Posts Tagged ‘Discipleship’

Embrace The Cross

Embracing the Cross

© C. O. Bishop 2013 THCF 6/2/13

Introduction:

Last week we discussed the tendency that we, as humans, have, to avoid discomfort, and circumvent the Cross, in our dealings with God. As sinners we want to approach God as if we were NOT sinners. As created beings, we want to approach God as if he were a fellow creation, instead of the almighty, holy, all-knowing, all-powerful God of all time and space. God reasons with us, giving us time to repent, but ultimately insists that the only way we can approach Him is through the agency of Christ. Jesus, who is in fact God in the flesh, is our only intermediary, bridging between the whole fallen human race and the Holy God who desires to redeem us.

But let’s say that I have finally submitted to God’s directive; I have humbled myself to realize that I am a lost and condemned sinner, and that I need a savior. I have placed my full trust in Jesus’ blood at the Cross as my only hope for salvation. I have become a child of God! My troubles are over, right?

Well–no. When God redeems a sinner it is by means of the new birth. I gained a new nature, and that new nature is righteous and holy, just like God. But I still have my old nature, and it has had fifty-eight years to practice and grow strong in rebellion and pride and foolishness. My new nature is a baby by comparison. I need to feed my new nature on God’s Word, so that it will grow strong, and I can learn to walk with God. I need to learn Discipleship.

What is a Disciple?

Jesus had a fair bit to say about discipleship: He repeatedly stated the need to count the cost of discipleship; the need to make the person of Christ the central issue in one’s life, and to join him in the journey to the cross. In Luke 9:23, he made the statement that a disciple should “…deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Him.”

Many people have misunderstood him to have said that this is the recipe for salvation. It is not. In John 6:28, 29, the people asked him “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” He answered them and said, “This is the work of God; that ye believe on him whom He hath sent.” So, salvation comes by faith in the person and work of Christ. Discipleship is the logical result of salvation.

What does it mean, then, to “Take up the Cross?”

Remember that the Cross is a means of death, and nothing but that. It is not a pretty decoration, or a piece of jewelry, though we frequently see it that way. It was one of the worst, most cruel means of execution used by the Roman Government. We would find it pretty repulsive if someone today had a little gold electric chair as a piece of jewelry, but the electric chair is quite humane, compared to the cross.

A person who had taken up his cross was a walking dead man–he was headed for a cruel execution. Jesus took up his cross for the joy that was set before him, according to Hebrews 12:2. He did not do it because it was a good religious exercise. He was going there to die, knowing that his death, specifically, would be the satisfaction of God’s Holiness, for the sins of the whole human race. “For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame…”

All the way through the Bible, the concept of Death has to do with separation of one sort or another. Adam and Eve were separated from fellowship with God the moment Adam ate that forbidden fruit. They were spiritually dead, separated from God. Adam experienced physical death 900 years later, as his spirit and soul were separated from his physical body. All of us have experienced spiritual death, as we are born in that state. Virtually all of us will experience physical death, as it is appointed unto us once to die. But there is another kind of death, called “the Second death.” People who experience what is called “the Second death” are permanently separated from God, in the Lake of Fire. Death always implies separation of some sort, not simply cessation of life. So what does the Cross separate us from?

Galatians 6:14 says that “…the World is crucified unto me and I to the World.” I have been separated permanently from the World, whether I like it or not. Galatians 5:24 says that those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts. In God’s eyes, at least, the old sin nature is no longer part of who I am. It is definitely still there, but I need to recognize that it is dead to me, and learn not to respond to its clamoring demands. God only wants to fellowship with my new nature…he sees the other as dead. I need to learn to see it that way, too.

Galatians 2:19-21 says “I, through the law, am dead to the Law that I might live unto God. I am Crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the Grace of God, for if Righteousness come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain.”

Our crucifixion with Christ is a fact. It is not something for us to try to accomplish. We take up the cross when we accept the fact that we are separated from the World and from our old self, and choose to live that way. So what does it mean when one talks about “having a cross to bear”?

Is all suffering “bearing the cross?”

In a word; No! We hear people talk about something being their “Cross” to bear. Frequently it has nothing to do with suffering at all, much less suffering for Christ. Just because you don’t like some circumstance does not make it a “cross to bear”. Even if it is genuinely “suffering”, there are many kinds of suffering.

Philippians 1:29  states that “unto you it has been given on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on His name but also to suffer for his sake.” So we need to know what that means.

