Calling the crowd along with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me and the gospel will save it. For what does it benefit someone to gain the whole world and yet lose his life? What can anyone give in exchange for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Today’s passage is probably one of the most well known and often quoted passages, but do we really understand what Jesus is telling us here in this well known and often quoted passage. I believe the answer to that question is no, and so my goal for today is that you would gain a deeper knowledge of what Jesus is telling you in this passage.
When Jesus said here “deny himself and take up his cross” he meant to put aside one’s own selfish desires in order to follow Christ and serve his purposes, whatever the cost. The cross that Jesus was referring to here is a symbol of suffering, death, shame, ridicule, rejection and self-denial. A follower of Christ who takes up their cross is making a deliberate choice to deny their own selfish interests and way of life and to boldly identify with Christ. What this means is that your own identity gets so connected with that of Jesus that your own reputation cannot be separated from your relationship with Christ. This kind of identification with Christ requires a commitment in four areas of struggle and suffering for the sake of Christ:
- We struggle in a lifelong battle against sin and must willingly endure suffering by crucifying or putting to death, not feeding and becoming unresponsive to our own sinful desires.
- We struggle in a war against Satan and the demonic powers of evil and must be willing to suffer rejection and hardship in order to promote Christ’s purposes on earth. In the process, we will experience spiritual opposition and hostility, and we will face resistance and persecution as we stand against false teachers who corrupt the true message of Christ.
- We suffer hatred and ridicule from the world because of our devotion to Christ and his standards of truth and right. People will strongly oppose us because our example and testimony expose the evil of their beliefs, behaviors and lifestyles. We must remember that our examples and testimonies must be conveyed with love and humility.
- Like Jesus, we may also suffer ridicule and persecution from religious people or ungodly leaders.
What all this means is that we must spiritually separate ourselves from the world and its beliefs. 2 Corinthians 6:17-18 has this to say about our separation from the world spiritually, “Therefore, ‘Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.’ And, ‘I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.’” The concept of separation from evil is fundamental to God’s relationship with his people. According to the Bible, separation involves two dimensions—one negative and the other positive. The negative dimension relates to what we must avoid or not do and the positive dimension relates to what we should seek after or most do.
- Negative Dimension—We must deliberately separate ourselves morally and spiritually from sin, which is everything that is contrary to the work and character of Jesus Christ and God’s Word.
- Positive Dimension—We must purposefully pursue a deeper and closer relationship with God through time spent in prayer, God’s Word, worship and service.
By putting our primary efforts into pursuing a deeper relationship with God and fulfilling his purposes for our lives, we will naturally take on Christ’s character traits and become further removed from evil. This two-way separation results in a deep sense of our relationship with God as our heavenly Father who lives with us by his Spirit and takes care of us because we are his sons and daughters. And there are seven thins that we need to know about this spiritual separation from the world.
- In the Old Testament, separation was an ongoing requirement for God’s people. They were expected to be holy. This meant living a way that was distinct and different from those who did not follow God. Though it may have seemed like an extreme measure, God typically required Israel to remain separate from the people of other nations whose corrupt lifestyles and religious practices would influence his people to rebel against him and abandon their faith in him. One key reason God punished his people by allowing them to be conquered and exiled into Assyria and Babylon was their continued desire to worship false Gods and imitate the wicked lifestyles of the nations around them.
- In the New Testament, God commanded Christ’s followers to remain separate from the corrupt world system and from behaviors that compromise God’s standards of purity and integrity. To remain separate from those in the church—particularly those who say they are followers of Jesus—who disobey and defy God and refuse to turn from their own ways and follow Christ with passion. And finally to remain separate from false teachers, churches or religious systems that promote ungodly beliefs and deny the truth of God’s Word as revealed in the Bible.
- Our attitude as we are separated must be one of hatred toward sin and the corrupt world system, opposition to false religious teaching, true compassion for those from whom we must be separated in perspective and behavior, including a willingness to pray for and reach out to them with the love and message of Christ, and a respectful fear of God that will cause us to remain pure and true to his purposes.
- The purpose of separation is that we as God’s people might hold fast to the way of righteousness through Christ and grow in our spiritual salvation, our faith and our personal purity and holiness. As we grow in our service and devotion to God as our Lord and Father. And lastly as we grow in our ability to influence and convince others of the truth of Christ’s message and the blessings of following him.
- If we separate ourselves in true faith and willing obedience, God himself rewards us by bringing us into a deeper relationship with himself. As a result, we will have a greater sense of his protection, blessing and fatherly care. He promises to be everything that a good Father should be. He will be our counselor and guide, and he will love and cherish us as his own children.
- The refusal of God’s people to separate themselves from evil will surely result in the loss of companionship with God, of acceptance by the Father and of our rights as children of God.
- Separation does not mean that we refuse to communicate with or reach out to sinners. Yes, we certainly must avoid relationships, activities and behaviors, even with people in the church, that would cause us to compromise or defy God’s commands, principles and standards. But with God’s guidance we also must find ways to reach out to people in love and communicate the message of forgiveness and new life through faith in Christ. However, in doing so we must not foolishly expose ourselves to ungodly temptations and evil influences that could lessen our influence for and relationship with God. Many once-committed Christians have made regrettable choices in building close relationships with those who choose to live without God and his standards. As a result, they have discovered the truth and reason behind God’s repeated warnings about avoiding spiritually questionable activities and close associations with people of poor character.
Jesus ends his teaching on being separate from the world spiritually with these words, “For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). Jesus sees the world system and the society in which we live as an “adulterous and sinful generation.” In fact, most of humankind are unfaithful to God’s purposes for their lives and are outright rebellious against him. When Christ returns, he will reject all those who have been more concerned about how people view them, then about how God views them. So, it would be wise of you to consider whose side you are going to be on, because unless you have completely separated yourself from the world and its values then you have made yourself an enemy of God and everything that he stands for. And that is why it is vitally important for those of us who are followers of Christ to deny ourselves daily and take up our crosses in order to follow him.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
Leviticus 20:22-22:16, Mark 9:1-29, Psalm 43:1-5 and Proverbs 10:18