Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. (NKJV)
In our Foundations series, we’re looking at the basic fundamentals of Christian living. Obviously, as a new believer, these are critical truths that need to be taught and instilled as we disciple our new Brothers and Sisters. If you are a mature Christian, then it is never a waste of time to inventory your own walk to make sure that the fundamentals have not been neglected over time or lessened in importance. Let’s review what we’ve covered so far:
- Obedience – in my opinion, obedience is the fundamental trait of Christianity. Find out what God says, and do it. It is the mortar that holds everything together. Were this simple truth emphasized and practiced in Christianity today, the vast majority of the problems, shallowness and silliness that we see going on, would simply vanish. Obedience is also the source of many benefits: security, assurrance, fellowship and blessing. 1st John is a great book to read to discover this truth. (1John 2.3; James 1.25; 1John 3.22; Deuteronomy 13.4; 1Samuel 15.22)
- Discipline – Desire equals discipline. Discipline is the self control to make choices, despite feelings, to gain that which we desire the most. We renew our minds daily in God’s Word and in prayer to make God’s desires our desires. Then we make the willful choice to do whatever it takes to achieve those Godly desires regardless of our feelings, emotions or what our flesh is wanting. (Romans 2.12; Matthew 5.6; Matthew 16.24)
I had a hard time trying to figure out what to title this message because there are several aspects that make up what I finally summarized as “cross carrying”:
- Being serious rather than casual about your Christianity
- A willingness to change whatever needs to be changed rather than simply continuing to live pretty much the same way with a little Christian window dressing
- Having a strong conviction about your faith that is not ashamed to stand up and stand out when necessary
- An attitude of sacrifice that says nothing about your life is off limits to being changed, discarded or redirected in keeping with your Christian walk
- The level of commitment that truly leads us to “take up our cross” and follow Jesus
Seriousness. Willingness to change anything. Strong conviction. Sacrificial heart. Commitment. I couldn’t think of one word to describe all those things, but they fit into a single idea that is fundamental to being a true Christian. It is the idea that Christians should be different, live different and act different than the world. Yet, it is more common today, you might even call it “the norm”, that the average Christian is only slightly different in lifestyle and behavior than the non-Christian. Whether language (cursing, gossip, criticism, topics), dress (immodesty, status-seeking), entertainment (movies, music, recreation), pursuits (personal recognition, materialism, comfort), how we spend our money (on comfort, recreation, luxury and more “stuff”) or how we spend our time (on personal gain or pleasure)…. there is not a whole lot of difference, on average, across the board, between those who claim to be “taking up their cross and following Jesus” and those who are “looking out for number one”. There’s very little discernable difference between professing “living sacrifices” and those who are “living for myself”. It’s hard to differentiate between the “holy priesthood” and the “what’s in it for me?”.
How can “living sacrfice” and “looking out for number one”
be so opposite in meaning, and yet look identical
in the lives of most people who claim to be a Christian?
Something must surely be wrong with that. How can descriptions that are so diametrically opposed and so utterly opposite still look almost the same when played out in life? The answer is obvious, and yet, ignored. Somehow this glaring inconsistency is overlooked, excused and rationalized – which is par for the course in the human heart.
Even still, c’mon folks… a simple exercise in honesty brings this to the forefront. I know I wear out this saying but “if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck”, guess what? It’s a duck! Yet, it is the standard of the majority of Christians today to “walk like the world, talk like the world, and look like the world” and then proclaim not to be worldly, but to be a Christian. ONLY IN RELIGION, PARTICULARLY CHRISTIANITY, CAN WE ACCEPT SUCH CONTRADICTION WITH A STRAIGHT FACE. This type of inconsistency would never fly in business, sports, finances or pretty much anything else.
Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. (NKJV)
It is fundamental to the Christian walk, that we should be committed to actually living, talking, looking and acting like Christ-followers. Let’s quickly look at each of my opening bullet points:
Being serious rather than casual about being a Christian
1 Peter 4:7 But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. (NKJV)
Friends, all signs point to the Lord’s imminent return. Even if He tarries, the world is seeing less and less of authentic Christ-following. We are rapidly returning to a world “as in the days of Noah” where all of mankind is eating, drinking and partying (when they are not busy killing each other). The world mistakenly thinks that because God is patiently withholding judgment for our wickedness, that He must either be unconcerned, or worse, that He doesn’t exist.
It is human tendency to conform to the world, which is why God warned us about it (Rom 12.2). As Christians, we often apply the “two second rule” that we use to teach safe driving. As long as we stay “two seconds” behind the car in front of us, we’re being safe. So we stay “two seconds” behind the world’s standards, and we feel “safe” as Christians because we’re “better than the world”. The problem is, the world is not our standard, God is. As a Christian, if you’re following two seconds behind the world, you’re not even on the right road to start with! We need to be serious about our faith, and get on God’s highway and use His standards.
Now is the time for Christians to return to being serious, alert, watchful and discerning. We need to take our Christian walk seriously and not just treat it as another certfication, achievement or goal that can be checked off. Nor do we need to fool ourselves and believe that casual Christianity is authentic Christianity. Ignorance is NOT bliss. Oh, it might be for a few years here on earth, but a casual attitude towards God that allows you to enjoy the world now, and still profess Christ with your mouth, may end up having you hear those dreadful words, “depart from Me; I don’t know you” (Luke 13.27).