Thirteen reasons for suffering:

As far as I can see from God’s Word, there are at least 13 different reasons for suffering. There may be more, of course; my understanding is limited. Let’s look at the ones I do understand:
In the first place, let’s remember that God is Sovereign: He does not require our approval. His ways are just, even when we don’t like them. God defines righteousness. The evil that is in the world came here as a result of Human sin, not Divine caprice. But it is not always “punishment”, and it is not always “suffering for Christ”.

So, we can begin with:

  1. Consequences of Original Sin. There are bad things happening in the world; it is full of tragedy. The world got that way when Adam sinned. Romans 5:12—“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Everyone experiences some of this, in varying degrees, whether or not they are believers. It has nothing to do with “suffering for Christ”.
  2. Consequences of Personal (past) Sin (or simply error, etc).—there can be (and usually are) consequences for sin, folly or error. This is not punishment per se, but simple consequences. Sometimes the natural consequences for an error are seen as punishment—but punishment implies wrongdoing, and some error is not wrongdoing, but just bad judgment, or clumsiness, or ignorance—all can have terrible consequences. I have a cousin who is missing an arm. He lost it because he fell out of a tree as a young boy, and broke it…and the attending physician did not realize the bone had pierced the skin, and plunged into the soil before pulling back into the flesh—thus infecting the flesh with bacteria that nearly killed him. They had to amputate the arm to save his life, and even so, they nearly lost him. Was it Punishment? No—it was partly original sin—there are terrible bacteria out there (remember the ground was cursed…); bacterial infections can disfigure, maim, or kill a person. It was partly error on my cousin’s part—he fell out of a tree; kids do that. It was partly error on the physician’s part—he was not careful enough in his diagnosis. But possibly, even had they known exactly what they were up against, they may have lost that arm anyway. No matter how you look at it, it is not punishment. But it is also not suffering for Christ.
  3. Consequences of (current) Personal Sin. God may institute chastening in a believer’s life to turn us away from error. It is still not the same as punishment. God says the wages of sin is death—eternal separation from God in the lake of fire. That is punishment. Jesus said (John 3:18) “He that believeth in Him is not condemned; He that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten son of God.” We who are believers have placed our trust in Jesus’ shed blood at the Cross: where is our Judgment? At the Cross. Where is our sin? At the Cross. Where is our punishment, our condemnation? At the Cross. But God does chasten believers, to straighten them out. (Consider Jonah: do you think his trip back to the beach was fun?) This can go as far as physical death; remember that Annanias and Sapphira were believers who lost their lives because of sin. This is still not punishment, nor, obviously, is it suffering for Christ.
  4. Training, or testing, in the sense of an athlete, or soldier, or student. God still refers to this as “chastening”, but it is not punishment, nor even as a result of wrongdoing. It is a “workout” given so that we may profit thereby. Sometimes God allows us to go through hard times to develop our faith. James 1:2-4 says “Count it all Joy, my beloved Brethren when ye fall into divers temptations, knowing this; that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” God loves us and subjects us to stresses to make us better able to serve, and better able to stand against the evil of the world. (Have you ever noticed that an athletic director or coach never selects someone at random out of the bystanders in the bleachers, and makes them run laps after practice? He only requires that of the members of his team.) Another way to look at the same concept is “pruning”. John 15:2(b) states that a genuine, healthy, live, fruit-bearing branch of a vine may still be pruned to make it more fruitful. This is entirely up to the vine-dresser…God, in this case. We trust his good judgment.
  5. Because it is simply God’s will for us at the time. Job did NOT know what was going on in his life, nor why he suffered the loss of all his possessions, and all his children in a single day. We were given a little peek into what was going on. God did have a purpose, and it had nothing to do with any error on Job’s part, nor, apparently, any need for correction, testing or training (though we could read that into the result). God had his own purpose in Job’s life, and was not required to explain it all to Job. (And he didn’t, as far as we know, unless Job was the author of the book, and God gave him revelation to know what all had happened behind the scenes.) But Job was neither being punished (God says so!) nor was he suffering for Christ, so to speak. It was simply God’s will for him.
  6. Consequences of Personal Righteousness. This is an odd one—we think that if we are doing right, everything ought to go well…and sometimes it does. There is a verse, (Proverbs 16:7) that states, “When a man’s ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him”. That is a general truth—in general, that is something we can expect. But if our enemies are God’s enemies, then at some point, we will be attacked for being good. 1st Peter 2:19 “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.” Also, there may be advantages to immoral or unrighteous behavior (perhaps a promotion, in an ungodly business world) that we will simply miss out, because we choose to behave righteously. This is the beginning of “Suffering for Christ”.
  7. Suffering for Faith. Being subjected to threat from those around us, and suffering rather than renouncing faith. (This is related to #6, consequences of personal righteousness, but is a little different.) Under genuine persecution, a believer may be offered a chance to recant his faith in order to escape persecution. Refusing to recant, and accepting the suffering, is part of the believer’s lot. During the early days of the church, many lost their lives for that very cause. Philippians 1:29 “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake”
  8. So that we may be a comfort to others. 2nd Corinthians 1:3-11 (read) Verse 4. That we may comfort others with the same comfort wherewith we were comforted by God.
  9. So that our consolation in Christ may abound. Verse 5. As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so may the consolation of Christ abound. We are called to join Him in the fellowship of his sufferings (Philippians 3:10). But we are to experience the reality of His consolation, as well. (Habakkuk 3:18)
  10. So that others’ consolation may abound through us. Verses 6-7. We can learn from the experiences of those around us. We will not experience everything ourselves.
  11. So that we will learn to trust God, and not ourselves (could be tied to #5, as in Job’s suffering). Verse 9. This is an important one.
  12. So that we as Christians may learn to pray for each other. Verse 11.
  13. So that Thanksgiving may be offered on our behalf. Also verse 11.

