7 Steps in the Christian Life, Part 4

Human beings are funny. I say that as one of them, so I know what I’m talking about. We plan our vacations. We plan our education. We plan for our retirement. Even those of us who have a habit of “flying by the seats of our pants” plan for some things in our lives. Yet rarely do we take the time to plan how we will live our lives as Christians. Too many of us make the terrible mistake of letting life just happen to us, then spend countless hours trying to deal with the consequences. Most of us are reactive, not proactive, when it comes to living. And it shows. Most people are mediocre, at best. Mediocre spouse. Mediocre parents. Mediocre employees. Mediocre church members. Most of us do “just enough.” That’s too bad, because God wants us to excel at whatever we are doing. When we look good, He looks good. Perhaps one of the reasons why so many of us are so mediocre is fear. Fear of failure. Fear of looking like fool. Fear of success. Some of us just plain afraid to try harder. There’s a very interesting couple of verses that you should know if you live a fearful Christian life.

The Lord makes firm the steps of those who delight in him; though they stumble, they will not fall, for the Lord upholds them with his hand. (Psalm 37:23, 24 | TNIV)

Do you delight in God? If you do, and you should if you call yourself a Christian, then according to the psalmist, your steps are made firm by God. That is, the way you walk is directed and confirmed by the Lord. How can you go wrong? Well, being a human being, obviously a lot can go wrong. When those times come, God’s promise is that you won’t fall. Oh, you may stumble, but like the Weeble that wobbles, you won’t fall down. It’s a promise that won’t fail.

We’ve looked at three of seven steps we all take as Christians journeying through this life. We all take them in the roughly the same order. First, we all received Christ at some point. You may not be able to recall the exact date or circumstances, but in the past you received Christ as your Lord and Savior. Second, with Him now living in you in the Person as the Holy Spirit, you’ve confessed or professed your faith in Him. You couldn’t help yourself. You’re a changed person; from the inside out, you’re a new creation in Christ. Even if you never opened your mouth, people can look at you and see the difference. And third, we must remain in Him. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Apart from Him, we can’t do anything of lasting value.

That brings us to the fourth step in the Christian life. It’s found in Luke 9.

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 | TNIV)

We must “follow” the Lord every day of our lives. Our goal each and every day must be to follow as closely as we can. But what did Jesus mean that? And how do we follow Him? Let’s find out!

Speaking of confessing Christ, that’s how it all started.

Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.” (Luke 9:18 – 20 | TNIV)

All three Synoptics cover Peter’s confession more or less the same way. As far as we know, when Peter uttered his famous confession, “God’s Messiah,” as Luke records it, nobody else put it quite that way. Matthew informs us that that great truth was revealed to Peter by God Himself. Peter didn’t figure it out on his own.

This was probably the most profound and important confession ever made. Often overlooked is what Luke says in verse 18: Jesus was praying in private just before He asked His disciples that all-important question. We can certainly understand why, given the importance of what God was about to reveal to Peter! This fisherman had a habit of speaking before thinking. If ever there was a time when a man had to pay attention to that “still, small voice” of God speaking to him, it was right now with Peter. I’m sure Jesus was praying that His friend Peter would get it right the first time.

Finally! The apostles got who Jesus was. It only took them three years and a revelation from God, but they got it now, and Jesus needed to make sure they understood why He came. He was not the political messiah everybody was looking for. He was not a prophet or a reincarnated prophet. And He wasn’t His cousin, John the Baptist. His purpose in coming was purely redemptive; the last thing on most people’s minds. He had hinted at this purpose a couple of years previously, but the truth really dawn on anybody.

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. (John 3:14, 15 | TNIV)

Of course, we know Jesus was talking about His crucifixion, but Nicodemus didn’t get what Jesus was telling him. Now, though, time was short and the time for veiled language was past. Jesus needed to be blunt.

