Take up the Cross Part II
He must become greater; I must become less . John 3:30
Do you realize that as you grow in your faith, you become even more precious to God and that He will preserve you through trials and life?
In the theme of 'taking up the cross', we see the call for radical discipleship, to fully engage and trust our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in all aspects of life and relationship, in all circumstances and endeavors. This involves and influences all that we are and all that we do. Thus, we must engage Christ as Lord without reservation or condition, further aligned by our gratitude for Who and what He has done for us. This has a cost to it that we may endure, but it is a cost fully paid by our Lord, a price we can never pay for a reward we freely receive and enjoy-His presence, intimacy and life empowering us, forevermore, in today and into eternity. Because He loves and works in me, I can do this; because those of us in Him live in hope, we do this. Christ is, indeed, or living Hope who will never fade away. Thus, as Christ already is, we can set our minds, attitudes and plans to Him, for Him, so that He will be greater in me (1 Pet. 1:3-12)!
Our intimacy with Christ gives us the confidence and completeness to know and do His purpose. This is the hallmark of Christian maturity. This means we can have the "fullness" to live out our new lives by being loyal and faithful to our living Lord. If we are truly devoted to Christ, we will be devoted to the things of Christ-His interests, principles, and plan. The key is to realize that Christ is our Lord; we are to lift Him above our own ideas, situations, fears, hurts, setbacks, disappointments, jubilations-whatever experiences we have or will face-regardless of what others will say. We can have the fullness and abundance of life with Christ, to live and perform from what we think and trust. The key is to keep our minds and hearts centered in Christ. This attitude is what spurs on our commitment and our service to Him. Without persevering with Christ, we cannot have hope for ourselves or to persuade others well-at all. Our relationship in Christ will reflect His work in us and be the beacon of hope for us and for others. This is how we are to live out our lives and be examples of hope for others to follow (Isa. 7:9; Matt. 28:18; John 5:22; Acts 1:14; 2:42; 6:4; Rom. 12:12; 1 Cor. 11:1; Eph. 6:18; Col. 1:3-12; 3:2)!
Christ is our Living Hope that Empowers
In the passage examined in the last article, 1 Peter 1: 3-5, we see several key phrases that strike at the heart of who we are in Christ and what He does in our surrender as we take up the cross. We have a special blessing for being in Him, as He is the God Who blesses us. In our worship, we may say this special blessing and never fully realize the entirety of its meaning-Praise be. It means our rebirth; God converts or "re-births" us from sin to being in Him. It is the theme that, as Christians, we are born again because God adopts and changes our nature as in starting again as new . In Peter's time, this phrase also referred to Gentiles who converted to Judaism; now, it refers to those who converted to Christ as their new living Hope, inheritance, security, and God (Jer. 1:11-12; Ezek. 36:24-27; Mic. 1:10-15; John 3; 7:37-39).
In 1 Peter 1, we are shown God's abundant mercy. This phrase continues from the previous phrase of God's blessing and refers to how lovingly God goes out of His way to redeem us and give us new birth (John 1:12-13, 3:3-8, 16). By this, we have His living hope as one of the main, running themes of this Epistle of 1 Peter and of our faith and life. It does not indicate wishful or positive thinking; rather, it refers to the confidence and conviction we have that our living God keeps His promises and secures us in Him. It is the assurance-the fact-that God has redeemed us, will bless us, and will care for us (1 Peter 1:13, 21; 3:15).
As a matter of fact, we receive our inheritance as the "substance" of the hope we have in Christ. This refers to more than salvation, to more than our deliverance from sin. We are now God's children, sealed in Him; we are 'joint heirs' with Him, by His Work. For the Jews of the time of the writing, this meant inheriting a future world, much like Israel's inheritance of the Promised Land while wandering the desert. It infers redemption and the process God used to redeem us. Thus, it meant treasures stored up in Heaven for them (4 Ezra-a Jewish apocryphal book). For us, by Jesus' righteousness and our obedience, our treasures are also stored up, while we now have opportunities (Rom. 8:16-17; Heb. 1:14).
Because of His blessings and mercy and inheritance, we are kept secure. As translations state, shielded or reserved means that the righteous will be saved and the deeds of the wicked will be known; in Christ, we are shielded, saved. Salvation produces hope and joy. He is our living Hope that will not fade away! And because He not only saves and empowers, He is also in control-over us and over all. This bond ties us to the responsibility of responding to what our God has done for us. He gives us faith; we are responsible for keeping the faith and growing in it, because we will be delivered from those who oppose us. We can carry that cross; we can persevere (Eph. 6:16; Phil. 2:12-13; 1 Pet. 5:8-9).