A willingness to change whatever needs to be changed rather than simply continuing to live pretty much the same way with a little Christian window dressing
Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (NKJV)
I tread lightly trying to explain or comment on this verse. Do not be conformed to this world. Who among us that name Christ can honestly say that the world is not shaping our lives, and that we have not conformed to it, at least in part? The reality is, we still live in a sin-cursed world and a sin-cursed body, so we will fight the tendency towards becoming worldly until the day we are free from this sin-curse (Rom 7.15). There are only two options for humans: we are either fighting this battle of transformation, or we are totally given over to being conformed to the world. There is no middle ground. Passivity is like a canoe on a river with no paddles. You WILL go the direction the river takes you.
The Christian fight to be transformed into Christ’s image is akin to rowing hard up-stream because you are going against everything the world wants to see happen. If you have to ask yourself whether you are rowing or not, then you aren’t. This work of transformation is so intense and must be so deliberate, that there is no mistaking whether or not you are engaged in it. If you’re wondering whether you are or not, you’re not. But you should be. You can start today. How? By renewing your mind through Bible study, prayer, fellowship with mature believers and accountability to God and other Christians.
You’re either being conformed to the world, or you are actively and seriously engaged in an effort to be transformed into the character of Christ. It’s one of the two. Which one for you?
Having a strong conviction about your faith that is not ashamed to stand up and stand out when necessary
I realize there is a tremendous amount of pressure in society today that causes Christians to want to be camoflauged. Political correctness, over-sensitivity, and a generally antagonistic attitude towards Christianity (which the Bible predicts) makes it difficult for Christians to WANT to be open and public about their faith. Notice I said “want to”. The problem is, it doesn’t matter if we want to, or if we feel like it. We are called to take up our cross and follow Christ without shame:
Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (NKJV)
Mark 8:36-38 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (NKJV)
Let’s be honest. I know it’s tough to face embarrassment. I know it’s hard to be ridiculed. I realize that it can cost you personally at work or school to actually be a Christian. I know that it is uncomfortable to be singled out as the trouble maker, or the “self-righteous, holier-than-thou hypocrite” when you take a stand for Christ either by evangelizing or standing against sin. All those things are true, and I dislike the discomfort as much as anyone. I lose the battle frequently and miss opportunities that God is CLEARLY putting in front of me because of my own self-concern and lack of boldness. I will answer for my cowardly moments some day when I am made painfully aware that my own personal comfort was more important that being bold for Christ.
Mercifully, today is a new day, and God is a God of new beginnings. We always have TODAY to begin being unashamed of our Lord and living a Godly life in this wicked generation. We can’t change the past, and we know that while we have “loss” accounted to us for missed opportunities and cowardice, God forgives us when we ask, and simply wants us to BEGIN TODAY to be unashamed of His Son.
We are ashamed of Christ when our discomfort, embarrassment and feelings win out over our willingness to boldly proclam Christ, and live a holy life, lest we “offend” the world. If you claim Christ, and yet the vast majority of people who know you or work with you “aren’t sure, but think maybe you are a Christian”… then it should be time to do some serious praying about these verses. Anyone who has spent any length of time with you should have no question about your faith. Remember, if you walk like a duck, talk like a duck and look like a duck, no one will wonder if you really are a duck.
You do not have to be obnoxious to be bold for Christ.
Let me note however, this is not the same thing as the obnoxious, inappropriate, Bible-thumping blowhard who “stands out” simply to get attention for himself rather than for Christ. “In your face, cram it down your throat, look-at-me” Christianity is an abomination to God. Our Christianity should be on display by our Godly words, our holy standard of conduct, our unashamed communication of God’s truth, our humility, our willingness to serve others, our endurance of unkind treatment and most of all, our love (Luke 10.27). You do not have to be obnoxious to be bold.
An attitude of sacrifice that says “nothing about my life is off limits to being changed, discarded or redirected” in keeping with the Christian walk
Romans 12:1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (NKJV)
“Living sacrifice” is quite a stark contrast to proclaiming Christianity and changing little (or nothing) about your life. “Holy and acceptable” screams change – change of habits, change of thoughts, change of how our time and money is spent, change of attitude… change of life. A Christian’s life should be marked by consistent, apparent and effective change whereby we take something in our life that is like the world, and we transform it to something that is like Christ. If you reach a point where you believe there is nothing to change, then you are in a truly dangerous situation. Ask any mature Believer and they will tell you that the more they grow in Christ, the more they see about their life that still needs to change.
We need a level of commitment that truly leads us
to “take up our cross” and follow Jesus.
“Carrying our cross ” sums this all up because that is the key ingredient. We need a commitment to not be casual about Christ. A commitment to change anything in our lives that has not been transformed into Christ’s image. Being committed to an unashamed witness and testimony to the world about our Savior, demonstrated by our conduct, words and love. A commitment to being a “living sacrifice” giving up anything and everything that is not holy and acceptable to God.
In short, a commitment to take up the cross, your cross, and give up your life, give up your pride, give your ambition, give up your personal desires…. give it all up and surrender it to Jesus allowing Him to be the Master we proclaim Him to be.
Lord God, help us to be committed Christians, learning all that it means, counting all the costs that come with it. Help us to surrender all to You and make You Lord, as well as Savior. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Application: We live in a time where Christianity has become very comfortable and very casual, something that is foreign to Scripture. True Christianity is at odds with how the worlds lives, so we must expect ridicule, persecution and opposition. We’re not talking about obnoxious Christianity that seeks personal attention. We talking about holy living, love and truthfulness about sin. These things will convict and anger the world around us. Casual Christianity feels good and costs little – and you get what you pay for. True Christianity comes at great cross – the sacrifice of our life for His, taking up our cross and following Christ.
James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)
- What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
- What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
- What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?