A STROLL IN THE PARK, OR A DIFFICULT, DANGEROUS, NARROW WAY?
THE NARROW WAY IS NOT A STROLL IN THE PARK
A. Brother ©2009
“If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with--that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.” --Rom. 6:5-8
“If anyone comes after me and does not hate…even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his own cross cannot be my disciple.”
“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves Me must follow Me and where I am My servant also will be.” -John 12:24-26
“But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you.” --Rom. 8:10,11
As I grew up in the churches, I had great confusion in my life about what it meant to “live for Christ”. Perhaps some of you do, too.
Our modern, easy interpretation of what it means to be a “Christian” seems to skip over the narrow gate, Jesus, and His definitions of what it means to be His follower. And we also skip over the tough things Paul talks about in his letters.
Jesus explained to His disciples, even before His death and resurrection, that they would follow Him in Hi s dying, as well as His resurrection. In other words, where He was going, His disciples would go, too.
“Simon Peter asked him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus replied, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” --John 13:36
Peter didn’t get it right then, but later he understood, along with the rest of the disciples, that Jesus was referring to the death to self they would experience when the Holy Spirit empowered them to become Jesus’ faithful followers. They would become not only disciples, but would die to themselves, live to Christ, and literally live out His life on earth.
We interpret Jesus here as talking about the death by crucifixion that Peter would suffer, as Jesus would suffer crucifixion, but Jesus was also talking about a dying that would come about in Peter’s life before that. Peter’s first death would be the death to self, which would enable Peter to live a Spirit-filled life in Christ, one full of the fruits of Christ’s character, and then prepare him for that actual, physical crucifixion that would take place, ushering him into the presence of God in heaven.
In other words, we must die in order to live. If we want to follow Jesus, He says we must abandon our hopes in this life, and put all our hope in Christ. We must hate our own life to find Christ’s life. If we are to be Jesus’ true followers, we will be willing to take up our cross daily, dying to all our selfishness, pride, and other sinful impulses, and be resurrected daily in victory over those sins.
How do we bring people into the Kingdom these days?
With tough, strong initiations into the Body of Christ that involve teaching new believers about what will be required of them? Do we bring our new brothers and sisters in faith through the narrow gate Jesus talked about, telling them the truth about what it means to follow our Lord?
Do we talk about being kernels of wheat that produce other kernels of wheat only after undergoing death? Do we talk about carrying our crosses daily, and that the world will hate us for following Jesus? Do we teach about hating our own lives, being willing to be hated and reviled because of the life we’ll be required to live for Christ? Do we give the new believer the truth about the difficulties, the temptations, the opposition of the enemy, the death to self, the agony of Gesthemane? Do we prepare them for their own burial, so that they can rise to new, powerful lives in Christ? Do we take them through the process of sanctification, as God helps them crucify the old man with its evil desires, and strengthens the new man who lives by the Spirit? Do we commit ourselves to them personally, as Jesus did for His disciples, and as Paul and the other New Testament leaders did, giving their very lives for their children in the faith so that none would be lost?
Not that I have personally witnessed.
What I have witnessed over the past 50 years of being involved in the churches, is a casual, flippant attitude toward being a follower of Jesus. In fact, we don’t even use that language today. We say we are believers in Christ, or Christians, and that we are saved. We speak of many things, but almost all of it revolves around us, and our “personal relationship with Jesus Christ”.
We don’t talk about death. We don’t talk about poverty and pain and suffering among believers. We don’t talk about the true cost of discipleship, as Jesus did, and as the early followers of the Way did. We have evolved from that into what we think is a smooth, mature, “aged” process of becoming Christ’s men and women. Like fine wine, we are mellow, and we like things to go down easily, and that are acceptable to the palate. So we print our own quick, easy-to-digest materials about salvation, instead of preaching and teaching the simple, powerful, earth-shattering truths of Scripture, which will surely take us “through the valley of the shadow of death.” --Psalm 23:4
Brethren, like the Pharisees, we ignore the commands of God to honor our man-made traditions.
The altar call, the “sinner’s prayer’, the short counseling session, the booklet we hand people about what to do now that you’re a Christian. The pat on the back, the hug, the smile. The joyful song we sing to close the service. The final hug we give the new Christian, with the farewell phrase, “See you at church on Sunday.” And the sage advice, “Read the Book of John. That’s a great introduction to being a Christian.” Then we leave and go home, content that we’ve done our job of bringing someone new to Jesus.
And that shows graphically how far we are from the heart of God, and from the truths of His Word in these matters.
The Word of God, as shown in the Scriptures I’ve listed above, talks about death as being essential to receiving new life in Christ. We must die to ourselves and our own plans, ambitions, and goals. We must die to all our sins, the old nature, the old ways, and become a New Creature in Christ, a New Man, powered by the Spirit of God rather than fueled by worldly and sinful motivations.
To follow Jesus means you die. And death is not easy, and death is not fast, and it is very painful. As Jesus illustrated for us by dying Himself, on a Roman cross, in great pain and heartache. Left alone by all He loved, except His Father, who never forsook Him.
So we must die, as He did. We must follow Him, taking our crosses up daily, willing to give our very lives each day for Jesus and our fellow believers.
When have you heard that said to those who were beginning with Jesus?
We treat the Christian life as if it were a stroll in the park, not a strenuous, narrow path full of danger, adventure and hardship:
· We want daisies and tulips, and Jesus gives us talk about “kernels of wheat” falling down and dying.
· We want a joyful, fun, easy life, full of good things, and Jesus promises us that we will be shunned and hated, all because we follow Him.
· We want sunny days, and music. Jesus promises us difficulty, trial, tribulation in this world.
· We want to be part of a big, glorious movement of successful people. Jesus promises us a narrow road we travel with the few, and persecution for His sake.
· We want beautiful homes, and gorgeous church buildings with comfortable seating. Jesus says He has no place to lay His head, and that man-made temples will be thrown down, stone by stone.
· We want peace. Jesus promises us a sword.
· We want acceptance by the world. Jesus promises us rejection and opposition.
· We want prosperity. Jesus tells us to give everything we have to Him, and share our income and possessions with those around us so that none will be in need.
· We want to be at ease, and enjoy our leisure. Jesus tells us to work with all our time and energy for the
. Kingdom of God
Jesus’ call has never changed. We may change, but He has not. His Word stands, and it is against that Rock we will be shattered if we don’t choose to build our lives on it. Our man-made traditions that set aside the truth will be found wanting, and we will answer for them. Just as Jesus confronted the religious Jews, so He confronts us today.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s allow the Spirit to put to death the old man or old woman, and let’s be resurrected in Jesus. Like the kernel of wheat, the seed that dies, we by our dying will produce many more seeds that will result in the
sprouting and growing in the fields of this world. Kingdom of God
Be willing to “hate” your life in this world so that you can love the Lord Jesus enough to follow Him in this dying. Be willing to suffer rejection with Him, in order to find acceptance with God, and to willingly, joyfully live only for Him on this earth, until He comes again for us.
What we are talking about here is far more important than whatever other matters you are considering today.