When Christ is displaced from His proper place, when He is no longer followed correctly the believer finds himself in a cross less walk. Our means of sanctification, correction, chastisement and growth is not without suffering. Christianity is cross-centered, as it is central point to why Christ came to earth. All of God's blessings come from Him through the cross, and are delivered to believers by His Spirit and His word. But to walk in the blessings means we are too have faith in God and His word. We cannot disregard the reality that we may experience suffering and even persecution, the fact is- the cross means suffering. The cross becomes the central point to the believers walk as Jesus said we are to carry the cross as well. Today we can listen to most of the popular Christian TV teachers promise everything to a believer but neglect this essential ingredient to Christianity. What is being taught today is that we should not suffer or have pain or be corrected. This leads to illegitimate children, not true sons of God.
It used to be said, "All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:12), but today it is said, "Those who live godly lives will be rich and successful in this world." And what was once applied to an individual Christian now is being applied to churches; they pursue growth by any means, the larger the church the more success they presume they have received from God. Jesus said there would be a remnant that would hold to his teachings despite persecution and ridicule. He never said the remnant would become the majority. He taught there would be few that would want to travel on the narrow road with the cross and many would go on the broad road.
2 Tim.2:8-15: "Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel, for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation, which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. This is a faithful saying: for if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, he also will deny us. If we are faithless, he remains faithful; he cannot deny Himself." Paul who was jailed suffered for the word of God, it was under this immobility and stress that he wrote many of His letters to the Church.
Paul concentrates on our continual dying to self even if wrongly accused so the word and the gospel may prosper. But we need endurance. Why? Because we will continually suffer for our witness, and even be persecuted. The early Church suffered greatly as James gives the example to the believers "My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience" (James 5:10). For even the prophets who were types of Christ all suffered, none had an easy life for too long. The descriptions of the faithful in Hebrew 11 bear this out.
"Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." What words can he be speaking of that have no gain for us spiritually? Words that are not connected to the gospel words that are not centered on the life of Christ and the cross. Empty spiritual promises: the guarantees of success, prosperity and healing without the main ingredient, the cross and suffering in this life.
The Exaltation of the Cross by the Death of Self
The cross destroys any way of acceptability on our own merits. We can't accept Jesus for who He is without the cross. He went through suffering and all those who want to follow him correctly must also . "Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured
the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb 12:2). Jesus obeyed and went through suffering before the cross and on the cross (Heb.4:14). Because of this He was given the most honorable position, to sit at the Fathers right hand, and have the name above all names.
"Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple"(Lk.14:27). Here Jesus makes it clear He is the pattern we are to follow. Without suffering, without reproach, without dying to self we cannot learn from him, nor can we receive His blessings. We don't just watch him but follow Him, which is an activity, a way of life. Jesus was nailed onto the horizontal beam and it was placed on another wood beam that was vertical. He did not move from this place as He was in perfect obedience fulfilling God's will to suffer and die for us so our sins could be forgiven.
1 Pet 2:21: "For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:" Peter then describes the various sufferings one is to go through. To follow Christ is not as some say without suffering but with suffering. 1 Pet .4:1-2: "Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God." We anguish in the flesh so that the Spirit will fill us and control our lives. We are to go against the old human nature that's still dwells with us, it can be painful, it can be a raging battle at times but this is our sanctification process that makes us the overcomers Christ wants us to be.
We are to follow Him by carrying our cross. To carry a cross is uncomfortable. It is awkward, it has suffering, and it has pain. Picture our walk with the cross as carrying a crossbeam while people are walking by you at a faster speed. You trudge along slowly, carefully carrying this object on your shoulders. The people stare at you, they mock you, they laugh. They ask why would anyone carry such a thing? Look at how mobile we are. We are able to go anywhere we want to, we are free. But you can only go on the path made for someone to carry this cross. We can go in and out of any door in any place, you cannot. Try fitting yourself in a doorway with a crossbeam it would be very uncomfortable. You would have to force yourself in and it would be next to impossible. That is how Jesus wants us to live being in the world and not of it. We should not be comfortable with the things of the world and our former life. As a Christian, a new person in Christ does not fit in society and its ways. What appears like freedom to some is not, as it leads away from the narrow road that Jesus asks us to walk on. It leads to destruction.
