(Article published in the Faith section of the Park Rapids Enterprise, February 4, 2017)
Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after Me, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Me. For the one who would save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a person, if they gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Or what shall someone give in return for their life?" - Matthew 16:24-26
To follow Christ is not a doing but a dying. Life in Christ is not about giving us our best life now, or opening up for us a path strewn with roses. Life in Christ is actually death, because we are actually dead - the walking dead of the world, scraping our way through life, with only one option, to trust in the One who says that He has come to bring us life. We trust in Him only in the way He has come to us - in a death; a death on a cross that crushes all other things, all other possibilities, of what we might see as best for us under the weight of salvation.
In this way, we live a life that is outside of us - a life that is one of self-denial. This is not to say that we deny things in a manner as an ascetic would, in order to purify ourselves or to make ourselves worthy of this Jesus. It is that we are removed from the things that we think we can hold onto in this world. These things could be the past, the future, a lifestyle, a career, our health, our wealth, even our very selves. These things that we think are perfect to keep close to our chest, but instead we exchange them for the cross. However, as Kosuke Koyama says, “The cross has no handle.” It is not something easily carried but is heavy and harsh. The cross is only meant for death. It has no other purpose.
When we follow Christ, we carry this cross daily, but the good news is that our cross is not “ours”, but His. We lay our hands upon it, but only grasp it in some form of a death-grip to keep up with our Jesus who continues to take this cross to Calvary. To take us to this place of death and dying to bring all of our personal piety to an end. So, that day after day we die, are buried, and raised to new life. Each day needing this crucifixion of our souls to come in repentance to the throne of grace to receive what He offers, which is mercy.
This mercy is what comes as we forfeit our lives. We attempt to gain the whole world, but lose it all. We attempt to build for ourselves a kingdom and end up losing it to the King of kings. We end up giving nothing, while Christ gives us everything. We end up thinking we have it all, but discover, at the cross, that the world has nothing that we desire besides our Jesus (Psalm 73:25).
He lives in us and has sealed us in the Spirit, and so we walk in Him to do what He has done through us; His works done for us. We love because He has loved. We heal because He has healed. We feed and bring water to the thirsty because He fed us at the mountain and washed us through His wounds. These things are not done to hopefully please Him so He might bless us. We do them because service is the crucified life. It is the dying to self and living in Christ.
In Your mercy, gracious Lord, lead us to live in the shadow of Your cross. Help us to die to all that might lead us astray, and cause our faith to be in You as the one who brings us life and salvation. Amen