On a Monday morning at the schoolyard, Timothy caught up with his best friend, Steve. "What in the world was going on at your house yesterday morning?" Timothy asked. "When I went to take out the trash, I heard shouting and cursing coming through the open windows that could have peeled the paint off the walls!" "Oh," said Steve. "That was just Dad. We were running late for Sunday School, and he couldn't find his Bible." While we may laugh or smirk at this particular scenario, (perhaps because we can relate to it ourselves) this is a typical example of 'crossless' Christianity which, tragically, is taking the nation by storm.
Speaking to His disciples, Jesus made the following bold statement: "If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me." [Mt 16:24].
Whether we want to accept this truth or not, to the extent that we fear the Lord is also to the extent we will seek to please Him in every area of our lives. I do not believe that it is possible to choose what pleases the Lord apart from a life of self-denial and the taking up of one’s cross. In fact, Jesus made it very clear that unless we were willing to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily, we could not even be a follower of His. Unless our lives are daily being ‘crucified with Christ,’ we will not seek to please the Lord; we will seek to please ourselves.
We live in an age of self-gratification. Messages which teach crucifixion of the flesh and denial of self clearly go against the grain of the "It’s All About Me" mentality in our society. Simply put, we just don’t want to die, but ‘die’ we must if we desire to please the Lord.
All throughout the day, we are given opportunities to make choices either for self or for God. What type of books are pleasing to God? What type of music is pleasing to God? What type of entertainment is pleasing to God? How does God want me to dress, act, think, or speak? How does God want me to spend my time or money? The list goes on and on. If we love Him and fear Him, we will nail what ‘self’ wants to the cross and choose the path that God wants - the path that pleases Him.
Tragically, "crossless" Christianity is sweeping the United States in both Catholic and Protestant churches. Millions of men and women identify themselves as Christians; yet a quick glance at the fruit being produced in their lives clearly shows that they are attempting to follow Christ minus the cross. They believe the testimony concerning Jesus. They believe that He is the Son of God. They believe that He was born of a Virgin and became man. They believe that He suffered, died, and was buried. They even believe in His resurrection and in His Second Coming. But our profession of faith in Christ must be accompanied by a life of self-denial, a life of obedience to God’s Word, and the carrying of our cross if that faith is to be validated in the sight of God.
I am convinced that the number one reason why ‘crossless’ Christianity is so prevalent in American society isn’t because the cross isn’t being preached on Sundays or because some Bibles teach it while others do not. Rather, it’s because many of us refuse to do the things we need to do in our daily lives to keep ourselves spiritually strong. I do not believe that it is possible to take up our cross apart from a life of prayer and time spent in God’s Word each and every single day. When we read the Word of God, meditating and reflecting on it, our hearts and minds become renewed. We are reminded of how God wants us to live, speak, behave, and even think. We are reminded of what our priorities should be, what pleases Him, and what displeases Him. Prayer, on the other hand, gives us the supernatural strength that we need to put into practice those things which we have studied.
Do you know that it’s pretty easy to discern who has a prayer/devotional life and who does not? Just look at the fruit coming from people’s lives. You show me an individual who is always gossiping, criticizing, and judging others, and I’ll show you someone who spends no time with the Lord in their daily lives. When we draw close to the Lord through prayer and daily Bible study, the Holy Spirit is going to convict us of those areas in our lives which are displeasing to God. People who draw close to the Lord become changed. They become changed because God will not allow them to remain as they are. But people who spend no time with the Lord in prayer or in His Word remain unchanged because there’s nothing in their lives which God can use to show them that changes even have to be made.
If I, as a believer, spend all of my time watching television, playing computer games, surfing the ‘Net, and pursuing other forms of recreational activity, yet do nothing to strengthen and nurture the Spirit within me, it’s only natural that my ‘flesh’ will come out. My sinful nature is always ready to pop up and rule the day. It’s easy to gossip, criticize, lie, and have a bad attitude. Anyone can spend money foolishly, say "Yes" to sexual sin, or live a self-centered life. Because we are flawed, sin is as natural to man as breathing is. But if we are in Christ, God has given us of His Spirit, and we now have the power to say "No" to sin and "Yes" to God. It’s up to us, however, to tap into that power every single day.
Even though God has given us His Holy Spirit to empower us to live a holy life before Him, we still have our part to do. We have to use that power. But if we aren’t doing the things we need to do in our daily lives to keep ourselves spiritually strong, we will not have what it takes to walk in that power.
Did you ever wonder why Christ spent so much time on earth in prayer? Did He have the Spirit of God in Him? Yes, for the Bible clearly teaches that the Holy Spirit came upon Him at His Baptism. But the Holy Spirit wasn’t going to ‘do it all’ for Jesus. If Jesus wanted to overcome temptation, He, too, had His part to do. This is why He instructed His disciples to watch and pray so that they would not fall into temptation. Christ made it very clear that apart from a strong, daily devotional life, we would not be able to conquer our flesh and say no to temptation.
We all would do well to honestly examine the fruit being produced in our lives, because it’s the fruit that will show us whether we are sowing to the Spirit as we ought to each day. We need to examine the quality of our devotional lives before God. How much time do we spend in prayer each day? How much time is spent reading the Word, meditating on it, and thoughtfully reflecting on it? Do we give God 15 minutes a night, while spending three or four hours of time in front of the television? What are our priorities?
Will television inspire me to take up my cross and die? Will romance novels impart supernatural strength to say no to sexual sin? Will computer games move my heart to serve others in love? If I’m tempted to go into a fit of rage, how will my stamp collecting hobby restrain me? Whether we want to accept this truth or not, we reap what we sow. If I sow to the things of this world all day long, what power from on high can I expect to reap to enable me to overcome temptation and be victorious in Christ?
The choice is ours to make. If we want to follow Christ, we must be willing to deny ourselves daily and take up our cross a thousand times a day in a thousand different ways. But if we are not sowing to the Spirit (through prayer and time spent in God’s Word) on a daily basis, we will not have the power, or even the desire, to take up that cross. Without that cross, we cannot be a disciple of Christ. We don’t have a problem with the cross as long as Jesus is the One hanging on it rather than us. But we, too, are called to be crucified with Christ, and apart from that crucifixion, there can be no discipleship.
If we desire to know the Lord in the power of His resurrection, we must be equally intimate with Him in the fellowship of His sufferings. We must be willing to know Him in His death, a death which will continue to elude us if we insist on following Him in our daily lives minus the cross.
God is always drawing us to spend time with Him in prayer and in His Word; but it’s up to us to be sensitive to that drawing. May the Lord, Who draws us continually into a closer walk with Him, also give us the grace to respond to that drawing so that we will have what it takes in the way of spiritual strength to take up our cross...
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