Are you nailed to your cross? Or do you pick it up occasionally and carry it as far as you want, until it is uncomfortable and then lay it down. You may be missing what God wants to work in your life by choosing to not suffer for Christ. 1 Pet. 4:13-14: " but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified." True Christianity is sacrifice a dying to ones self so we can have fellowship with God now, which is our spiritual blessing. But we will be rewarded more later on for how we persevered through the testing of our trials today. How we face them and go through them will have bearing on our eternal life later on in heaven.
Rom 8:18: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." Suffering for Christ was counted as a privilege by the apostles.
Maybe you are someone who has been told that suffering is from the devil and there is no benefit to trials. That God is always going to bless and if your not receiving your share then you are not walking in faith.
This is not what Jesus and the apostles taught. What is the faith that was delivered once to all the saints? It is a faith that can be tested, one that becomes strengthened through trials. They may be physical, they may be emotional, they may be spiritual, they may even be from the Devil but they all come through Christ's hands. If there is no testing there is no growth! Tests are to prove our faith. It is the proof of being a genuine Christian. "And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Rom. 5:3-5)
Jesus said while we are in this world we will all experience tribulation, but only a Christian has trials to prove his faith.
In Hebrew 11 we find how the faithful lived among the world. Everyone gave up something and suffered for God so he was able to use them. Heb. 11:36-40: "Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented--of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us."
A good example is in Daniel 3:16-18 Where 3 Jewish men in Babylonian captivity refused to bow down to the golden statue of the then world ruler Nebuchadnezzar. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. "If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. "But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up." They had faith, not presumption that they would not die. They were willing to die but God spared them as they already considered their lives as dead.
There are many today that have bowed to a golden image and would not last a minute in the fire of testing nor be willing to go there. Because they have been taught that it is the Devil that will test them and God is not involved. But Scripture calls in our testimony through the sufferings of Christ, "the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death" (Phil. 3:10).
Dan. 3:23-25 As they were brought to the flames the men who stoked them died. Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, "Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?" They answered and said to the king, "True, O king." "Look!" he answered, "I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God." These three men became witnesses to an unbeliever through their trial and He saw the Son of God with them. Nebuchadnezzar then blessed the God of these three brave Jews because of the outcome of their uncompromising dedication.
John the Baptist preached repentance preparing the peoples heart for the Messiah. He was clothed in garments of repentance. They could tell He meant what he said by how he lived. John came in the apparel of humility dressed in camel hair. One would dress in coarse hair for repentance. He certainly would not be fit for TV evangelism if he were around today. He would be rejected not only by His message, but also from his dress. Jesus said to the multitudes "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?" But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments?
Indeed those who are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in kings' courts." You won't find much repentance in these places of prominence. It was for this very reason Jesus said it's harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. One must give up much to gain the spiritual life, instead today the Church is being told that we don't have to give up a thing, we can have the best of both worlds. We are the king's kids so hold your head high and receive the blessings after all we deserve it.
It was A.W. Tozer who wrote ALL UNANNOUNCED AND MOSTLY UNDETECTED there has come in modem times a new cross into popular evangelical circles. It is like the old cross, but different: the likenesses are superficial; the differences, fundamental.
From this new cross has sprung a new philosophy of the Christian life, and from that new philosophy has come a new evangelical techniques new type of meeting and a new kind of preaching. This new evangelism employs the same language as the old, but its content is not the same and its emphasis not as before. . The new cross encourages a new and entirely different evangelistic approach. The evangelist does not demand abnegation of the old life before a new life can be received. He preaches not contrasts but similarities. He seeks to key into public interest by showing that Christianity makes no unpleasant
demands; rather, it offers the same thing the world does, only on a higher level. Whatever the sin-mad world happens to be clamoring after at the moment is cleverly shown to be the very thing the gospel offers, only the religious product is better.