For the clincher, we have at our hand the Power of God. This Power is one of defense and assures us of the priority, vigilance, and permanence of God's grace and protection, and of the blessings He gives us to keep us going and growing in our faith, even in times of great testing and suffering. For this Power of God, we can carry the cross and see ourselves in Him, knowing that He is more and we are less. We can love Him, even though we cannot see Him or touch Him; we can love Him even when we do not understand. This may go against common sense, but the reality of His grace and the impact of that grace can sometimes be hidden by our desires, circumstances, and feelings. This is the test of faith and trust; if we see no hope, we then must look to our Lord. The hope is given and can be seen. The reward of our faith far outweighs any endurance or struggle we face. The joy we have is real and significant (John 20:29). (Rom. 8:23, 30; 13:11; 1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5).
We need His empowerment and all we can receive, because life is harsh and cruel; we will face obstacles and setbacks, opportunities and failures, and we will be tested . Material loss or gain is not the concern; the matter of importance is our connections in our relationships-who and what we touch, how we use our time and our resources. God wants us to be found; this phrase references us a "crucible". A crucible is a container made from a refractory substance such as graphite or porcelain, used for melting and purifying precious metals (such as gold) at high temperatures to separate impurities so as to produce a finer and more valuable material, with the junk and impurities removed; think of this by which 14 carat gold can result in 24 carat gold. God uses our testing and sufferings for refinement; we are purified and refined when we go through the effects and substances of life. These trials and tests have purposes as nothing happens to us without a reason; the suffering and testing is meant to teach us, grow us (Job 23:10; Psalm 12:6; Prov. 17:3; Isa. 43:2; Jer. 11:4; 1 Cor. 4:3-5; 1 Pet. 1:5; 4:13; 5:1).
Do you realize that the prophets of old desperately desired and sought what we have-this freely given gift that we take for granted? Never take your faith or what Christ has done for you for granted. If you do, your spiritual journey will derail, your faith will stagnate, and the hopeless gloom of the world will be your only "vesper" (a bell that summons monks to pray). You will be seeking what is feeble and worthless, disavowing what is real and jubilant. We are to declare our faith internally, see its veracity and application, and declare it publicly. God wants us fulfilled by Christ, not reliant on our plans. Though we will not suffer the magnitude of what our Lord has, we will face our own challenges; He will lift us up for greater purpose and meaning life-to know Him and make Him known (Isa. 7:14; 9:6; 11:1; Dan. 12:6-9).
Be set apart for Him!
Christ is set apart from all others. He is superior and LORD. Jesus Christ has the highest standing as Creator, Sustainer, and Head. He reconciles us, gives us our hope, and is the source of all that we are and have; in addition, He is our wisdom, our redemption, our empowerment, and our life. His glory radiates throughout the universe and must also radiate in and through us, both personally and collectively as a Church, all pointing to Him. This is Divine Wisdom that can only come from God in Heaven; it cannot come from our own being (Acts 13:33-34; Rom. 1:4; 1 Cor. 15:47; Eph. 1:20-23; Phil. 2:1-11; Col. 1:18; Heb. 1:4-5)!
When we come to Christ, we are identified in Him so that our sinful nature becomes less and He becomes more. Call it circumcised and baptized, spiritually, as the Bible does. This is not about a physical procedure or ritual; rather, this is a spiritual, God-centered and God-led, endeavor. We are spiritually circumcised in Christ. Our sinful nature is cut off and removed in God's eyes, and we are set free. As Christ lived, died, and was raised from the dead, we are also symbolically buried; we rise to have new life and freedom imparted to us. We are in Him, raised in Him by real faith through grace in action. If we do not allow for our faith to turn into action, we remain dead in our sins, empty and purposeless, and our sinful nature will have control over us. We are alive in Christ; God has forgiven our trespasses and sins, removed the damning evidence that was against us and then canceled our debt. We are released from the legal demands of the Law by our reconciliation in Him. Thus, we must continue our growth in Him as He nails our sins to the cross and annuls our guilt, bearing our shame Himself. Because of Jesus' triumph over sin, He bears the culpability of our sin; He will disarm our evils and the evils against us, showing their true shame, even as He will do in the world. We now have victory by the cross of Christ!
