Repentance is not only a part of our conversion to Christianity, but a daily part of our Christian lives. I mentioned that I would come back to the idea that we are not only to repent of obvious sins but also of self-centered living, which we are all guilty of and naturally accustomed to. Can I say that I am writing this to myself as much as to any new Christian or others? Jesus Christ’s call to a radical, self sacrificial, willing to die for Him kind-of- living is practically unheard of in our culture. A Christian who does the bare basics is applauded. The believer who lives a moral lifestyle, attends a bible study, and isn’t embarrassed to confess they attend church on Sundays is considered a good example of the faith. I’m not trying to demean anyone. I understand that everyone is in a growing process, and for some this may be the point in their Christian walk they are meant to be at. But how many of us are actually growing in radical self sacrifice for the sake of reaching lost souls with the gospel of God? I am truly speaking to myself. So many of us are stagnant, complacent, and lacking in passion. It ought not to be this way!
If you are considering coming to Christ, or have recently come to Him, let us lay His standard of living on the table for you now and pray that God would light a fire in our hearts to take His Words literally and live them out. We don’t want to waste our few days on earth. Jesus said that “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62).”
Matthew 16:24-27 “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life (or soul)? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”
Come After Him
Off in the distance, I have seen Him, at first hanging on the tree. That is how I came to know Him, and that was my first real glance at Him. Lifeless, there He hung, but in that death was more of life than I had ever known. In that death, I came to understand that I could be free. When I came to Christ, I came to Him on the cross. I saw that He had shed His blood for me, had given up His spirit for me, and I would never have to taste a death like this. I came to Christ at first, mourning the sin in me that would have such a one crucified.
But when I felt Him forgive me, it was then that He came near. He was not dead but had risen! He was alive, and ever before me, pouring His love and grace into my heart. I came to Christ, the risen Saviour, and I knew that He would ever hold my heart captive.
We all need to come to Christ, at first to be saved. But what’s next? We cannot leave Him behind us, or just make Him a “part” of our lives. He needs to be our life.
Denying self will mean having to renounce possessions, people, attitudes, comforts, titles, actions- that you want. You are denying these things, may it be greater income, boastful pride, reputation at work, or simply lazy lounging about, for the greater good of chasing after Jesus Christ. These things, whatever they are, are painful at first to deny but worth denying if you can by it further know Christ, serve His people and advance His gospel.
There are certain things that you will have to cut off from yourself completely. These are things that are blatantly sinful, things that promote such actions as looking with lust. Jesus said “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell (Matthew 5:29).” That being said a new Christian cannot hang onto things like pornography, drug addictions, vengeful thoughts, or weekends at the night club. No matter how the flesh rises, enticing him to turn back to sinful activities or thoughts, the Christian must deny Himself because he is bought by a new Master, one whom He loves, named Jesus Christ.
There will likely be things that are sinful to you and not others, because they have become so valuable to you that they strive to work their way into God’s place in your heart. There may be nothing sinful about the thing itself, but your love for it has consumed your life in such a way that you feel as if it is a necessary component of you and your existence; Apart from it you imagine that you would feel like dying. For some it’s money, success, a career, and for others it’s a relationship, or a hobby. For me, that thing was music. I described this feeling in another article as following:
“I was in love with and wholly dedicated to music. All my money went to music. All my energy went to music. I spent great deal of energy pulling others as deep into the trenches of music as I was, and you would be surprised how quickly and powerfully they became gripped by it too. I came home from school only to go to my bed and lay down to be lost in it hour after hour, and still I did not have enough. The hunger in me could not be filled.
You could find me sometimes at a show, worshipping music along with the others. They dressed music, talked music, breathed music. We all moved to the music, and jumped to it, and beat our fists into the air for it, in such a frenzy that I would submit it was likely not less fuelled by Satan than the worship of physical idols is. So there I was, gripped by its power, willing likely to surrender my life for music….
The day I let it go and trashed it all felt like I had cut off my arm. The spiritual warfare I encountered was unlike anything else I have to this day.”
So there are sinful things that we must deny ourselves, and there are idols in our hearts we also must deny to some extent. The issue then may not be one of morality, but of love. Do I love this thing so much that it will take my attention and complete devotion away from Jesus Christ? Then, if I cannot seem to make myself love it less, it too must be cut off. I tried to simply control my obsession with secular music, rooting out the songs with blatantly sinful messages and only listening to others in small portions. However my appetite for it was too deeply entrenched in me. I knew that if seeking a refuge I would be prone to turn to music instead of seeking Christ. Can you relate with this? Examine yourself in the light of your worldly affections, appetites, and desires.