The new cross does not slay the sinner, it redirects him. It gears him into a cleaner and jollier way of living and saves his self-respect. To the self-assertive it says, "Come and assert yourself for Christ." To the egotist it says, "Come and do you're boasting in the Lord." To the thrill seeker it says, "Come and enjoy the thrill of Christian fellowship." The Christian message is slanted in the direction of the current vogue in order to make it acceptable to the public.(The Old Cross And The New by A.W. Tozer Published 1966)
Paul writes lamenting "For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ" (Phil 3:18). People today want the blessings and prosperity only, not his suffering. But without it there are no eternal blessings only temporary ones spent quickly on earth. The faith teachers tell the people to get to know Jesus in his blessings, the bible and the apostles taught that we should get to know Jesus by following him in his suffering. When the cross is not central to your theology then you have not alternative but to eliminate any suffering, even if it is for the right thing.
This is how the majority of the Church's walk today.
The Missing Ingredient
Paul declared "that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death" (Phil. 3:10). "The fellowship of His sufferings" is an interesting concept, as it sounds strange. How does one fellowship with suffering, when they may be not feeling good, hurting or have optimum living conditions? How can one have an intimate relationship around suffering? It means to partner together with him, to become intimate and we will receive strength now and the outcome of the resurrection later. Without it we can't know him and we certainly can't possess resurrection power. By participating in suffering we can understand how Christ felt who had no sin, struggled in his flesh to be perfected. We then can have a personal experience of Christ's power "by means of suffering" in overcoming the fleshly trials or any tribulation. Suffering is foreign to the Christian lifestyle today, but it was a way of life to the early Church. Without it we can't know him in his death and we certainly can't possess resurrection power. When I'm weak and depend on Him HE is strong. It is denying all that we are in our own abilities so we can say, "it is not I but Christ that livith in me." When we can live this under pressure, the power that is His will be shared to us, and then we can give HIM all the glory and honor due His name. Acts 14:21-23: "strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God."
A cross-less Christianity means not walking with Christ for without which we cannot have a relationship with him. Jesus spoke this qualifying statement for his disciples more than once Luke 9:23: "let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me." Matt. 10:38 "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me." Luke 14:27: "And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple".
The truth is that only one kind of faith walk will lead us to eternal life. For those who refuse His suffering and chastisement to change us it will lead to the judgment of God who wanted to be Lord over our lives but we didn't let Him. We instead practiced lawlessness (Mt.7).
What is the secret of the Christian life? God has revealed to mankind in His word all that we need for to live a life of godliness. Heb. 13:5: "Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." The Word of God tells us godliness is a means of great gain when it is accompanied by contentment." Contentment is a concept hardly being heard anymore. Paul understood it as the essential for endurance and joy "And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content" (1 Timothy 6:8). If our basic needs are met, we should be content. This was part of Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, if God feeds the birds and we are worth so much more we should not stress over His provision for us. Yet the popular teachers of prosperity tell us not to be satisfied with what we have, it is not enough, there is always more. What they are teaching is actually a lack of faith, making people covet and not be satisfied with what God has
already given. Paul did not say this, lets look at a Scripture that is often ripped from it context to justify getting whatever one wants I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Phil. 4:11-13: "Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." In context what Paul is explaining is that he cannot look at a bad situation and be overcome by it, that whatever position he was in Christ was there with him.
