begin to explore Jesus' teaching on more than just a surface level, we start to realize how radical his words must have sounded to the first-century disciples. Indeed it can still sound that way to a modern would-be disciple when they hear things like what is found in Luke 14. Our Lord states:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple" (26,27).
What did Jesus mean when he spoke about hating your family members? To find out we need to compare this with the rest of Scripture and Jesus' teaching. For instance, we're told that we are to honor our father and mother (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:2; ). Jesus also tells us that we are to love one another in John 13:34-35. By love, all will know that we are his disciples.
And the Apostle John tells us that:
"If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen" (I John 4:20).
From these verses, we can conclude that Jesus wasn't speaking of literally hating these people and treating them with contempt. To do so would go against many other teachings of Christ and the Apostles.
So what does it mean to hate your mother, father, wife and children and even sisters and brothers? Or for that matter what does it mean to hate your own life? The phrase obviously is a hyperbolic statement that is used to show that Christ is to become the number one relationship in life and all others secondary. It is to be so much so that your love for everyone else looks like hatred in comparison.
The fact is that the Gospel divides families because some will accept Christ and some won't. And the ones that don't accept Christ may be upset at the changes in their loved one because he or she refuses to live the former life of sin and may not be as close to them anymore because of the differences that Christ makes in a believing life. The family members may indeed accuse their Christian relative of hatred toward them because Jesus is now number one in their lives. That is what Christ meant when he said:
"Do not assume that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘A man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law" (Matthew 10:34,35).
It would follow then that hating your own life is also part of the process of discipleship. By that is meant hating the former life in which we thought we were doing what we wanted to do. In fact, we were under the dominion of sin. The unbeliever is really a slave to sin and not truly free (Romans 7:24,25) And he is also being blinded by the god of this world, Satan (II Corinthians 4:3,4). However, Christians must now switch allegiances and make Jesus their master. His will must now become their will. Whatever Christ wants a believer to do, they do and whatever he doesn't want them to do, they don't do.
The true Christian disciple must be willing to say what the Apostle Paul said:
"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).
II. A Counting of the Cost
In this day and age of the name it and claim it prosperity gospel you don't hear a lot of messages about counting the cost of discipleship. But Jesus, in the same passage in which he told us to hate family members, your own life, and to take up your cross, gave illustrations which told us to do just that. We must count the cost before making the decision to follow him. Christ states:
"For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish. Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So, therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:28-33).
Jesus said that those who follow him will be hated by the world because the world hated him first and they will be persecuted (John 15:18-20). We in America don't understand this very much. We live rather sheltered lives. However, there were many in our Lord's day and millions throughout the world in our own time that know very well what it means to have to stand up for Christ in a hostile world that beats them throws them in jail and murders many of his followers.
Those who have counted the cost have found that following Jesus is worth any price that they have to pay on this earth, for he has promised them great rewards for remaining faithful (Mark 10:28-31; II Timothy 4:8). They, like Moses in Egypt, were willing to suffer with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. And these were able to say at the end, as the Apostle Paul did:
"For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness is laid up for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me but to all who crave His appearing" (II Timothy 4:6-8).
All those who have truly counted the cost and taken up their cross for the Lord Jesus Christ have never found the Christian life to be easy. It isn't easy to die to yourself, to die to your ambitions and desires and to make Christ Lord of your life. However, the rewards far outweigh any hardships that we can ever experience on this earth.
We in 21st century America and other places in the world that are not experiencing persecution and martyrdom for our faith have to realize that while salvation is a free gift it wasn't cheap. It cost the Son of God his life. He suffered a cruel death on the cross even though he didn't deserve it. Our Lord gave all that he had for us so that we could be free. Those who are saved have been bought at an incredibly steep price (I Corinthians 6:20).
The question is: What are we willing to do for him? Not for salvation for we who know Jesus are already saved. But we should do it out of sheer gratitude for the cost he was willing to pay for us. None of us deserve anything that Christ has done to make us the children of God. But we can live the rest of our lives taking up our cross daily, dying to self and living for him who gave all for us.
And the ironic thing is that we haven't really paid much of a price at all. Just a few short years on this earth and Jesus has promised a wonderful home forever with him in heaven.
In the end, the decision belongs to each of us. It is my prayer that we each choose wisely!
© 2018 Jeff Shirley