Embracing the Cross

I frequently have told my students at work to “embrace reality”. By that, I mean that they should accept the reality of work, the reality that life “isn’t fair”. Sometimes life is hard, but we are to embrace that reality and go ahead and function. That is what maturity teaches us; to accept responsibility and go ahead and function when life isn’t fun.

God wants us to embrace the Cross: we are to accept the reality that we are separated from the World (we no longer can really feel at home here, as we see the monstrous reality of Man’s rebellion against God, and his cruelty toward other creatures, animal or human.)

We are to accept the reality that we are separated from our old sin nature–it is no longer the “real me”. My old desires are a foreign thing, now. They are definitely not the desires of my new nature. Ephesians 4:24 says that my new nature is “…created in righteousness and true holiness”, in the likeness of God. I must accept the reality of my two natures, and daily choose to feed the new nature, and fulfill its desires, rather than those of my old nature. I can never “coast” or “glide”. It is accurately called a “walk”: it demands day-by-day, step-by-step choices, in order to follow Jesus.

One of the things God requires of us is that we love our neighbor as ourselves. That we be concerned with the needs of those around us, as much as with our own needs. That Agapé love that he requires of us is not possible in the flesh, I am convinced. In fact, the whole Christian life is not possible in the flesh. The Christian life is not difficult; it is impossible apart from daily (moment by moment, really) choosing to allow the Holy Spirit to Love and Live through us. But that means constantly embracing the fact that we died with Him, and then allowing Him to live through us.

It certainly isn’t easy, folks. But that is what the Christian life is all about.

Embrace the Cross, and Learn to Walk with Jesus.


Have we Circumvented the Cross?

Circumventing the Cross

© C. O. Bishop 2013

Introduction:

I re-read an old novel a few weeks ago, one that is widely known and appreciated, in which the heroine goes to a tiny Appalachian community (setting in 1912), and is mentored by a Quaker missionary, who has tirelessly worked to gain the confidence of the people, and to bring the love of God into their homes and hearts. (All sounds good so far, right?)

The two women and the various others in the story demonstrate the grace and love of God in their lives, and gradually people are won over, hearts soften, people desire to learn literacy, begin to read their Bibles, and God’s character miraculously begins to show up in people’s lives. That all sounds great, too, right? And it really does…except that, after I had finished the book, and actually began to think about it, I realized there was something missing. The writer had preached the love and grace of God, and had seen transformed lives, and visions of Heaven, even, all without a single mention of Christ! There was no blood sacrifice—nothing offensive about this Gospel, because it left out the Cross, and left out Jesus Christ, entirely. Even the vision of Heaven was without Christ—just a bunch of happy people wandering around playing with babies.

A Bloodless Sacrifice for Sins

You recall the story of Cain and Abel. Most people may primarily remember that Cain killed Abel, which is true, of course. But they forget the root cause: Abel had correctly approached God with a blood-sacrifice for sin, as had been demonstrated in Genesis 3, but Cain had brought a bloodless sacrifice—a worship offering, perhaps, but one that ignored the fact of sin. The sin issue has to be addressed, one way or another, before worship and interaction with a Holy God can begin. God rejected Cain’s offering quite gently, reasoning with him that he (Cain) knew what was required, and that if he did what was right, He (God) would certainly receive him (Cain) as well; there was no respect of persons here.