To be blessed is interpreted as having abundance in all things. Some claim that the Church being under a new covenant should have what some of the great men of faith had under the old covenant. We are not under the curse but the blessing. Certainly there is a portion of truth in this as the writer of Hebrews tells us we have been given a new and better covenant. It is on this basis that most prosperity preachers believe it should include abundance. If the Jews were promised prosperity and health, why not us? They neglect to see the blessings for Israel were dependent on Israel's obedience. If they obeyed God's commands they were blessed, it was a conditional covenant. One of the reasons the new covenant is superior is because it operates by grace. Israel was punished if they did not obey and it was at times quite severe. What we see to day is an elimination of the chastisement having only the blessing. We want to have our cake and eat it too. Honey can taste sweet and we can gorge ourselves on the blessings of the word without realizing we are moved into a position of judgment. Prov. 25:27: "It is not good to eat much honey; so to seek one's own glory is not glory." Prov. 25:16: "Have you found honey? Eat only as much as you need, lest you be filled with it and vomit." To eat only the sweet things of God and neglect the harder truths that will make you grow will make one sick. This is why the body of Christ has found herself in spiritual ill health, we have pursued honey like a hungry bear. We want to hear only positive words and not those that challenge us to change or correct us.
Both Ezekiel and John who were revelators of great portions of truth of the word said it tasted sweet at first until it was digested. Ezek 3:3: "And He said to me, "Son of man, feed your belly, and fill your stomach with this scroll that I give you." So I ate it, and it was in my mouth like honey in sweetness." Rev. 10:9: "And I went to the angel and said to him, "Give me the little book." And he said to me, "Take and eat it; and it will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth." Once the true word is accepted one must swallow its content (meditate to understand) then it can make one upset after it's digested.
The church has "every spiritual blessing," If one looks up the word blessing and the concept we find something quite different than what is taught today about material abundance. Eph 1:3: "Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ." Gal. 3:14: "that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." That is the Gospel of salvation; this is the blessing of Abraham that has come to all people, to know Jesus the Messiah.
I Have Seen the Enemy It Is Myself
Pride was the downfall of Lucifer who was the greatest creature God had made. We all have pride to some degree and it is pride that separates us from faith. Pride is self-dependence that means that we think we can accomplish something on our own. Pride means to think of oneself above another, it is an overestimation of ones self. We think we deserve something when I fact we do not. When we look at Jesus' example of humility. He as God came lowly for prideful man (Phil.2:5-8). He had the true power to call on legions of angels and cause what is not to be. But He did not use this power for self in any fashion. He did not assert the power or position that was rightfully his.
Martin Luther said the flesh seeks to be glorified not crucified. Our flesh loves to boast, even when we do something right for God, we want the credit. If you want to please the devil be infatuated with yourself, boast, for pride is the devils dragnet and he has caught many a fish in the web of independence.
"A true Christian has been dispossessed of his self-esteem, and self-sufficiency to make room for God in the heart where there was none but for sin ...Now the preferring [of] self before God is the essential part
of the corrupt nature ....Self esteem, self-dependence, self-willedness deny affection and subjection to God." (Stephen Charnock,1628-1680)
All false teaching comes from pride, because it will not submit to the word as it is already written. It does not seek the true meaning but looks for its own interpretation. Why? Self wants the credit, as we want to be noticed! So the true word becomes putty in ones hand and they insert their own meaning into the word, branding with their hot iron. We must be humble to receive the true word. James 1:21-22: "Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." But to do the word we must crucify the self first otherwise we will not have the power to live it. Self must be put down so God can be exalted. Only then can we share in the blessing that he has for us.
If there is no chastening, then God cannot deal with our pride. Paul was buffeted so he would not be prideful because of his many revelations. But many today, do not have any chastening in their Christian walk, they actually think that this is the way it is suppose to be. This is a fearful thing, to know that God is not chastening one to correct them in their walk. It may mean they are not walking with God.
Job is someone we all recognize as going through the greatest trial mentioned in the bible. He had this to say, "Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty" (Job 5:17). Job did not blame it on Satan but saw the hand of God in his tribulation. Solomon said "He who heeds discipline shows the way of life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray" (Prov.10:17).
