Christian, Take Up Your Cross

Following Jesus is a daily decision to pursue Him in the direction of the cross. Jesus tells the crowds this much in Mark 8 beginning in verse 34 when he says:

“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 and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34–38)

The Christian life is a daily pursuit in the direction of the cross. In other words, it is a daily dying to self and living for Christ, pursuing Him with all we have.

In order to run after Jesus in this way, we must see Jesus as more valuable than anything the world has to offer. Jesus makes that clear when He asks: “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” The world has a lot to offer — riches, fame, acceptance, comfort, pleasure, etc. The world can offer these things, but they don’t last. They are here today and gone tomorrow.

Take your house for instance. Many want and chase after a home that is full of the comforts of the day. You sacrifice for it. You spend time working on it. You might even become consumed by it. While it is not wrong to have a nice home and nice things, if God so chooses to bless you in that way, there is not a command against it. But we must not make our home our idol. Something we believe will give us more satisfaction and joy than the Lord. Something we believe will provide us with meaning and hope. Something we put before and in place of the Lord. A home won’t, it can’t, provide us with what the Lord can and does. A home will let us down, whereas the Lord will not.

It is terrifying to imagine but fires happen all the time. In many instances, everything in the home is ruined. All that you placed your hope in gone in a matter of a couple of hours. Taken by the flames. In that moment, if your hope is in your home, your life is over. But if it is in the Lord, it might be sad, but your life is not ruined, your hope is not dashed, your world has not gone up in flames.

The things of this world are here today and gone tomorrow. We must not put our hope in them. Instead, we must exclusively put our hope in Jesus.

How can we get to a place where we see Jesus as more valuable than anything world can offer?

We must realize the world will let us down. That it can’t save our soul. It can’t restore our relationship with the Father. Once we see the world for what it is, we can enjoy it, but not live for it.

Have you taken up your cross today? Are you pursuing Christ with all you have? Are you allowing God to direct and control your life?

church steeple

Why is death important to the Christian? – Part 1

I’m sure most of you reading have had a near death experience at some point in your life. Some have wilder stories than others, but I’m sure you have had one.

While I’ve hung from the side of mountains, seen sharks while surfing, and encountered some shady characters in my day, my most harrowing near death experienced occurred when I was 16. A couple of my friends and I were driving to our friend’s house. He’d challenged me earlier to scare him, and up to this point, I hadn’t succeeded, so I took it one step further. I began doing what you shouldn’t do in a car at 70 miles an hour, I was shaking it back and forth.The car couldn’t handle it and it ended up sliding out. When it did, I immediately tried to correct it by turning the wheel the opposite way instead of into the slide. I learned later that is what you are supposed to do — turn it into the slide so that it spins around. I didn’t know that then, so when I tried to correct it, it caught and propelled us head first into a palm tree. After slamming into the tree, the car went airborne for a moment and then landed on my side, shattering my window, and leaving me hanging by my seat belt. By God’s grace, we were all okay, and we were able to climb out the passenger side of the car.

By far that was my most harrowing near death experience. I literally could have, and probably should have, died in that accident.

Thinking about my experience and you thinking about your experience brings death to mind, but most of us don’t think about death on a regular basis. We push it to the back of our mind and only let the thought come to the forefront every now and again. As Christians, however, we must think about death, and we must do so often. I know that probably sounds weird and morbid, so let me explain.

For Christians, death is not only how we gain a relationship with the Father, but it is also how we are able to worship God on a daily basis. If you have been in church any length of time, that last phrase might bring to mind Romans 12:1-2. Paul, the late apostle and missionary, writing to the Romans says starting in verse 1,

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Ro 12:1–2)

As you look at these verses more carefully you notice Paul begins verse 1 with an appeal to action. We will get to what he wants us to do in a moment, but first I want you to notice the basis of Paul’s appeal and that is the “mercies of God.” “The mercies of God” is what he uses to motivate the Romans and us to give our bodies as a living sacrifice.

The Mercies of God

The mercies of God” is an interesting phrase. One we need to consider because it quite literally is the bridge that allows us to move from sinner to saint; it is what allows us to go from those who live in rebellion to God, to those who are able to live for God.

To what do the mercies of God refer?

The phrase is shorthand for and representative of Paul’s argument up to this point in the letter to the Romans. Essentially it tells us that:

The Death of One Man Leads to the Life of Another (vs. Ro. 3:23-25a; 5:1)

More specifically, Jesus’ death allows us to experience life and a restored relationship with the Father.

