We have seen over the past few weeks that 1.) a new birth and 2.) a new spiritual understanding of the reality of my own sin and God’s limitless forgiveness constitute going through the gate and beginning the walk down the path of “walking by faith,” a very familiar but little-understood phrase for most Christians. Today we will investigate the only way of experientially continuing, or “keepin’ on keepin’ on” in that journey—3.) a new, daily, cross experience.
In Luke 9:23, just after Peter’s dramatic confession that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God,” Jesus told them briefly what His future would be—to “suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (Luke 9:22).
He then alluded to what their futures would be as well—those who would “keep on keepin’ on” as His disciples—the meaning of which they had no clue: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Down through the centuries his followers have worn a symbol of that cross on their persons, originally to signify that they were doing just that.
Over the years, wearing a cross or displaying a cross in some way, has lost that original meaning Jesus intended when He first spoke the words. We have generally not understood its meaning any more than did the disciples when Jesus uttered it. Today it usually means that I am a self-described “Christian,” whatever that might mean to me. But the question is, “What did Jesus mean when He told us, His followers, to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, individually, in order to follow Him down the path of walking by faith?”
The Bible teaches us clearly that in some mysterious, spiritual way, God has placed those who fell in Adam at the Tree in the Garden of Eden (that would be everyone!) were “in Christ” when He died on the cross. Just as we all were “in Adam,” we also were “in Christ” as well, and we, in that same mysterious way, rose from the dead “in Christ” and are currently seated with Him at God the Father’s right hand in heaven (Ephesians 2:4-7).
So, if we were, in some real, spiritual way, already crucified with Christ 2000 years ago, why then did Jesus tell me to still carry an instrument of death, my own cross, around with me every day?
He is implying there is still, in that same mysterious way, more dying for me to do, but that “dying” is not what most earnest Christians think it is.
“Denying myself and taking up my cross” is not reluctantly ceasing my enjoyable activities, the things I love to do that are not demonstrably “spiritual”—not sinful things but just not “spiritual.” It is not me “denying myself” and giving up sports, fishing, hunting, shopping, movies and television or any of the innumerable, enjoyable activities we find all around us in the world.
Nor is it doing the “spiritual” things we don’t necessarily want to do, like going to church, reading my Bible, praying, witnessing, trying to follow the law of God by “redeeming the time,” “crucifying my flesh,” “thinking only on those things above,” or any of the other literally hundreds of exhortations Paul gives me in his epistles that I don’t particularly want to do. Sincere Christians have tried diligently to follow those injunctions, and we all have been unsuccessful—in our hearts (Romans 3:9-20). However, we have compared ourselves with those around us and convinced ourselves that we are successful and therefore “good” Christians. We have become arrogant Pharisees in the process.
No, taking up my cross daily is more basic and simple than any of that. Simple, but not easy.
Denying myself and taking up my cross daily means that every morning I get up facing the same decision that Adam and Eve faced in the Garden of Eden. Do I try to keep God’s law myself by being “obedient” and thus be “good” myself, or do I deny that natural, powerful urge and know I can’t (I am inherently evil in my heart), then quit trying, and trust God within me by His Spirit completely to do so?
To deny myself and all my own efforts, and then get completely out of God’s way as He goes about making me holy sounds simple, but when God opens my eyes to what is really in my heart, I find it is really tough duty to do so! It is so easy to justify myself in every conflict because the other party is so obviously at fault, and their sin is so much easier to see than mine. Am I not justified in not loving him, because who could love a person who hates me and is deliberately out to hurt me?
No, I am not justified, because I am commanded to love my enemies with a love that “takes no account of the evil done to it—pays no attention to a suffered wrong” (1 Corinthians 13:5, Amplified Version). Having to face my sin like this every day is, in living color, “denying myself and taking up my cross.” Refusing to justifying myself by looking at another’s sin is a real-life “death experience.” When God opens my eyes and I see that, and then genuinely repent for my sin of not loving him, the only sin for which I have any responsibility, I suddenly and shockingly find that his sin against me is of no importance!
This starting step on the path is very, very difficult. “You don’t know what they did!” “They think they did nothing wrong when they sinned egregiously against me and are totally unrepentant!” But when this cross experience happens in my life, I have then taken the first step down the path of walking by faith. This is the only way to walk on the path. There is no other way. Until I face the reality of my own sin and quit worrying about theirs altogether, any talk of walking by faith is a pipe dream.
Once I have come through the gate to living by faith with an experience with the living God and been “born again,” what do I do if I find I just cannot forget the very real sins others have committed against me? What if I have bitterness in my heart towards them, even though I tell others and myself that “I have forgiven them?” What if I just don’t see the condition of my own heart?
Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians that God would open the eyes of their hearts (Ephesians 1:18) is my daily prayer. I have recently experienced just such a situation where I was totally oblivious to my own sin. An accusation was made against me by someone very close to me, and I could not see it. How could they say such a thing? I fortunately hid the denial that was in my heart and, when confronted, did not react openly. I then went alone and asked God if the accusation were true and heard His clear answer after a few days, “Yes it is, and here is how it’s true.” I saw it clearly. I was guilty as charged. I repented and our rift was healed.
Next week I want to look at the second step after repenting as we keep on keepin’ on in our walk down the path of faith.
Deny myself = Deny that I can save myself by my efforts. Take up my cross = Put to death my efforts and trust Christ. Is that the crux of the matter?
Yes, facing my own inability to be “like God” and face my own real live sin in specific situations and not blame someone else is “dying,” I think.