And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Luke 9:22 | TNIV)

It doesn’t get any more blunt than telling your friends you’re going to die. And naming those responsible! This verse is known today as the first passion prediction. And it’s a stunner. Put yourself in the disciple’s place. How would you feel hearing that your beloved Rabbi and Messiah was soon to be killed? Following Jesus was about to get more than a little complicated! Read carefully the next few verses:

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self?” (Luke 9:23 – 25 | TNIV)

Luke wrote something most people miss. Jesus had been talking to His disciples, but now He’s addressing “them all.” He told the disciples more or less privately about His passion. The principles for the new life were meant to be heard by all. Let’s see how it looks in the KJ21

And He said to them all, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever will lose his life for My sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged if he gain the whole world, and lose himself or be cast away?” (Luke 9:23 – 25 | KJ21)

That phrase, “come after me” is translated as “wants to be my disciple” in the more modern translations, but it properly means “ to come behind me” in the sense of attaching one’s self to Jesus as His disciple. Two things should be pointed out. First, that phrase should bring to mind what Jesus had said about the vine and the branches. A disciple is to be fused to Jesus as a healthy branch is fused to the vine. But second, this attaching is voluntary. Lenski, quoting from Frommel and expanding on the quote makes an important observation:

“Christ does not pull His sheep by a rope; in His army are none but volunteers.” Jesus knows of no irresistible grace but only the grace which draws the will and wins it for Himself. And this grace excludes no one.”

But, now, mark this. Anybody who wants to follow Jesus must “deny themselves.” The Greek means, oddly enough, to “disown one’s self.” If you want to know what that looks like, read this:

A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.” But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said. (Luke 22:56, 57 | TNIV)

As strenuously as Peter denied Jesus, if you want to follow Jesus, you must deny yourself. If you think that’s an easy thing to do, think again! Nobody wants to deny themselves anything these days. To deny yourself to the extent Jesus wants you to, you need the help of the Holy Spirit. He will show you the awfulness of your sin and the certainty of damnation and death wrapped up in it. He will give you the strength to turn from it and attach yourself to Jesus.

But denying yourself isn’t enough. If a person can gin up enough self-control, they can practice some self-denial. But your self-denial must have carrying your cross as part of the deal. Jesus was about to carry HIS cross, and if you want to follow Him, then you must carry YOUR cross. That concept has been really abused over the years. A lot of people think suffering in general is carrying your cross, but that’s not entirely correct. As a matter of fact, the non-believer suffers all the time and you could hardly say that he’s carrying a cross!

Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds those who trust in him. (Psalm 32:10 | TNIV)

The cross we are called to carry is the result of our faith in Jesus. Because we are attached to Him, then we will necessarily suffer in some way. Jesus’s suggestion is that each of His followers will, to one extent to another, suffer because of Him. But it means more than even that. Remember to whom Jesus was talking: The people He had fed miraculously and the people who were looking for miracles.

Once you have learned to deny yourself and you’ve accepted the inevitable suffering that will come because you belong to Christ, our Lord reiterates the admonition to follow Him. There’s a reason why He felt the need to repeat Himself. Christ is the one who leads, we are the ones who are following Him. We can’t change His course. It’s not our job to tell Jesus what to do or how to do it or where He should go. We are to follow Him.

But verse 4 tells us something significant:

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. (Luke 9:24 | TNIV)

There’s that “free will” again. It’s hard to get away from it. A decision has to be made. A sinner must, with God’s help, decide to follow Jesus. That phrase, “save their life” means a lot more than appears on the surface. Of course, it refers to rescuing those who are perishing. That’s every sinner, by the way. The wages of sin is death and every unredeemed soul is doomed. But it means even more that just rescuing; it also means “preserving.” Jesus rescues and preserves your life. You can’t lose with Jesus. But His statement here is paradoxical until you understand that the life you are to loose is the life you lived without Him in it. Verse 25 helps us see the paradox clearer:

What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self? (Luke 9:25 | TNIV)

Well, now you see why you must – MUST – leave your old life behind. To hold on to what is past is to destroy the present. Whatever you think you gave up to follow Jesus is a pittance compared to what you gain with Him in your life. Following Jesus is serious thing; it’s for serious people. The problem is, today the church is full of non-serious people playing at following Jesus. In truth, they wouldn’t know Jesus even if He was carrying a sign that said, “I am the Way.” The fourth step in the Christian life is a big one. It’s what separates the men from the boys; the children from the adults. Have you taken it? Or are you avoiding following Jesus so closely that you suffer a little for it? Are you shunning your cross in favor of the status quo? Do you find it more satisfying being a mediocre Christian rather than the kind Christian who causes the Devil to worry when you get down to pray? Take that fourth step and find out what your life could be instead of what it is.

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