I’ve been reading the book of Luke for the last few days and, as usual, a few particular parts of it jumped out at me. I did my first post about Luke here, when we talked about accepting God’s calling in our lives. We used Mary as inspiration, reading in Luke 1. She was asked to do something by God; to begin what would be the hardest journey that a young girl, a future mother, could ever be on. She knew that this would be hard, dangerous, even, but she accepted God’s calling. Even though she experienced emotions similar to ones that we feel when God calls us to something big, like fear, anxiety and disbelief, she still did it. She still accepted His calling.
We’ll look at Luke 9 today; this time, instead of God calling Mary to be the mother of Jesus, Jesus is teaching others. He is commanding us all to do something, and like Mary had to accept her calling, we have to accept this commandment if we want to be a true Christ follower, to be His disciple, to be a Christian.
23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.
24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.
25 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?
26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.
Our duty is plainly written in scripture; take up our cross daily, and follow Him. Now, many people will say that this seems easy. Mostly because the world has a warped view on following Christ in the modern world. Most people today have been fooled into thinking that they can follow God while living a homosexual lifestyle, while remaining in addiction, while having sex outside of marriage or cheating on a spouse, while not believing in the whole Bible. Most people who claim to be Christians now will say that they do not believe the Bible in its entirety. That they don’t believe the world was created in just days by God and His voice, that they don’t think things like homosexuality, abortion, sex before marriage, and so on, are truly sins, regardless of how scripture clearly says that they are. We have people who claim to be Christians who constantly quote John 3:16 and Luke 6:37 (for God so loved the world & do not judge) without looking at context. We are in the midst of society who demands God’s love without His justice, grace without repentance and following without suffering in some way.
Jesus used the analogy “Pick Up Your Cross” for a reason. When you think of carrying a cross, you should see that following Jesus isn’t going to be an easy journey. He gives us peace everlasting, incredible joy, endless love and grace, and He lends us the strength that we need to get through the trials, the strength that we need to lift that cross up, but that doesn’t mean that this journey isn’t a tough one. Jesus had to carry His cross to Calvary where He died a painful, torturous death on it. He was nailed to that cross after He had to climb that hill, so weak that He struggled along the way. People probably didn’t even think He’d make it to the cross to be hung, the journey there with that heavy cross on His back would surely kill Him before they ever had a chance to nail Him to it. The cross is not a pleasant or a happy thing; we praise Him for the cross because of what He did for us there. We sing about the mercy tree, the old rugged cross, and we praise Him for His resurrection. His cross bearing was a necessity, and so it is also a necessity for us to carry ours. But do not be fooled. This commandment is not an easy one to follow, it is tough. If you come to Jesus expecting sunshine and happiness for the rest of your days, I’m afraid that you’ll be shocked when you see just how hard carrying that cross can be.
We will face persecution, we will go through trials, we will suffer. The cross may be heavier at times, and at other times, it may feel light as a feather. This cross demands that we repent from our sins, that we turn away from our old life and our self-pleasing attitudes and focus on God only. We can’t carry a cross and hold onto our sins at the same time.
Now, I don’t want this post to seem dreary and unhappy, all about our struggles and our cross, so I want to share these verses from Luke 5, which touched my heart yesterday.
I want us to focus on Luke 6, verses 20-23.
20 Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said:
“Blessed are you poor,
For yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
For you shall be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now,
For you shall laugh.
22 Blessed are you when men hate you,
And when they exclude you,
And revile you, and cast out your name as evil,
For the Son of Man’s sake.
23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy!
For indeed your reward is great in heaven,
For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.
Though we may face trials now, God has overcome them. We will never face a trial bigger than His strength. He will always carry us through, and He will always be there with us. These struggles and our cross will only draw us closer to Him, and that is the sweetest thing you could ever wish for. Being that close to Him is how we receive His joy, His peace, His grace, His love. We will struggle in this world, our cross, at times, will seem to be too much to bear, but Christ intercedes for us.
God is calling us to carry our cross, and that means leaving everything else behind like Jesus did. He is calling us to follow Him and Him alone. We can’t carry our cross when we are looking behind us, wishing for our old life. Carrying our cross is a selfless act, and it can not be done by a person who is still focused on pleasing their own carnal flesh.
Before we get to the end of this post, let’s skip down to Luke 9, verses 57-62.
57 Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.”
58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
59 Then He said to another, “Follow Me.”
But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”
60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”
61 And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”
62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Repentance is not an easy thing for us to do. It’s something that we want to make excuses for not doing. You say, God’s grace covers us and there is nothing we can do to earn it, and you’re correct, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to repent. You say, you can never be worthy of God’s love and grace, so why try to earn it? And I want to get you to understand this point; we are not earning God’s love. Nothing we could do would be enough. We are simply proving our love for Him. If you love the Lord, you will keep His commandments. That’s Bible, is it not? Jesus said, no one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. He did not tell us to just not bother with repentance or trying to be like Him because we can’t, no, He told us to go out and be Christlike! He told us to be holy as He is holy. There is nothing we can do without Him, there is nothing we can do to earn His salvation, but when you claim to love Him, you should be trying to let go of the sin that killed Him! The sin that put Him on that rugged cross!
Don’t you remember? In Romans 12:2, it says, be not conformed to the world but be transformed! God has told us time and time again, you must be born again! Why do you think He uses the words born again? We must change and become new! We must let go of our old self and transform into a Christian! In the book Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, there is a quote that used to be on this blog’s header, and it still a very important quote in my life and for this blog. He says, “My name is now Christian, but my name at the first was Graceless.” He became a new person, with a new name, with a new love for God! He carried his cross and let go of his gracelessness and he sought to be more like Christ! He saw what his sins did to him and what they did to Jesus and he wanted no part of them!
I want you all to listen to this. If you simply skimmed this whole post, read this now. Pray on it, put it on your heart, and read scripture over this. Don’t just take it from me; talk to God about this. God has told us that we could never earn salvation or His grace. I know that. There is nothing I could do in order to become worthy, but He does command us to do things before we are able to have that grace. We must believe, we must put our trust in Him, we must repent of our sins, and be born again. We must let go of whatever sins we are grasping to, even our favorite little pet sins, and deny ourselves so we can follow Him. I’m not saying we have to be sinless, please, do not think that. That would be impossible. But we have to be willing to acknowledge who we are without Christ; sinners, in need of a Savior, sinners who must turn away from those sins. We can’t simply live in our sin. Grace is not an excuse to sin, grace should be a great reason not to sin. God has given us grace and love, let us live for Him and prove that we want to be His disciples. There is a cost to discipleship, just like He said in Luke 9. Are you willing to pay that cost? Are you willing to carry your cross?