As the writer of Hebrews exhorts the believers, "And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: "My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives." If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons." (Heb.12:5-8)
"Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." (Heb 12:11)
If you find someone teaching we are not to go through trials- run from there teaching. They are contradicting the most important concept in the Scripture for our sanctification. Everything we have as Christians came through much suffering and death on the cross. It was all done so that we might have his grace.
Trials shape our faith to overcome the world. We have faith shaped trials that come from the hand of God. They are custom made for each of us as God deals with us all on a personal basis.
James 1:2-4: "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing."
The Apostle Peter says the very same thing. "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 1:6-7). With our patience in trials comes endurance as it trains us to wait at great lengths for God's deliverance. True faith is forged in the fire of your trial, false faith runs away asking for an escape from God's process of maturing them.
Rom. 1:17: "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith." How is it from faith to faith? By the trials we go through! God works His nature in us and takes out what is not pleasing to him at the same time. Through al this we learn to trust him as child would its parent.
Unfortunately today the church is rarely told this but instead Jesus becomes a self-esteem booster to grant to us our own dreams and wants. Everything we have as Christians came through much suffering and Christ's death on the cross. It is all done through His grace. But grace can only be given if we walk according to his ways of humility. This means an emptying of self. "Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it" (Mark 10:15).
What Are We Preaching?
Paul says if someone adds to the Gospel even some of the law, he is accursed. Today all kinds of things are added to make the Church more appealing. Then there are things that are taken away, such as the Gospel itself. False teachers will mention the Gospel at times; this is what makes them so deceptive. But they will alter portions of the message. If a doctrine is an important truth, there will be many Scripture verses to back it up. It will not be isolated. If it is a principal teaching, it will be plain and repeated throughout Scripture. They may even teach the correct Gospel at times but bring the deception into the discipleship process as one learns from them things that are not found in the Bible. These teachings can consist of additions like you are promised to be rich and always in health, or subtractions such as following him never includes loss or suffering.
Cor. 15:12-14: "Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty." If the death and resurrection are not preached consistently in the Church how will people believe?
Remember Paul said this was the gospel that was the power of God. If Christ is preached apart from this and people come to him what are they coming to? His death proves we are sinners and this was the only way to be brought to God. The resurrection proves his claim of who he said he is, the Lord God. The death and resurrection was the centerpiece of the apostles' preaching. They did not attract people by their ability to produce displays of power. Today we are confronted with a new type of Gospel, one that emphasizes experiencing the supernatural. We now practice a cross less Christianity, which turns into a Christ less Christianity. Today in many churches miracles are preached for salvation, not Christ crucified. Paul preached the cross, Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor.1:18). The Bible states it is the "preaching of the cross" that contains "the power of God" unto salvation. Are we preaching Christ crucified, or have we made revisions in the ancient story to fit it into our contemporary culture? It has become very popular to preach Christ without the discomfort of the cross. Can we expect to see great numbers gathered in when we throw out the net if our net has such huge holes in it?
Jesus asks, "What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? What will a man give in exchange for his own soul?" (Mk.8:36-37) If someone is won to Christ by being offered success and riches then they were not won to Christ but to the world. If the cross is not the center of their preaching and life than whom are they lifting up? Jesus said if I be lifted up, I will draw all people to me. That's whom we bring them to, Jesus, not the Church, not our pet doctrines.
We exchange what the world offers for a chance to carry the cross, its only temporary buts its rewards last through eternity. The cross-dealt the death blow to sin and the triumph of the old nature. The cross speaks of the deficiency of man and the ability of God. It speaks of our utter dependence on our maker. It takes us away from being self focused to Christ centered. The cross gets rid of the old nature by putting it to death so we can be witnesses of Christ to the others. If you are not prepared to face death than you are not able to live life in the fullest in Christ.
