"And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." - Matthew 10:38
Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is a lot more than just saying a prayer, hitting church once and a while, and reading a verse in the bible when things are going rough. When one becomes a Christian, a transformation takes place. We are adopted into God's family, and as such, his promise for eternal life. No longer are we enslaved to sin. The chains have been freed by Jesus Christ's redemptive work on the Cross! Because he rose again, we too live!
Jesus said you would know a tree by its fruits (Matthew 7:15-23). Why then do so many Christians seem to be bearing “bad fruit”? Unbelievers frequently cry that the church is full of hypocrites, and it tends to be more true than not (granted, such accusations are sometimes just attempts at mud slinging, and nobody is perfect). Something is terribly wrong in the church today when the only discerning mark between the believer and the non-believer is the occasional Sunday service attendance.
This is a stark contrast to what Scripture has to say about those who belong to Christ! We as Christians should stick out like a sore thumb in relation to the world! Peter writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). We are like aliens in a foreign land! C.S. Lewis once likened us to soldiers on enemy territory!
What are the marks of a true Christian? Christ answers, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). As believers in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit lives within us. This is remarkable – the very spirit of God is alive in us! As such, our bodies are truly temples of the living God (1 Corinthians 6:19). The Holy Spirit “bears fruit”, and as a result, if we are truly following Christ, we too will bear that same fruit, because that same Spirit lives within us. Those “fruits” of the Spirit are pretty obvious – they mimic the very character of God! They are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
All of these attributes of a Christian have a common thread: they are the result of a life that is abandoned to Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul has it right: “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24), and again, just one verse later: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (v. 25). St. Paul talks a lot about this “crucifying the flesh”. When one is born again, the old man dies. In Paul's words, the old man is “crucified”. In fact, Paul says he “dies daily” - as should we (1 Corinthians 15:31)! We must die to the flesh – the old, sinful self – that is lustful, covetous, murderous, adulterous, dishonest, and evil. Such things have no place in the kingdom of God, and we are now citizens of this heavenly dwelling. Discipleship and repentance go hand in hand. Light has no fellowship with darkness (2 Corinthians 6:14). Paul urges us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Philippians 4:1-3).
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” - Titus 2:11-14
This does not mean that we are saved by our good works. God's Word is emphatically clear on the matter. Instead, we are saved by grace – it's a gift from God! There is not a thing (or number of things) that any of us can do to earn our way to heaven. We are utterly hopeless when it comes to try and make ourselves right with God! Jesus Christ – God in the flesh - paid the price for us. He sacrificed himself and endured the cross so that we may live for eternity in fellowship with Him. If our good works and deeds could get us to heaven, we would have something to brag about. After all, we would have earned it and thus God would owe it to us to save us! What a gross misrepresentation about the nature of God and His redemptive plan of forgiveness and salvation! We are saved by grace through faith – lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9)! The old saying is wise: We aren't saved because we do good things; we do good things because we are saved!
Becoming a follower of Christ does not mean our problems in this world go away. It is a common misconception that when one becomes a Christian, life gets easier. The opposite is actually true, worldly speaking. Jesus warned his disciples, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19). The early church can attest to the worldly horrors that their new-found allegiance to the LORD meant. They were met with persecution, famine, disease, stoning, mockery, and in many cases, death. It is not difficult to see why Jesus instructed his disciples to “count the costs” (Luke 14:27-28)
How then can Jesus say that his yoke is “easy”, his burden “light”, and that we can find rest in Him? Throughout history, Christianity's persecutors have marveled at humble believers' response to torture and suffering. No matter how hard they tried, religious zealots, soldiers, governments, and all who have and continue to persecute the Saints have been unsuccessful in stamping out those who adhere unwaveringly to the Faith. Accounts of the martyrs recall how believers that were fastened to the steak, being burned alive, sang praises to their God in the midst of their suffering. Stories tell how Christians were fed to the lions, praying for their persecutors and asking for God to forgive them. Martyrs have hung on crosses for days, giving sermons from their painful pulpits to crowds below instead of dying in shameful silence. What hallmarks of the Faith! What courage and boldness! These men and women were driven by something! They had their eyes and hands on something and nothing could take it away! That something was Christ himself! St. Paul is right! “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21)! Torturers and persecutors begged the Christians to recant their Faith. “Just renounce your God, and you shall go free! You will be tortured no more! You will live!” In beautiful stubbornness, they each refused. They saw that a life without Jesus was no life at all. They had tasted the Lord, and saw that He was good (Psalm 34:8)! No matter what their circumstances were, history has proven time and time again that those who trust and wait on the LORD are joyful and have peace! I want faith like that! That's a faith that walks its walk, not just talks it! It's a faith that is contagious to people! It is the most pure and loving testimony of them all! Do we have that same sort of unrelenting love and perseverance for God today?
We can find joy in every circumstance! No matter our predicament – even in the face of death - we too can be at peace and joyful in our zeal for the living God! The apostles were a testament to this powerful truth. Their epistles and Luke's accounts in the book of Acts relentlessly tell of the early church's refusal to let their surroundings dictate their joy. Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns to God during one of their imprisonments (Acts 16:25)! Stephen saw God as he was being stoned to death (Acts 7:59)! Christians throughout the centuries have proven over and over again the truth of Christ's words – his yoke is easy, his burden is light, and in Him we find rest!
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
We have an example to follow in Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. St. Paul wrote an excellent summary of the remarkable example of Jesus in His letter to the Philippians that we can all admire and aim after: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)
Few truly abide in the living God. We try to be “part-time” or “undercover” Christians, instead of going all in on Jesus Christ. God wants so much more for our lives! We are all called to give up our right to ourselves. This is the nature of being a disciple of Jesus! Surrender your right to yourself. The more we give up our life to Christ, the more life we find. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). God doesn't just want part of you – He wants all of you! Die to yourself! Commit yourself to Christ Jesus! Take up your cross and follow him! Humble yourselves, like Christ did, becoming the servant of all men and obedient to the point of death! Live a life that is set apart for God! Follow in the footsteps of Jesus, and find life!
Read this article there too! http://www.inthylight.com/2012/09/to-stand-apart-following-footstep...