Cain rejected the plan of God, and, in anger, went and murdered Abel.

Why would he reject God’s plan? Apparently he did not want to confess that he needed a savior. He did not want to bring a blood sacrifice, confessing his own sin…he apparently thought he should be able to address God as an equal. (We are most certainly not God’s equals. We are not the creator; we are the created beings, and sinners, besides.)

But taking it a step further; what if he simply confessed his sin, and threw himself on God’s mercy and Grace, but still brought a bloodless sacrifice? Would that be OK?

No! The Holiness of God must be satisfied, or fellowship can never occur. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me.”  What do you think he was talking about? By acting like Him? By seeing him as a great teacher, and trying to obey his teaching, and follow his lifestyle? Or by admitting that only His blood can save, and that I, personally, need a savior, or I cannot be saved?

Why do we reject the Cross?

Today people reject the cross for a variety of reasons, but all can be traced to two fundamental reasons: They consider it offensive, one way or another, or they consider it utter foolishness, and will not consider the possibility that God’s Wisdom is so far beyond theirs that it seems to be foolishness, simply because they can’t begin to understand it.

They either think it offensive: (a) that a Holy God should require a blood sacrifice for sin (such a heathen-sounding thing!) or (b) that He should consider them a sinner, and that everything they do is tainted by their sin.

Interesting that those are the two grounds for rejecting the Gospel, today— those are also the reasons that were mentioned in 1st Corinthians 1:23. Paul said “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block (an offense) and unto the Greeks foolishness”. But he went on to say that Christ is the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God. In another passage (Romans 1:16), referring specifically to the Gospel of Christ, Paul stated that “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto Salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” The Power of God! The Gospel is Christ, in a nutshell. And he is the only way given for us to be saved (“…neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12) Has it ever occurred to you that when the book of Romans states that the Gospel of Christ is the Power of God to save those who believe, it is stating an “exclusive” truth? There is no other thing in the scriptures, described as being the “power of God” to save believers; Just the Gospel. There is no other way given by which we may approach God; Just Christ. And yet, as a race, we continue to reject God’s only plan of salvation. There is no “Plan B”. This is it, folks! If you are not specifically preaching the Cross, you are not telling people how to be saved. If you are not specifically dependent upon the Cross, yourself, then You are not saved. There is no other way.

What about the religions (or preachers) that ignore the cross?

When a religion (or preacher) circumvents the Cross, regardless of how nicely they teach the rest of the scripture, what must we conclude? Surely such nice people must have a right standing with God, mustn’t they? Surely if I follow their teachings, I will also have a right standing with God…right? All those nice, pious, gentle, pleasant people can’t be wrong, can they?

Then what about sin? How do they deal with sin?

What do we do with Sin?

There are only three ways that human religions deal with the issue of Sin:

  1. Deny that it exists at all. Nothing is intrinsically good or bad.
  2. Admit that it exists, but deny that it ultimately matters… God is too loving and kind to condemn anyone. Just do your best to live right, and God will accept you.
  3. Admit that it exists, and that it matters (God hates sin!) and demand that the sinner do many good works to expiate all the bad works (penance, alms, service). God will accept you if you do enough good to overbalance all the bad.

Any of those three will result in the eternal loss of the adherent. Your faith will not save you if the object of your faith cannot save you. It matters who you trust and what you believe. If you trust in a crook, you lose your money; if you place your faith in a false God, or a false religion, or a false creed, or false principle, you lose your soul…you are eternally separated from God, in eternal punishment.

Truth is not dependent upon what people believe.

Truth is a fact, regardless of what anyone thinks:

  • Either God is Holy, or He is not.
  • Either He created all things, or He did not.
  • Either Man is a sinner, or he is not.
  • Either sin requires a blood-sacrifice for forgiveness, or it does not. (Doesn’t that sound primitive and gory? Surely we have progressed beyond such savagery… Doesn’t that argument sound familiar? “Ye shall not surely die…” Satan can sound pretty persuasive!) It doesn’t matter what I think about it—it either is true or it isn’t.

There is no middle ground. These are black-and-white issues. Truth does not depend upon public opinion. God addresses each of these questions numerous times in the Bible.