Church's pursue growth by any means, the larger the church is often interpreted as the more blessings they have received from God. However if they have won people to Christ by offering success and riches, then they did not win them to the Christ of the Bible, but to the world. The ear ticklers will always expand the cross' capabilities to give what people want beyond the Scripture. They will never say you will have to give up things but instead Jesus will add all the things you want in life. But the writers of the Scripture, the apostles of Christ were honest about their state. "To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands" (1 Cor. 4:11-
12). Yes they gave up much to follow the Jesus who saved them from their sins. They did not preach a life of ease and blessing awaiting those who receive Christ.
Without the cross, the Church becomes just another cult or religion with teachings about a man named Jesus. When Jesus said he is the way he meant through the cross, by his blood sacrifice on it. When he said He was the truth he meant not only the words He said, but also that He came to die for us because we are sinners. Again, it speaks of the cross. When he said he was the life, he meant apart from him and what he did on the cross we have no hope. "He taught no man comes to the Father except through Him", but it is a certain way, through the cross. Jesus also said, "unless you pick up the cross you cannot follow me, nor are you worthy of me."
Without applying the cross and denying self we have our old nature revived and alive as if we do not know Christ. This becomes the battleground for our discipleship and growth. A cross less Christian life means we are not operating our spirituality from "the word" but from another's word and way. It may be our own, it may be someone else's, but for certain it can't be Christ's. It is Christ's words ALONE that are life but to receive them and grow self-must denied. Jesus said, "My words are life and they are spirit." The apostles through the entire New Testament wrote down these words; they are not just the words written in red ink. They wrote them all with the same ink, as Paul stated, "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Tim.3:16-17), there are not less inspired portions. Without the cross and denying self we have our old nature revived and alive as if we do not know Christ. This becomes the battleground for our discipleship and growth.
Mark 8:34-36 When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it." Look at what Jesus stated and consider what is being said today. We lose our life for his sake and the Gospels. And right afterwards He warns about gaining the things of the world. Yet we hear today to become a Christian means we deserve all these things, it is our spiritual right of gaining them because we are followers of Jesus. I need not mention any names. You can hear this rhetoric from the majority of TV preachers the list is quite long.
Jesus said, "Unless you pick up the cross you cannot follow me nor are your worthy of me." We are to lose our life and live his by having a mission, God's calling. If someone is not pursing God's call in their life have they really come to the point of denying self? As Jesus put it, we can gain everything in the world and lose our soul. Or gain our souls by not pursuing what is in the world and pursue God. It's not both; one cannot serve God and Mammon at the same time.
This means we must hate the things Jesus does and love the things Jesus does. Jesus was not unbalanced in his life and teaching. He made it clear what was opposing God and what was for God. It is us who need to make a decision.
His Death Our Life, Our Death His Life
John 12:23-26 "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor." Jesus is saying that He died to produce life as his seed can be born into man. Again he repeats the concept of us losing our life for his sake. And to follow him we must do so by servanthood not by assertiveness, aggressiveness or authority. Jesus is asking us to die to ourselves so we can live for God. The people that completely devote themselves to protecting their own life will miss the life of Christ that is eternal. Our devotion to Christ is to be pure; if we are willing to lose our life we will gain true eternal life. In our loss of self there is great gain, in our gain of self there will be great loss. The modern Church stands at the crossroads of which road they will travel on.
Both the thieves were crucified with Christ; they were right next to him dying. Only one of the thieves embraced the cross the other rejected it. One had to admit his guilt in front of the sacrificial of the lamb to be admitted into His kingdom. Our old life ends at the cross and the new life begins there. For in His death there is life. Matt 27:42-43: "He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. "He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'" Mark 15:30: "save yourself, and come down from the cross!" Many today think we too can save ourselves without the cross. God's way was for us to look at the cross see the sacrifice and believe. Mans way is to take him down and ignore it. To be on the cross, the victim's hands had nails through to keep him there. Many of us want to take ourselves away from our cross and walk with Christ without it. But this is impossible. We need to stick to the cross less we wander off to an easier road.
