Friday, November 12, 2010

It Is Hard to be a Christian

This is a conclusion of a three-part blog. To catch up, the first part is here and the second is here.

What we have come to realize in this study is something many of you may have never heard before in your lives: It is hard to be a Christian. If there is one sentiment common in churches in the United States of America, it is the mindset that to be a Christian is no great trouble. It need not even be inconvenient! Sentiments such as "I don't need to go to church to be a Christian," or "I don't have to go around trying to convert people to be a Christian." or "I don't have to stop doing _____ to be a Christian" are quite overwhelming. But as we have seen in this study, it isn't true. God expects us to not only give our actions and our speech to Him, but our very thoughts and feelings. He warned us from the beginning that this was so. Let us turn to the third gospel and see:

And He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" And Peter answered and said, "The Christ of God." But He warned them and instructed them not to tell this to anyone, saying, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day." And He was saying to them all, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. "For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

(Luk 9:20-26)
This is not the news given to a 'mature' Christian. As soon as Peter makes a statement of faith, that he believes Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus warns him (and the others who have not yet professed the Truth) of what he is getting into. If we are to follow Jesus, we must deny ourselves. He said so himself.

Going to church when you would rather sleep is denying self. Giving money to a church or a missionary when you would rather go out to lunch is denying self. Losing friends because you will not compromise the Word of God is denying self. These are all things which we face on a regular basis in the United States and we fail even in these. In contrast, there are Christians in Muslim nations with church services protected by military units, so the worshippers will not be killed.

This grotesque nature of Jesus' command is something we have been desensitised to (something brought to my attention by Bro. Mario Gamez, a missionary in Pasadena, Tx). At the time, a cross was a slow, painful way of killing someone, not a decoration for walls and jewelry. Would you wear a necklace with a noose on it or an electric chair? Both of those are designed to be incredibly humane compared to the cross. The cross was a thing of death, a thing of torture - Jesus tells us that if we are to follow Him, we must take our cross daily and deny ourselves. As we discussed yesterday, it is not a one-time decision like salvation is. Choosing to be a true Christian is something we do each morning, when we place our cross on our back and drag it through town as we are spat on and mocked.

But it does not end there. Jesus Christ says that "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it." Being a Christian requires a radical reorganization of priorities. As long as your priority is to save yourself, you will never have the kind of saving faith which leads to salvation. But if you lay yourself out for the name of Jesus and for His work, then you will find real life. What is the whole world's wealth and thin happiness worth to you in Hell? At the end of the day, only one decision that you make matters - the decision to follow your own way, or to swallow your pride and follow Jesus. (That's the real clencher, isn't it? We don't want to swallow our pride and kneel before someone better than ourselves. We want to do it our way, and being told that Jesus is the only way spins us into rebellion.)

Jesus' closing remarks are perhaps the most painful of all. They are plainly directed to those who are already saved. If we are ashamed of Him and His Words - all of them, whether on homosexuality, lust,, premarital sex, divorce, denying the self, Jesus being the only way, the reality of Hell and anything else - He will be ashamed of us. Jesus Christ says that if you are ashamed of anything He said or of Him (maybe you would rather talk about God than Jesus, so you may avoid controversy), He will be ashamed that you are one of His when he comes to take you home.

Justin, you say, you have really brought us down. Why would anyone want to be a Christian at all, if it costs so much? Why not just be saved and rest secure in that? For one, I don't know if you can. I don't believe it is possible to be really saved and then live happily in sin. But Jesus gives us a reason to get saved and be Christians this side of death:
At that time Jesus said, "I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. "Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. "All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. "For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

(Mat 11:25-30)
Is it really true that the burden we are asked to haul is light? No, we have already seen that. But we must read the final verse in context. Jesus says that we will find rest for our sould because he is gentle and humble. If you choose to go through life your own way, you will carry the burden of sin and guilt all alone. If you choose Jesus' way, you must take up a cross daily, but because he is gentle and humble it will be easy. There are two oxen to a yoke. For the burden of walking in righteousness, the very God of the universe - who spoke and the world was - that God bends down with you to help you carry it. If we accept His burden, we will have his help. If we have his help we will find rest for our souls.

(1) How well are your thoughts and feelings disciplined to Christ? do you spend enough time in prayer for your heart and mind to be protected against sin?
(2) When was the last time you denied yourself for Christ?
(3) If your version of religion "All About Me" or "All About Christ"? Is it about having the best life you can have, being s happy as you can be, etc, or do you trust that if you faithfully follow the work of Christ, all else will be added?
(4) Are you ashamed of Christ and His Words?
(5) What do you need to do to have rest for your soul? Do you need to repent and be saved, or have you already been saved and need to repent an return to the right path? The decision starts now.

Note: When a new verse begins inside a quote, the NASB includes a new set of starting quotation marks to indicate the speech continues. I have left these int act, although it reads oddly without the verse numbers,  because I am not clear on the copyright difficulties in making such revisions. If anyone knows, comment here or send me an e-mail.

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