Today's 'thought' comes to you from Michael Horton and is found in his book, "The Gospel Driven Life."
It speaks of the dangers of following Jesus in a society where one can not only live out their faith unafraid of being persecuted for it, but even prosper off it, or make a successful business out of it. His insights into this problem are worthy of our consideration, and may serve as a needed wake-up call, or call for repentance. Enjoy.
The Cross Isn't an Accessory
"After calling his disciples, Jesus prepared them for the journey ahead of them, beyond his own cross-bearing and resurrection (Matthew 10). They too will bear their cross, suffering not for sin, but for their testimony to the sin-bearer. Persecution will come; even parents and siblings will hand over their family members to the authorities (vv. 16-24)...
Immediately after his ascension the dominoes started to fall. Some caved in, renouncing Christ, while others persevered. Peter, who denied Christ three times, ended up being crucified upside down, because he did not consider himself worthy to be executed in the same manner as his Savior.
So what does this mean: 'Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it?' The context, of course, is the imminent persecution of the disciples and indeed the wider church. Those who cling to their life as it is will never receive eternal life. The securities of this fleeting lifespan pale in comparison with the riches of the inheritance that the saints have in Christ.
Such passages speak directly to suffering brothers and sisters in China, India, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia (and more recently Egypt), but what about the rest of us? We like to imagine sometimes that we too share in Christ's sufferings, but we do not suffer in the same way or to the same degree as the martyrs and the persecuted. The suffering that Jesus had in mind is not the general troubles that believers face in common with unbelievers, such as physical or financial hardships. It was suffering for their witness to Christ that Jesus has in mind. Yet precisely because we do not find ourselves threatened with death for the sake of the gospel, those of us in liberal democracies may be the ones who find it most difficult to accept Jesus exhortation.
Like a cross that is worn around one's neck, Christ can become an accessory. Rather than being commanded at gunpoint to deny Christ, we are led by the devil out into the wilderness of consumerism, shopping for identities. Far from being harried and harassed, we are shown the kingdoms of this world that can be ours if we will just turn away from Golgotha.
We don't have to become atheists. We do not even have to renounce Jesus Christ. In fact, we can sell everything from rock concerts to coffee mugs with Jesus as the trademark.
All that is necessary is for us to cling to ourselves -- the securities, aspirations, felt needs, and relationships that define us and that we have chosen for ourselves -- rather than to God's saving love in Christ and the identity for which he has chosen us. Jesus' comment about losing our life to find it presses us to ask ourselves this question: "Do I define the Jesus story, or does it define me?' Is Jesus's significance objective and universal, which I am simply to acknowledge and embrace, or do I determine his significance in my own life?
Paul tells believers, 'For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.' This is more radical than anything that we could conceive. According to the gospel, 'I' don't exist anymore. Our self-identity is not a stable thing, but is defined by the story we tell -- or hear -- about ourselves. Of course the gospel does not obliterate my identity; it comes to save my nature, not destroy it. However, my nature in Adam is corrupt, in bondage to sin and death. Even in my moral striving I am decadent. Even in my craving for spiritual experience, I am an idolater. Another makeover or transformation will not change my identity. I must be crucified and buried with Christ, and raised with him in newness of life...
The salvation that God promises in Christ requires my death. Here I am, cheerfully going about my daily affairs, picking and choosing the roles I would like to play from the advertisements, movies, and 'put-together' people I admire around me. I may even find a role for Jesus, although who am I to say that others are wrong for finding someone or something else more helpful for achieving their goals in life?
Then, along comes the gospel, telling me who I really am, telling me how this character I have written for myself is doomed. God hands me a new script -- the Good News that I am no longer a child of Adam or stranger and alien to God's promises, but a child of God in Jesus and stranger and alien to the world's spin.
I no longer can see God as existing to make me happy, to satisfy my felt needs, even to give me a sense of well-being and add a few suggestions to improve my life. He comes to kill me and make me alive. Repentance means I give up the script; I stop pretending that I can write the story of my life. Through faith in Christ, I become a character in God's story, part of the new creation."
In our self-obsessed culture where we're led to believe that we are the center of our world and everything revolves around us, it's often hard to grasp how a message that predicts persecution for those who embrace it, tells us we must lose our life to find it, "requires our death," and tells us we can no longer see God as existing to make us happy or satisfy our felt-needs, could be called, "Good News"!
It is indeed a paradox, though a liberating one, and one we will never experience until we, "give up the old script, and stop pretending that we can write the story of our lives."
For most, the thought of moving from a self-centered life to a God-centered/Christ-centered life, is terribly frightening. It seems so irrational -- at least when considered in light of earthly reasoning and worldly wisdom. It is one of those divine mysteries that one can only know; a truth that can only be discovered, when a person steps out in faith and experiences the gracious benefits of what it means to be, "crucified with Christ."
In His Service, Pastor Jeff