Many today want to rid Christ of the cross. To put aside the cross so it will be less offensive to preach with and to live by. But to do this is to reject His Lordship over your life.
The Offense of the Cross
The cross has become the universal emblem of Christianity. Yet those who hate Christ the most are able to wear it as jewelry with no conviction, mocking the very event that can save them. The cross does not offend them, because they do not understand what transpired on it. Unfortunately it can be the same in the Church.
Cor. 4:11-12 "For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you. We consider ourselves dead so that Christ s' life can be manifested to those around us. We consider ourselves dead so that Christ s' life can be manifested to those around us. As we die to our desires and people see our lives it can bring life to others for they will see Christ, but the condition is death to self. Maybe we have tried to make it too easy for people to accept Christ. The fact is- it is hard. As Jesus said, strive to enter the narrow gate. The road is narrow. Even after we are saved we are to walk this narrow road, lest we drift from him and lose our fellowship.
Gal. 5:5-11: "You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in you, in the Lord, that you will have no other mind; but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is. And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased." And this is where he puts his finger on the critical issue. IT WAS THE CROSS! The word "offense" is "scandalon," meaning "a stumbling block." What the apostles found in their day is still true today: THE CROSS OFFENDS MEN WHEREVER IT IS PREACHED AS GOD'S ONLY SAVING MEANS
FOR OUR SINFUL, DEPRAVED CONDITION. In our presentation of the Gospel the cross of Jesus must never be viewed as anything other than central to it. The question is, "why is the cross so offensive?"
The cross of Jesus never compromises, never spares the victim. He's alive going to the cross -- and dead when taken down! The cross represents death to the old nature and a new life to live, this comes through sacrifice, selflessness, commitment, holiness and separation, and humility -- it is all about death to self (Mk. 10:21). No one can tell me that's not hard, especially in the times we live in. We need to realize the times we live in are not the same as those of the apostles. As we draw nearer to the coming of the Lord, all Hell will break loose on earth in order to vanquish any and every saint of God. We have need of endurance through a genuine faith that will stand and bring us through the valley of death. Not the whipped cream with the desert from the health and wealth mentality.
The power of God is in the cross, the cross we carry is a crucified life, we are to be active not still. Spectator Christianity is not living the Christian life. It is not possible as James says I will show you my faith by my works. To walk in death brings life. It preserves us in our and helps us have the effectiveness of sanctification.
No one who walks with the cross can walk in self with any confidence. You must let go of one to carry the other. We need to make up our minds on being self-reliant or Jesus reliant through the Holy Spirit. A person who is wholly dedicated and consecrated his life to Christ's work will find the power manifested because he reckoned himself (and continues) dead. God's power works according to the Gospel and the subject of that message is Jesus Christ. God's power always works in and through His Word of truth. It is true in our salvation, it is true in sanctification, and it certainly will be true in our glorification.
We were bought with a price (on the cross) we are not our own. Gal. 6:14-15: "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world". The cross was inclusive in that when Christ died all those who would accept him died with him. He took away the first Adam's nature where nothing of the first Adam could pass through the cross and rule over us. The resurrection becomes the starting point of our new life. When we understand that Christ died for us, our eyes are open to see that what we have from Adam has died with Christ. Only that which dies can be a candidate for a resurrection. Paul said if we died with Him we would live with Him. Rom 6:5-8: "For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him."
We are to hate the things Jesus hated and love the things Jesus loved. That means conviction and commitment. We need to allow his word to work in us by our obedience and experience true growth by the Holy Spirit. Then we will have joy unspeakable.
The times we live in are probably the most challenging since the first-century church. Many believe the Church has never been as powerful as it is today. We have false gospels and a famine of the Word from the pulpits. People are running to and fro looking for OTHER solutions to their failed spiritual condition, a condition that is really caused by a lack of attention to God's Word.
(excerpts from Mike Oppenheimer's nearly finished book called The Empty Pulpit)