This concept is hard to grasp for many modern day American Christians. Most naturally assume all will be well, as the plan for us is good and wonderful. This is true! However, we must understand what is good. God sees is what is good-character, love, relationships, and spiritual growth. This competes with what we see as good-desires, possessions, positions, and power. As our convictions and assumptions clash with the Truth, strife will result, and our relationships will suffer. We have to be willing to learn and grow to be sure we are learning what is right, knowing the Truth. We need to be willing to screen out the world's wrongness and pay attention to the principles of God. Many Christians are getting bad theology from the airways and even from the church; it becomes easy to think that we do not need to put forth the effort, that God will not allow suffering or hardship if have enough faith. However, when you read the Bible, you know the opposite is true; the Word shows us that hardships build character and maturity, as evidenced by the people in the Bible. God is much more concerned with our spiritual growth, maturity, character; He is concerned with how we are interacting with each other. Our focus tends to be on conveniences and on comfort; His focus is on how to sanctify and perfect us, not to please and pamper us!
We must realize the sacredness of our Lord and Savior; we must acknowledge His Holiness so that He touches us ever so deeply and consistently in every aspect of our lives. His life and work must overshadow ours, so that He is more and we are less. In order to reach Christian maturity, we have to allow His Presence to enter us. He does so at our invitation, our conversion; unfortunately, we usually only allow Him into the entryway of our lives, not into the deep recesses of our hearts' home. He must have access to every bit and part, every nook and cranny; every corner must be filled with Christ so that He is more and we are less. We might see ourselves as hamsters on spinning wheels, going nowhere in the cage of the world. Let Jesus take you outside of yourself, away from your will, so that you are not imprisoned by your fears, desires, and needs. What we have is ever so limited and imperfect; what He has for us is limitless and impacting. Be transformed and renewed; be His and His alone so that your life shines His Way. Allow His uniqueness and impact to take you beyond your own limitations and your doubts; allow Him into the far reaches and depths of your spiritual formation so that you are more faithful, assured, and fruitful, because your life belongs to Christ. He is your LORD! Be and act in accordance with who Him and what He has done for you!
The result of following this call is enthusiasm, motivation, inspiration, strength, and passion to keep going in His direction with greater love. The only One who could demand greater love is God. This relates to our role in the world, our purpose and significance. Our significance is who we are in Christ, not what we have or want. Christ is our vindication; knowing this will prevent most of our quarrels-within our own selves and with others-as our eyes will be on Him and not on our desires. Jesus is saying that the peace of physical comfort is some time in the future, and not to take our comfort in that. Our significance in Christ affects our ability to build effective relationships; not knowing who we are in Him fuels our wrongdoing. Thus, taking up the cross will cause us to come face-to-face with the ultimate conflict - our will versus His-as the nature of conflict is the collision of presumptions and wills. It is His will versus ours; our will versus others. When our eyes are upon His will, and our presumptions are sequestered under His precepts, we will see only the strife caused by the Gospel!
He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me . Matthew 10:40
In this passage, a righteous man emphasizes the fact that we, as Christians, are in Christ, and when someone receives us, they receive Him. When they reject us (provided we are following His call and character), they also reject Him. Carrying the cross empowers us to be more hospitable and more loving. Imagine what your relationship will be like with this call taking root in you and overflowing to others around you! When we are dependent on God, we are also hospitable, assisting, helping, motivating, encouraging, and providing for others appreciably. These are not to be secondary after-thoughts! All too often, we ignore the needs of others and see only to our own needs. How sad this is!
If we refuse this vital call, God just may allow those hardships to come our way, breaking us down so we might yield and grow as His child. Just as a good, loving parent will discipline his child, we will receive discipline. This is not a personal attack; rather, it is a way we can grow and be better used by our Lord. We need the willingness to be identified with Him no matter what the cost, as the rewards will be far greater than we could ever imagine! Are you willing to reduce yourself to the real you, the person as you are called by Jesus Christ to be, so that He is greater in character and precepts in your trust and faith, and in your obedience and application of life? So that you become less in your will, aspirations, lust, and sin? If not, what is in the way of God working in you?
What does this come down to?
