Luke 9:23-25 says:
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”
This is Jesus teaching us how to be a saved. These verses are the essence of what it means to be a Christian. The theme is both death and life. Because “…sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12), Christ had to die as a sacrifice for our sins. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Without Christ, sin will eventually result in our eternal destruction when God executes justice through the judgment of our sin for “we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things” (Rom. 2:2). The pain in the world testifies to how terrible the result of sin is when sinners “will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thes. 1:9). Sin is first very pleasant, but it is like drinking sweet poison. It tastes good, but it results in death. We must follow Jesus or face the ultimate penalty.
Following God Means Rejecting Ourselves
This is all complicated by the fact that in order to follow God, we must reject (deny) ourselves. It is not easy to stop drinking the poison because we are our own poison. Sinning is just doing what we want as James says, “desire when it has conceived, gives birth to sin” (James 1:15). Our desires are from our hearts. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matt. 15:19-20). The difficulty is that our nature is to glorify ourselves and our desires. It is difficult to follow God because we constantly desire to do our own ideas. Even if we are giving ourselves over to God, we inevitably still fall along the way. This is why Christ says that we have to ‘take up our cross daily’. When a person was crucified in Roman times, they would carry their cross to their crucifixion. By this they participated in their own execution publicly for everyone to see. In the same way, we are to daily participate in the death of our desires publicly. We have to do it daily because our desires continue with us each day until we die. By this we also participate on a small level in the death that Christ endured on the cross for our sins. We are not killing our bodies; we are killing our selfish desires which were the very essence of who we were so that we can grow in our new identity. Our desires and old identity must die so that we can live in Christ. The new desire to please Him is constantly at war with the desires of our old sinful nature.
We Strive to Give Ourselves Fully to God if We Have Faith
The Christian does not ask, “What is the minimum that I need to do to be saved?” The Christian believes that God is righteous and all that He has said is true. Therefore, the Christian seeks to follow God in all things because he knows that this is a benefit in all ways. When we try to negotiate with God, we are basically saying, “Can I drink some more poison and still be cured?” The answer might be yes, but the answer is also that poison is only bad for us. If we still seek it, maybe we don’t really believe we need the cure. If we don’t really believe we need the cure, then we don’t have the cure because the cure is believing. We must believe that sin (any form of not following God) is only bad for us because it is a rebellion against God. God is real and we are made to serve and love Him. If we truly believe this, then we should be trying to find ways to stop drinking our selfish desires regardless of the cost. It is not about perfection (1 John 1:8-9). It is about intent, but the intent will impact actions especially over time.
Who We Are Must Change
When someone says, “I cannot stop doing this sin because it is who I am.” Many people will respond that, “This is not true. Your sin is not who you are. It is only what you are choosing to do.” This is not the correct way to confront this complaint. The Bible teaches that we were all born sinners. Sin is part of our identity. It may look very different in each of us, but we are all equally infected with ourselves. I was born this way and you were born this way. Rejecting our identity is extremely difficult and pretending that it is not difficult only confuses. There is nothing easy about it, and the Bible never claims that it is easy. It only claims that it is better, more rewarding, and easier to follow Christ in time. Here is a great paradox: giving ourselves over to Christ is both the easiest path and the most difficult. It is the most difficult because we must completely reject ourselves and stop listening to ourselves, the person we trust the most. It is the easiest because we are now in the hands of God and no longer need to provide for ourselves. Only Christ can save us from God’s wrath against evil “for if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment” (Hebrews 10:26-27). We need Christ to transform us into something else. This is what it means when it says that we must lose our lives in order to save them. True life is not to know yourself but to reject yourself, and to know God. “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).
Salvation is Worth the Cost
Being a Christian is not an easy thing. Salvation is not cheap, but the reward outweighs the cost. Jesus emphasizes this through the question “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but forfeits or loses himself?” (Luke 9:25) Notice the weight that Christ places on us. Gaining yourself is more precious than gaining the world. You decide how valuable you are. Christ is teaching that the greatest gift you could give yourself is to give yourself up and be made into something new, or you will lose yourself to the judgment of God. The God of the universe, the God that made us and all things, is offering us the opportunity to know Him. We will get to meet and know the Creator instead of just the things He created. We get to be healed and restored to a relationship with Him, the source of life and joy. Time is precious (Isaiah 55:6-8). If you believe this, welcome to the grand adventure of being a follower of the One True, Holy, and Living God! If you don’t, I implore you to consider it because God is real and the cost of not following Him could not be more terrible.
Justin is a friend of The Bridge Montrose.
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