I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words. My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise (Psalm 119:147-148).
Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me (Psalm 119:133).
I recently posted a quote on Facebook from Tim Keller that read: “Christianity isn’t something you add. It is an explosion that changes everything you had.” In other words, following Christ can’t be an addition to your life. It is your life.
I don’t see a person in the Bible who is both a follower of Christ and who is apathetic about following Christ. You just don’t find it. Recall that those who followed Jesus in the New Testament are referred to as disciples. Dallas Willard wrote, “In the heart of a disciple there is a desire, and there is a decision or settled intent” to follow Jesus at all costs. He went on to say: “[I]f we really do intend to be like Christ, that will be obvious to every thoughtful person around us, as well as to ourselves.” I got to thinking: Is it obvious to every thoughtful person around me that I’m a disciple of Christ? What about the wonderful people in my church? Consider what Jesus says in Mark 8 regarding self-denial.
In Mark 8:34 Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” In essence, Jesus informs us that discipleship involves renouncing self-lordship and embracing him as Lord. Let’s break this down into bite size pieces.
Deny Yourself. Jesus isn’t necessarily talking about denying yourself “things” like food, water, or other personal amenities; this isn’t a call to engage in some kind of ascetic behavior or extreme self-discipline. This is actually far more radical. What Jesus is calling for is a fundamental reorientation of life where you are no longer at the center, but Christ is. To be sure, this is a hard sell in contemporary American society, which is more and more trying to convince us that we must look within ourselves, find an identity for ourselves, and express it. Indeed, one author recently argued that self-denial is a form of self-harm and an unhealthy incursion on our self-identity.
Take Up Your Cross. In common parlance, we often think of a “cross” as a difficult boss, an unfair teacher, or perhaps an overbearing mother-in-law, but that’s incorrect. More truthfully, taking up your cross has to do with embracing the shame, disdain, and possible death that may result from identifying yourself as one of Christ’s followers.
Follow Jesus. In the original language of the New Testament, the word is in the present tense, indicating that Christ is referring to continuing to follow him. Therefore, most likely Christ is addressing the matter of endurance and perseverance in our walk with him. Thus, daily we are to renounce self-lordship and embrace Christ’s call to follow him, dying to our sinful desires and living out the ethical implications of what it means to be an apprentice of Jesus.
Although at first glance Christ’s call to discipleship may seem restrictive, it’s actually liberating. It’s a call given in grace. Christ is coming to our rescue to free us from a life of enslavement to our desires that leads to disappointment, discouragement, and ultimately destruction. The only way to experience lasting freedom is to become a willing slave of Christ. This truth was captured eloquently some years ago in an article provocatively titled “The Cost of Nondiscipleship,” by Dallas Willard, the author I cited earlier. Here’s a summary: “In short, the cost of nondiscipleship costs you exactly the abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10). The cross-shaped yoke of Christ is after all an instrument of liberation and power to those who live in it with him and learn the meekness and lowliness of heart that brings rest to the soul.”
This isn’t meant to scare you into becoming a disciple of Christ. I don’t believe I can scare anyone into becoming anything. I’m simply probing: Has your relationship with Christ rearranged everything in your life? Anything?