“If I see aright, the cross of popular evangelicalism is not the cross of the New Testament. It is, rather, a new bright ornament upon the bosom of a self-assured and carnal Christianity. The old cross slew men, the new cross entertains them. The old cross condemned; the new cross amuses. The old cross destroyed confidence in the flesh; the new cross encourages it.”
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
“If one believes in the death of the Lord Jesus as his substitute he already has been united with the Lord Jesus in His death. For me to believe that in the substitutionary work of the Lord Jesus is to believe that I already have been punished in the Lord Jesus. The penalty of my sin is death; yet the Lord Jesus suffered death for me; therefore I have died in Him.”
“The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.”
““A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.””
– John 13:34-35
What is “love” like? How do we consistently understand love when we fall short of it all the time?
We understand love by coming to know Jesus. He not only explains it, but He also exhibits it–He puts it out in the public eye for all to see. His explanation of what love is will mean a cruel death in order to save us. When Jesus dies, I am saved. My salvation has absolutely nothing to do with me– and everything to do with Him, and all that He has done.
Jesus helps us to see others. He makes a definitive statement, that we are to love others. We are to use what He has done for me, as an example. What Jesus did is the pattern, the prototype. We are to be the photostat or mimeograph. As believers we are to be captured and drawn into this approach.
We are to find someone, and then, in some sense, ‘die’ for them. That is the way God’s love is.
That very strong word, “must“ in verse 34 cannot escape our attention. It implies a deep and a very definite commitment to doing that is beyond us. We ‘must’ connect and receive all that moves through our life. We love the unlovely, and this is irrational. God says that people are worth crucifixion. We’re the criminals, and the judge has sentenced us. And then He Himself has decided to pay our penalty. This is ‘agape’ love.
We must love accurately. We should love the way He loves us. We cannot do anything less.
But the love of Jesus is tracking each wanderer. He is working to connect with every person on this planet. No one escapes His view, or His love. Everyone who belongs to Him, is required to know this. Our Lord is definitely not going to move if there are still “seekers” still out there. He leaves no one behind.
Loving others will require a significant broadening of the way we see things. We purposefully lift up Jesus because He lifted us. We exalt Him because we have discovered we are so pitiful. We must be convinced, that His way, is the way of the cross.
We must love more accurately —the same way He loves us. We cannot do anything less. For many of us, love is just a concept–a way of feeling ‘warm and fuzzy’ inside. But it is far more than feeling nice thoughts. It is all about “the extra mile” and we honestly can’t make that trip if we haven’t been willing to die ourselves.
“We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.”
Romans 6:6, NLT
“There are two things which the Church needs: more death and more life— more death in order to live; more life in order to die.”
The need of this moment is critical. Many believers have never came to this point of ‘knowing.’ Maturity comes when one realizes that crucifixion has dealt with the old man. We died when He died, we were there when He died, we were part of that event. Romans 6 is all about a believers ‘co-crucifixion’ with Jesus Christ. Calvary was far more than a religious event— it was where our sin was terminated. It was more than just a penalty carried— it was where our old nature put to death.
“My old self has been crucified with Christ.It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Sin has no power to sway a dead man. A man who is dead doesn’t respond to a girl in a leopard skin bikini. (It doesn’t matter if she is insanely gorgeous.) He no longer can be tempted to sin. Why? Because he is dead. This is not an issue of semantics, it is not poetic interpretation of a metaphor. It rings true in heaven.
Sin should no longer remain in power of a believer’s life. We believe that our sins have been dealt with on the cross, that Jesus took our sins from us, bearing them as a ‘sacrificial lamb.’ But the same is true to say, “My sinful nature was also crucified with him.”
“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.”
The principle is from farming. A kernel of wheat will bring an abundance. But it must be buried first. The dead seed miraculously sprouts. At the moment of death it suddenly receives a new life. The dead seed grows into a bountiful harvest. This is the New Testament principle of dying to self. A few things:
we are not sinless— we must deal daily with the sinful part of us,
this must be taken by faith, much like anything else from God,
discipline aids our quest for holiness, 1 Tim. 4:8
fulfills the sacrament of water baptism, it’s a daily reckoning, Rom. 6:4,
temptations can be really strong, but He enables us,
this is a God honoring way to live.
Crucifixion should always be taken by faith in God’s Word and it will lead to resurrection. Crucifixion weakness is necessary for resurrection power. Jesus shares his life with us— his power is given to his people. He shares all that he is so we might become like him.
“Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires.13 Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God.”
I’m convinced that as people with issues: physical and mental, we are given a gracious teacher in the person of the Holy Spirit. He will never condemn our feeble efforts to be holy. Be encouraged: God makes the weakest of us strong.
“Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.“
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
We can so easily process our faith to something respectable and somewhat pleasant. This is a natural tendency. But the cross has a stigma, we might think we can easily defuse it, rendering it as harmless. Acceptability is a wonderful thing to the modern day believer. It is easy to turn from all that would make us different, and grasp a crossless faith. It does seem we conform rather than transform.
Effort is being made right now to twist and nullify your belief in Jesus. It is a force that works on us, relentlessly. Satan intends to destroy you. He is frightened by the power of the cross, and the spiritual truth it contains. The cross (and resurrection) destroyed the devil’s kingdom of twisted darkness. He will never recover.
Just as Jesus carried the cross He was to die on, you and I are to follow His example. Jesus had to go to this place of death, and so are we. My cross is not purely emblematic or abstract symbolism. It entails a real death. I pick it up and go to die. Crucifixion is the end of me, it all comes down to this final point of termination.