  • He clearly states, numerous times, that He is Holy. He cannot abide Sin.
  • He gives a fairly detailed account of the creation, with many later references to that historical fact, all pointing to the fact that He is the Creator, and has full authority over His creation.
  • He gives a detailed account of how man fell into sin, and many references to that historical fact, all agreeing that Man is a fallen creature, lost, apart from God’s Grace.
  • He demonstrated the blood sacrifice in Genesis chapter 3, accepted a blood sacrifice (and rejected a non-blood sacrifice) in Genesis 4, demanded a specific blood sacrifice in Exodus 12, and ultimately declared Jesus Christ to be the fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices, in John 1:29, and many other New Testament references. He concludes (Hebrews 9:22) that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”…and that only the blood of Christ can achieve the satisfaction of the Holiness of God. (1st John 2:2, cp. John 1:29)

Now: you can believe whatever you want to about these things. Only you can choose. But if you reject these truths, no one else can take the blame, either. You are fully responsible for your own choice.

Assuming that you have chosen to believe God, and have placed your trust in the shed Blood of Jesus Christ as full payment for your sins, then you have become a child of God, by the new birth. You are responsible to Him, personally. He has assigned you the job of being His ambassador to the lost world. You have been given a message to deliver. Two questions, then, remain:

  1. Do you know what that message is?
  2. Are you willing to deliver it?

Both are a yes-or-no issue, but we recognize that even if our answer is “yes” to both, there are degrees of practical competence involved. How well do I know the message? How willing am I to deliver it? There is always room for growth. We grow stronger with study and practice.

What is the Gospel? 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4 states the portions of the message that must be there:

  1. The death of Christ for our sins
  2. His burial (demonstrating that he was really dead, ) and
  3. His resurrection, demonstrating that he really is the savior.

If we leave out this message, or selected parts of it, then we are not delivering the message, period. When one claims to be “Preaching the Gospel”, but is circumventing the cross, they are NOT preaching the Gospel, and may be inviting people to avoid eternal life.

The whole message of salvation is wrapped up in the preaching of the Cross.

Paul’s message:

At Athens, though Paul had been preaching Christ faithfully in the Synagogue and in the marketplace, when he was called upon to speak publicly, he gave a “slick” sermon that has appealed to human reasoning down through the ages, ever since. It was NOT effective then, nor has it been effective when people have emulated it to any degree, since then. People do not come to Christ because of reasoning—they come to Christ because they believe the Gospel; they choose to place their trust in the Blood of Christ. The door to the truth is the will, not the intellect.

Paul left Athens immediately after delivering that sermon (no church was established there), and went to Corinth with a new resolve to “know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified”. He was resolved to “…preach the Gospel; not with wisdom of words, lest the preaching of the Cross be made of none effect.” Has it occurred to you that we can “muddy the water” by our meddling with the truth, adding our arguments, our persuasion, etc.?

Paul delivered the message he was given. We need to do the same. Preach the cross of Christ. Do not make the Gospel more palatable by excluding the part people don’t want to hear. That is the part they desperately need.

What would the Passover be without the Passover lamb? Just a skimpy meal? The real Passover saved the believers because of the scarcely dry blood of that lamb, on the lintel and the two doorposts. The Cross, even 1500 years before Christ, was the salvation God prescribed. Do we like that? Not really, perhaps, but it is the simple truth. We cannot save ourselves, and God only offers one way whereby He, himself, can save us.

We either believe it, and are saved, or reject it and are lost. It’s a black-and-white choice.

And, as His emissaries, we either echo that message, offering that salvation to others; or we dampen and water down the message, and condemn our listeners. Again, it is a clear choice.

When we deliver a “comfortable” message, only preaching the goodness and grace of a loving God (which we all want to hear), then we ignore the holiness and judgment of a righteous God, and thus circumvent the Cross. The result is eternal loss. We have made people comfortable in their lost state, and convinced them that there is no need for a savior. Remember that John 3:16 states that “how” God loved the world was that he gave his only begotten son. (“…God so loved, that he gave…” The means of loving was the giving of Christ) Yes, we preach the love and grace of God—but we preach the Cross as the means of receiving that Love and Grace.

In Galatians 2:21, Paul said, regarding this very matter, “I do not frustrate the Grace of God, for, if righteousness come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain.” If you can approach God just by “being good”, then Jesus died for nothing…he wasted his life, and his death was pointless.

If you preach a message that circumvents the cross, then you declare that Jesus died for nothing; that his death was pointless. And if a church approaches God in that way, it is a false church, and leading its people to Hell. Sounds harsh…but it is the simple truth.

We don’t want to be accused of any such thing. We preach the Cross, and encourage our listeners to place their trust in the blood of Jesus as full payment for their sins. If you desire to be the ambassador God has called you to be, then learn the message, and start learning to deliver it.

God help us all to be the Men and Women of God that he has called us to be.