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. Colossians 2:9-10
Accepting Christ as Lord and Savior is the entrance point and primary platform to salvation and the practice of Christianity. This means we have a vital union in Christ, and our call is to be united with other believers, cooperating together. God is working in us. We are the crucible in which God moves and displays His wonder; we are the operation where God expresses His Work of fruit and faith so that others can see Him. God is the builder. We are to receive Christ as our foundation and continually adhere to His teachings. We are to remain obedient so that we continue to live and serve in the Kingdom. It is more than the acceptance of the Truth and teaching about Christ; we must be affected and infused as His saving faith rescues us, and reach deep in our being so that our minds, will, and lives make Christ primary in us (1 Cor. 15:1-5; 1 Thess. 2:13).
God does not test us to bring us harm nor does He seek to cause us to fail. Rather, He wants us to have real faith and commitment; He brings us into situations where we can learn and grow in faith and receive our reward. We can take comfort in trials, as God is sovereign over them. His purpose is to refine us, form us, mold us, improve us, restore us, grow us, and strengthen us. Testing can also be used to move us to contemplate our attitudes, mindsets, and deeds so we can seek repentance, so we will "wake up" to our errors and seek Him. He does this much as a loving parent disciplines a child. Other times, God tests to bring about discipline, justice, and judgment. Jews believe that suffering brings atonement, but this is not what Peter means; rather, that faith is a precious commodity to God (Gen. 11:1-f; Deut. 8:2; 13:3; Judg. 2:22; Job. 23:10; Rom. 5:3; James 1: 2-4, 12-16; 1 Pet. 4:17; 5:1-4, 8).
We may think that God plays favorites, as some people just seem blessed while others are under constant struggle. However, we can take comfort that God does not play favorites; we all are His favorites. Blessings of the world are never a sign of God's favor; they will fade. The faith we exercise will build, and we will come to see more bountiful blessings than we can ever imagine. God is more concerned about what we do with what we have than with what we have! Always remember that Christ is our living Hope that will never fade away. Because He paid for us, we owe Him more than we could ever know! This is not passive on our part; we are active "in with" faith that gives us the joy now when we follow Him (Rom. 2:5-16; 3:22; 5:10; 9:30).
Spiritual growth is not a mandate for our salvation; rather it is the "oughts" that we must do. We ought to know Christ more and grow in Him more because we have already received from Him. We ought to pray more, we ought to read His Bible more, and we ought to be in Bible study and under good teaching. It is like being given a great Birthday present and then ignoring the Giver, not even showing up to the party. We can never give in the same manner Christ has given to us, but we can respond from wondrous hearts, fueled by His presence and our gratitude. It is a question of being thankful for what Christ did for us and not allowing the frustrations of life to be fuels, prisons. Rather, it is using His presence in us to employ and empower us. We are grounded in Christ by our trust, faith, and obedience-not by obligation, guilt, or any influences that surround us.
We have to see the need and urgency to grow deeper roots into Christ and His Word from which we gain our nourishment and substance for living; only then can we persist to live and grow in our faith, being strong and dynamic for our faith. We even have the power Holy Spirit sent from Heaven as it is His role to inspire and direct-from the books of the Bible to the messages of His leading, to us, the hearers of God's Word. The Holy Spirit is the source of the Gospel message.. Even though we evangelize, only the Holy Spirit can cause the Word to make sense and allow it to be received by the person; only the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to endure and be His light to the Light. Our lives becomes the testimony, the display, the product demonstration to His Message. And this only happens when we allow the Gospel, being infused by the Holy Spirit, to be lived out in our lives. The Gospel is that Jesus Christ, being fully God, lived on behalf of us, took our place for God's wrath, suffered in our place, and redeemed us. This is our call to be the messengers of the Gospel with the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:25-27, 45-47; John 3:3-6; Acts1:8; Rom. 8:14; 1 Cor. 12:3; Gal. 4:6).
We can pursue radical discipleship-being His, living for Him, dying for Him-by carrying His cross, knowing that He is more and we are less. We must do this by our spiritual formation-by our discipleship and application of Christianity-so that we allow it to take root further and deeper, so that the sign and voice needed to point others to Christ will be the fruit we produce (Gal. 5:22-23).
Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? Luke 9:23-25
There is hope and assurance when our trust is in Christ and His righteousness! He is our hope, even when the very foundations of the universe are collapsing around and under us. When our hope is in Christ, nothing can shake us (Matt. 25:46; Luke 12:32-34; John 1:6-18; 1 Cor. 7:29-31; 2 Thess.1:7-9; Heb. 12:25-29; Rev. 6:16-17; 11:18; 14:10; 16:19; 19:15)!
He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. Titus 1:9
© 2003, 2011, R.J. Krejcir Ph.D., Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.org