I was out for coffee this morning with a friend. As we talked, the conversation turned to our commitment to Christ and just how radical it should be. The question wasn’t so much if we should be committed. That was a given. Instead, we talked more about what that commitment should look like in everyday life.
In our Robert Murray M’Cheyne Bible reading plan today we read Jesus’ words in Luke 9:23: If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. In this verse Jesus tells us what He expects from His followers in terms of their commitment to Him. There are four pieces to this statement worth considering.
First Jesus speaks of the wish or desire to come after Him. True followers of Christ will desire to imitate Christ. If this holy desire is not present, growth in Christlikeness will not come. So looking and acting like Christ must begin with a change of mindset, where the things we wish for are not the things of this world, but the things of eternity.
This sets up the second aspect of Jesus’ teaching. For wishing to become reality we must deny ourselves. All of us have the natural inclination to look out for number one, meaning ourselves. We do not have to learn to love ourselves. This comes quite naturally because our flesh is bent towards sin, and sin seeks to keep ourselves on the throne of our lives. If we are going to gain Christlikeness, we must deny these sinful desires and replace them with the heart of Christ.
We see Jesus illustrating this very principle in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is tormented by the thought of bearing the sin of the world on the cross, so He cried out to the Father three times asking Him to remove this cup from Him if it was at all possible. But in each case, Jesus subjected Himself to the Father’s will by saying yet not My will, but Yours be done. Jesus denied His personal desires because it was more important to Him to do the will of the Father than to be comfortable. For this reason the author of Hebrews could say that, for the joy set before Him Jesus endured the cross. He denied the desires of His flesh and did the will of His Father, which was the source of His true joy.
Next the commitment becomes really extreme as Jesus call us to take up our cross daily. Now, do not confuse this exhortation to bear your cross with what Jesus did on the cross. Jesus’ death was the payment for mankind’s sin, making forgiveness possible. We have nothing to do with that. Yet Jesus calls us to follow His steps by dying to sin. Jesus wants us to, for the joy set before us, die to the things of this world so we can experience true joy by doing the Father’s will.
Yet when we are serious about killing the sin that remains in our lives, it will have consequences. The world does not like holy people because it sheds light on their sin. So they ridicule and spurn us in an attempt to quench our gospel light. This is why we must deny ourselves, for if we have our hope set on the things of this world, the pressure of the world will cause us to go the way of the world. It is only when our affections have shifted from the things of this world onto the things of God that sin loses its attractiveness and holiness becomes our joy and aim.
Having the mindset of Christ that enables us to die to sin and self requires that we die with Christ to the things of this world. They no longer are what brings us joy and satisfaction. Instead our joy is rooted in the holiness of God and the relationship we enjoy with Him through Christ. To live these truths, we must make the intentional choice to daily die to the things of this world so that the things of eternity may fill our lives.
Finally, after we have made it our aim to follow Christ, denied the desires of our flesh and daily crucified ourselves to sin, Jesus says to follow Me. This means we do the things Jesus did. We love people unconditionally. We preach the gospel of the kingdom. We care for the hurting and broken. We confront sin and call for repentance. We are quick to forgive and slow to anger. We give ourselves daily to the Word and to prayer. In short, we look into God’s word, see the things that Jesus made a priority in His life, and we make those things priorities in our own lives.
Just how committed should we be to Christ? He should have all of us. Now, for every Christian that will look slightly different. As a pastor, following Christ takes a slightly different form than it did when I was working a regular job. But the commitment must be the same: Jesus has all of me. Therefore, everything I do is to be done in consideration of who I am in Christ and how He would have me to live as His follower. If we really, truly grasped this principle…that Jesus is to have us in our entirety…it would substantially change the way we live and our reputation in the community.
Do you desire to follow Christ? Then deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Him. When we do this together, God will take great delight in us as His children.