Come and Die

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. ~Luke 9:23

Many people, perhaps most people, both inside the church and outside the church, have a dangerously softened, sanitized, and ultimately incorrect idea about who Jesus really was, about what Jesus really calls His followers to do, and about how Jesus really calls his followers to live. 

Our culture is a consumer culture where we expect things to meet our needs and where we will shop around until we find that perfect thing that fits our wants and our desires just right. Our society teaches us, either explicitly or implicitly, that anything that does not add to our personal comfort either physically or emotionally should be cast off as we search for that which makes us happy (this includes moral standards as well as spouses). Because happiness is our primary concern we must also realize that others just want to be happy too, and so as long as they are happy and we are happy then everybody is happy. Right?

We do this with the church and we do this with Jesus too. As Christians, we tend to shop around for churches that have just the right feel to them. Do they have a good child care? Are they wearing the right clothes? Does the pastor give stirring messages that keep me awake and make me laugh? Do I like the music style? How are the decorations?  Do they have chairs or pews? What time does the service start because I don't want to have to get up too early! Are the sermons tolerant because I really don't want all that talk of God's wrath and call to sacrifice anything in my life and I certainly don't want the preacher saying anything that might offend anybody. Just give me a comfortable environment and a comfortable feel-good message so that I can check off my weekly religious duty and get back to living my life for myself the rest of the week. 

Is this the type of focus we are to have? Is this what Scripture calls us to? Ultimately, if we boil it down to the core of the message, we are called to do one thing, and that is to give up our lives completely and totally to Jesus. We are to take up our cross and to die to ourselves and to this world - not once when we say a prayer when we are first saved - but every day thereafter. 

"Come and Die" may not be the most appealing slogan and may not make for great advertisements but it is exactly the message that we are called to both hear and to proclaim. Following Jesus and walking the narrow path means sacrificing our comfort, our popularity, our material things, and even our lives if necessary.

In his book Not a Fan, Kyle Idleman points out:
History and church tradition tell us that many of those who followed Jesus when he was here on earth ended up on that road. According to tradition, Matthew was killed by a sword in Ethiopia. Mark died in Alexandria, Egypt, after being dragged by horses through the streets until he was dead. Luke was hanged in Greece. Peter was crucified upside down. Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India during a missionary trip. Jude, the brother of Jesus, was killed with arrows when he refused to deny faith in Christ. James was beheaded in Jerusalem. A decision to follow Jesus is a decision to die to yourself.

C.S. Lewis puts it this way in Mere Christianity:
Christ says, "Give me all. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there. I want to have the whole tree down. I don't want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out."
The fact is that only by dying to yourself and to this world can you finally become the person that God created you to be. The message of denying ourselves goes against everything our culture tells us. Those that don't know Christ and those that have been hardened by a lifetime of dead and meaningless religious activity (see our posts on Religion vs. Relationship, and Who Then is Greatest) will chastise and caution us to "show moderation" and to "not take all this stuff too far". It is not possible for those who do not have a personal relationship with God to understand this message because the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). 

Even the apostles were not spared from tribulation and death. Are you complaining about what, in light of eternity, are mild inconveniences? Are you only seeking the light and easy path that seems free from trouble and pain or are you seeking only His will no matter where that may take you? Are you truly willing to sacrifice everything for Him that sacrificed everything to save you?

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. ~Luke 9:24


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