Jesus Christ’s call to “deny yourself” may further prod your heart still. Listen to these words of His:
Matthew 10:37 “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Or put in the negative form “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26).”
Is it wrong to love your parents, siblings, spouse, or to adore and have a great sense of devotion to your very own children? What about your own life? Does Jesus mean that we should be unfeeling creatures towards those closest to us, miserable about our earthly state?
We can be certain from scripture that this is not what Jesus is getting at. I think the key words here are “whoever loves…more.” The Lord’s command for us to “deny ourselves” is not to make us stringent, legalistic and unhappy followers of His. The issue is not one of “dos and don’ts” but rather of love. Has Jesus Christ become so ultimately satisfying to your thirsty soul, has He so quenched your longing for love and acceptance, has He so rid you of your guilty conscience, that you no longer need to seek your deepest needs elsewhere? Could it be true for you, that even if your mother, your father, your spouse, your best friend, your children- all, forsook you, the Lord by your side would be enough (2Tim 4:16-17)? If standing for Jesus meant having to die, and thereby “hate” your own life in comparison with how much you treasured Him, would you do it?
The Lord wants to be, and is more than sufficient to be our all in all. We were never meant to set our highest hope and praise on people and things that will always come up short. We were created to love the Lord our God with all of our heart and with all of our soul and with all of our strength (Deut 6:5), and that we should have no other gods before Him (Ex 20:3). In my testimony about denying myself secular music I concluded:
…As I came to know Christ, letting go of all else was no longer a burden. Jesus Christ shines so much brighter than anything this world has to offer. His fellowship is sweeter, His love is deeper, His ways are higher, and His power is stronger. One minute in His presence, is better than a thousand elsewhere. ‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.’”
Take Up Your Cross
Taking up your cross means that you are willing to suffer for His sake. Do you struggle to think this is a Biblical principal?
Jesus said about the apostle Paul: “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name (Acts 9:16).”
And to Peter He spoke these words that bring such a stirring and sobriety to my spirit: “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go (John 21:18).” The following verse states: “This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God (v 19).” Taking up your cross means that you are willing to suffer even if necessary to the point of death to follow Christ wherever He would have you go.
Jesus Christ was not discreet about this subject, though the least likely thing you would hear in a gospel call today is: “If you are not willing to suffer for His name’s sake, then you are not ready to come to Christ.” That sounds harsh doesn’t it? We are not used to such a way of preaching in the cozy comfy Christianity we are so accustomed to here. I believe these words of Jesus are of critical importance if we are going to give our life to follow Christ.
John 15:18-20 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.”
Reading this the other day, the words “A servant is not greater than his master” seemed to jump off the page and smack me on the forehead. I have written above this portion of scripture
A Warning Against Self Preservation
We don’t want to be disliked, never mind “hated.” We have a nice, respectable, “Christian” reputation to uphold. Certainly, we don’t want the world to give us labels such as “Right-wing Fundamentalist,” “Religious Fanatic,” “Bible Basher,” or for the seeker-friendly church to rise up and call us “Self Righteous” and “Legalists.”
We know that taking stances on issues like homosexuality and abortion, or the surety of Hell for unbelievers will cause people to stereotype and despise us. So many professing Christians are even afraid to say such basic truths as “Jesus Christ is the only way,” or to admit that the Bible has a lot to say about things like “the wrath of God.” If we can just tell the world that Jesus loves them, and let our lights shine before man, than no one has to be offended and we won’t risk discomfort or persecution.
We’ll be completely safe from all harm and we’ll be… nothing like our Master.
Isaiah 53:3 “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.”
Let’s consider this. Are we greater than our Master? Is there something in us, that is better- maybe more loving than Jesus, so that unbelievers everywhere should approve of us? Consider these verses:
Luke 6:25 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.”
2Timothy 3:12 “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
We like to talk about how blessed we are that we do not suffer persecution as Christians in this nation. I certainly do not take it for granted, nor disagree. However, I have to wonder if part of the reason isn’t because the people here are less evil and less prone to hate true Christians then other nations, but rather because Christians here simply do not preach publically the way that Jesus did. We do not live in such a way that demonstrates we have taken up our cross. I pray that we would read the following scripture and believe it to be true:
Matthew 5:10-12 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
If we truly believed ourselves blessed in such circumstances, I can guarantee we would care less about worldly self-preservation and more about the Glory of God.