Jesus escorts us to the point of death. This is to become the framework for a sincere discipleship. The cross, our cross, brings us to an end. To be worthy of Jesus is to bear it boldly. The cross develops into our thinking, and its dynamic pounds us into a spiritual reality. Jesus intensifies the cross, making it the mark of authenticity of a disciple.
We have no options, if we follow it must be with a cross. There is absolutely no room for us if we approach Him without it. The cross transmutes our lives, and transmits a signal that we have complied with Jesus’ wishes. If we advance at all, it will be through the cross only.
We must deny ourselves. That denial is an intense working. “I do not know the man” was Peter’s statement against Jesus. If we deny ourselves, we will take a stand against our own selves, turning against ourselves. We will be pinned to the mat.
Our focus should be on the cross. We must infuse it into our lives. A tea bag will flavor an entire cup. It turns a cup of boiling water into a wonderful beverage. The cross that belongs to us will have the same effect. It will make something where there was nothing.
“All heaven is interested in the cross of Christ, all hell terribly afraid of it, while men are the only beings who more or less ignore its meaning.”
“The heart is but a small vessel; and yet dragons and lions are there, and there poisonous creatures and all the treasures of wickedness; rough, uneven paths are there, and gaping chasms. There likewise is God, there are the angels, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace; all things are there.”
OK, I admit it. I am fully capable and fully able to do just about any sin or deceit. It’s my dubious claim to fame. I can easily think of a 1000 things that I could do rather than serving God. It seems my name is ‘Legion.’ To add to this, I have a chorus of support that wants me to give up my faith. Demons are really plotting to destroy me, while all along my flesh insists on being fed with ‘fresh sin’. (And I wonder why I’m getting gray hair.)
Within each of us is the potential and capability of doing great evil. Each of us is contested ground, with eternal decisions hanging in the balance.
My mental illness does not give me “a get-out-of-jail-free card.” I am just as responsible as anyone else when it comes to choosing good vs. evil. Somehow I’d like to think that since I am deeply flawed because of my depression, it can actually make it somewhat easier to admit the truth. Maybe? (Perhaps that’s about the only edge I get.)
In Greek mythology there were three beautiful, but dangerous bird-women called “Sirens.” With their music and voice they seduced sailors to shipwreck on the rocks. It was said that there was few or any could resist them. Since they had to be neutralized somehow; some would plug their ears with beeswax, while others tied themselves to the mast.
The Bible has promised us the Holy Spirit. The very presence of God has reached out His hand to hold me against the onslaught of evil forces. He truly does hold me in place, and His Word gives me the things I need to defend myself. Yes, the darkness can be very strong–but is no match to what God can do for me. We live in a very difficult age.
The intensity of seduction has increased. Tying yourself to something is probably a good idea.
“Keep yourself pure.”
1 Timothy 5:22
When the voices begin to lure you, you had best be ready with a plan. The spiritual mast we have before us is the person of Jesus Christ. Call on Him and then tether yourself to His mast (the cross.) He has all power and all love for you. You can resist the darkness, you can!
St. Francis of Assisi once wrote, “The devil never rejoices more than when he robs a servant of God of the peace of God.” Sometimes I think I’ve made the devil dance far too many times.
I confess that peace has never been real high on my list. Love, joy, kindness and even goodness are clear priorities. Peace–well… not so much. Until it’s not there. And then I get frantic by its absence, and look for it with manic bewilderment.
I’m panting for some sign that God still loves me. Anxiety eats at me. I beat myself up by my last failure. The guilt of my latest sin grows until it looms larger than the blood that saved me. Sometimes religious people have the most neurosis.
I’m afraid that we are taking “the present tense’ out of the Gospel. The past tense is far preferable to us as we manage the Christian life. We like to make check marks on our list. Repentance– check. Baptism– check. Bible study– check. I think it gives me a definite feeling of ‘maturity.’
But truth has a way of punching through. I haven’t arrived, and it seems I’m still the hideous sinner I always was. I cannot pretend otherwise, even with a truck load of cosmetics at my disposal. I know, I’ve tried. And I’m still ‘ugly.’ I do know forgiveness, and I do walk in its wonderful light (by grace.)
I read Luther 30 years ago. (And Bonhoeffer would say something similar.) “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” – Martin Luther (this is the first of his 95 Theses.) There is a present tense here we can’t ignore. I don’t just repent over smoking, or fornication, or of hypocrisy, once and done. But my entire way of living is to be one of repenting.
Repentance is a ‘moment-by-moment’ grace.
As I read the Beatitudes I cannot evade the sense that they are present tense. Read them, they’re obviously not a spiritual checklist. Each verse seems to speak of the time being, the present moment. No list here, guys. It will never be ‘one-and-done.’
“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. 4 God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth. 6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied. 7 God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God. 9 God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. 10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
Matthew 5:3-10, NLT
“All of the Christian life is repentance. Turning from sin and trusting in the good news that Jesus saves sinners aren’t merely a one-time inaugural experience but the daily substance of Christianity. The gospel is for every day and every moment. Repentance is to be the Christian’s continual posture.”
Luther’s last words, on his deathbed wrote on a scrap of paper these words, “We are beggars! This is true.” Thirty years before, he was only echoing his first thesis. It seems dear ones, we are to live at the foot of the cross. Everyday. Because we desperately need to.
And perhaps the biggest reason is this: Jesus only comes for ‘sinners.’