Hearing that some of you might be thinking: Why was that necessary?

Why was it necessary for Jesus to die?

Jesus’ death is explained by the mercies of God. Up to this point in the letter, Paul has not only proven we are sinners, but he has also proven our sin has damaged our relationship with the Father. Essentially making it impossible for us to desire Him and His ways. As a result, we have rejected the Father’s way for our own way. That is what it means for us to be a sinner. It means we completely reject God and His way of doing things.

Because God is holy and loving, He must do something about sin. On the one hand, means He must destroy sin. Since we are sinners, that means we deserve to face God’s wrath. But on the other hand, God’s love and His desire for us to experience His love, drives Him to make a way for us to have a relationship with Him. He does that by sending His Son Jesus to die for us. We read about the progression from sin to God’s love in Romans 3. Starting in verse 23 Paul says,

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Ro 3:23–25a)

While we are sinners, it is God’s love, it is His mercy and grace that drives Him to give us what we don’t deserve — salvation through Jesus’ death on our behalf.

According to Romans 5:1, those who believe that Jesus is their Savior — that He died in their place, satisfying God’s wrath against them — will experience peace with God.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ro 5:1)

Again, experiencing God’s love and a restored relationship with Him is made possible by God’s grace, and it is what Paul refers to as the mercies of God. Essentially, packed into that little phrase is the gospel message. It is the idea that the death of one man leads to the life of another, and that death occurs because God is gracious and merciful.

Thus, in order to experience that life, we must think about death. The death of Jesus and what that death means for us.

Christians, however, not only need to think about the death of Jesus, we must also think about our own death on a daily basis because:

Dying to Self is the Key to Worshipping God Daily (vs. Ro.12:1)

Look at the second half of verse 1. After Paul presents his appeal, he tells us what he wants us to do and why. He says we are:

“to present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual worship.” (Ro 12:1)

While different sacrifices were offered in the Old Testament, they all involved death in some way or another, either the death of an animal or the death of your ability to possess the thing you offered to God.

Think about the sacrifice of a lamb. When it was handed it over to the priest, the one who handed it over didn’t expect to get it back. It was gone, quite literally. The priest not only killed it, but he also burnt it, which killed your ability to use the lamb for your own benefit.

In a similar way, that is what Paul is calling us to do. Except he isn’t calling us to offer a lamb, he’s calling us to offer ourself as a sacrifice. In other words, he’s calling us to die to self each and every day. Hence the idea Christians must think about death daily. Not physical death, but the death of self, the death of our own desire, the death of doing things our own way instead of God’s way. Commenting on dying to self, one author says,

“God does not ask us to bring in our livestock and burn it on the altar; he asks us to give ourselves, to put ourselves alive on the altar. To be a Christian means to live a life of sacrifice, a life of presentation, making a gift of ourselves to God. Some people think that all it takes to be a Christian is to scribble a cheque or to give a few hours of service here and there on special projects for the church. But that’s not what believers are called to. My life is to be set apart and consecrated to God. That is what is acceptable to him; that is what delights him; that is what pleases him; that is the appropriate response to him and for him.”

R. C. Sproul, The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 195.

When we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, we end up worshipping God

In reality that is what it takes and means for us to worship God. It takes us dying to self. Unless we are willing to die to self, there is no way we are going to be able to live for God. That’s because our heart can’t exist in limbo. It’s either going to be devoted to one or the other. It’s either going to be given to God or to self. That’s why we must be a living sacrifice. Why we must kill self in order to worship God. But, as my father-in-law likes to say, there is just one problem with being a living sacrifice

“Living sacrifices have a habit of crawling off the altar.”

After a while, our self has a tendency to take back over. That takes place because we haven’t yet been freed from our sinful nature. As Christians, we do have the ability to follow God and not sin, but our sinful nature is there constantly pulling and tugging at us, making it difficult for us to follow God. The tension we feel as Christians to please self and follow God is not going o end until Jesus returns. Until then, we have to daily die to self so that we consistently remain on the altar as a living sacrifice.

But how? How do we daily die to self? We will discuss that in more detail next time.

Question for Reflection

Do you see the necessity for Jesus to die on your behalf?

Do you see why it is important to die to your own selfish desires?


Post developed from my sermon: Why is death important to the Christian?