Follow Him, Lose Your Life and Find It
Jesus must be the reason that we live. He said “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” We need to understand this great exchange. We do not lay down our sin, our idols, our reputation and entire lives, in exchange for boredom, passionless living, loneliness, and a loss of purpose. Neither do we lay it down so that others would look at us and give us praise for being “so selfless, so holy, so spiritual.” Rather, we freely and joyously lay down our lives counting them as nothing, because we have discovered that all true living is found in Jesus Christ alone.
Jesus cannot be merely a part of our lives; He must be the substance, the motive, and the goal of our entire lives. Colossian 3:3-4 “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Whoever comes to Christ must experience death of self, or in other words “you die to you.” But you come miraculously alive to Jesus Christ. Once you were dead to Him, and when you looked at Him you saw only rules, religion, and drudgery. Suddenly He stands before you all glorious, all beautiful, a kind and worthy friend and Lord! His words are the very bread of life, and you desire them more than the most savoury foods.
When you find Him you will cry out “Incline my heart to your testimonies and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways (Psalm 119:36-37).” When you have discovered your life in Him you will join with Paul and say “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him (Phil 3:8-9).”
“Whoever loses his life…will find it.” The life that we lose is a counterfeit life. We feel like it’s all that we have and all that we will ever need but the truth is that this life and all that is in it is only temporary. One day there will be rich and happy men who find themselves standing before God having “gained the whole world” only to find that in the end they will lose the world and their soul for all of eternity in Hell. I pray that giving up this life and gaining Christ would happen for you now, before it’s too late. A poem I wrote recently expresses what I truly believe it means to lose your life to find it in Him.
Dear Slave Of Sin Come Enter In
How has the domain of darkness
So disguised its self as light?
There you sit as in the shadows
And the chains of death but yet
The world says “this is life,
And yes what life is all about:
To sit in darkness as if light,
To raise your bound hands high
And shout your freedom,
For you are free to do as much
Of what you’re bound to as you like.”
They say that sin won’t really hurt you
It’s what you want; it’s what we all do,
And so you’ve drunken your full measure
But you’re empty though you’ve had some pleasure
It hasn’t quite felt worth the cost
Of sleepless nights and devastation
Heart-break and felt condemnation,
Once self assured now feeling lost
It hasn’t quite felt worth the cost.
Where can you turn?
Where can you run?
Sin hasn’t proven that much fun.
And why this guilt, and why such shame?
Isn’t there someone else to blame?
You know the world runs hard and fast
The same way you do but at last
You’re left alone to sit and wonder
Why this gnawing feeling grows
That life is more than this world shows.
Have you been lied to and deceived?
You thought money and looks were all you need
Could it be the advice of fools
To suppress guilt and ignore God’s rules?
You’re afraid but must keep it inside
Alone though in a room of friends
Pretending this life satisfies
But what really happens in the end?
You’re hurt, pretending to be strong
Let down, pretending not to care
How could following your heart have proven wrong
And left you with sorrows beyond compare?
The Lord is the one whom you’ve offended
Yet in love for you He condescended
He has loved you, but Him you’ve ignored
Yet He chose to lay aside His sword
And instead became the spotless lamb
The Son of God, The Great I AM
For blemished sinners was punished.
Dear slave of sin come enter in
You’ve seen now that you aren’t free
For you’ve been deceived and have believed
A lie that sin won’t make you die.
Oh Come to Christ you weary sinner
For from Him flows a living river
That wells up to eternal life and then
He says you’ll never thirst again.
Come leave your burden at the cross
Where what once was gain you now count lost
This heavy weight of sin come shed
For under its weight Christ Jesus bled.
If you’d repent of all your sin
And trust in Christ He’d let you in
He is the door for all of His sheep
But now be warned because you keep
Turning your gaze back towards your sin
If you won’t repent
Then He won’t let you in.
Come to Christ, lose your life
To find it in Him,
Or go on lapping up dust
As if water, satisfy your lusts
Preserve this life but who will console
You when you’ve gained the world but lost your soul.
My friend, I pray this won’t be you
Come to Christ who makes all things new.