Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Thursday, 26 March 20:
Mark 8:34 — “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
In the above verse, Jesus describes the continuing actions or endeavors that mark the “way of the disciple” or the “way of the cross”: deny self, take up the cross, follow Jesus –
— Deny self: Denying self is far more than self-denial, depriving yourself or denigrating yourself. Denying self involves setting your mind on the things of God rather than the things of man and walking on a revealed path for His purposes rather than by your own understanding for your own purposes. John Calvin says that self-denial is willingness “to give up our natural inclinations, and [to] part with all the affections of the flesh, and thus [to] give our consent to be reduced to nothing, provided that God lives and reigns in us.” Denying self is a continuous, ongoing, inward act. Only you and God know if your being is centered on Jesus or focused on self. The opposite of the discipleship way is putting self before God – that is what Satan does; and when we do it, we are essentially following the devil’s lead as Peter discovered when Jesus rebuked him, “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns (Mark 8:33).” Peter was likely focused on the prospect of his personal loss and his personal pain that would be caused by Jesus’ death, and Jesus’ death did not fit the plan for victory that Peter had envisioned. His worldly thinking was in opposition to the plan of God, hence one of Jesus’ most emphatic rebukes. Denying self is to “have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16, Philippians 2:5).”
— Take up their cross: This is much, much more than simply patiently enduring trials or bearing up under affliction. It is not about what is happening to us in the world but rather it is about accepting who we are in Christ. Taking up the cross is accepting and proclaiming our new identity in Christ saying, “I am in Him, and He is in me.” It is about identifying and uniting with the Crucified One, not just outwardly with our mouths but inwardly in our hearts and minds with all that is within us. It is the personal recognition that we not only died with Christ but were also made alive with Christ to live our lives solely for God (Romans 6:8, 10). We joyfully take on the name of Christ, and in union with Jesus, we willingly choose the Father’s destiny for our lives regardless the personal cost. As Paul described: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).” Taking up the cross in relationships is not just turning the other cheek, displaying grace, returning good for evil, it is doing so with a heartfelt goal of reconciliation for the offender, with genuine love for your “enemy,” who, through the love of Christ, we no longer see as others would. Taking up your cross is not just accepting persecution; it is accepting persecution in the name of Christ with the goal of Christ, seeking a greater fellowship with Him for ourselves and for the persecutor, genuinely from a heart of true love for God and for the one who would hurt us — “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
— Follow Jesus: This is an inward act before it is an outward one. It is not just about conforming our outward behavior to God’s standards (something Jesus tried to explain to the Pharisees), but continually and humbly and personally responding to the conviction of the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts and minds. This is not about rote religious rituals or traditions. This is your one-on-one discipleship with Jesus where you personally respond to Him, where you remain connected to the Vine. Only you and God know if, in your inmost being, you are truly following Jesus. This is a relationship; it’s not a program, it’s the person of Jesus. This is about “abiding” in Jesus and obeying his commands out of genuine love for Him – “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4, 5)
In our natural minds, we tend to define and reduce the “way of the disciple” to the physical realm, “persevere through the trials of life and do good things.” However, “The Way” deals with the inside, the spirit, the heart, your authentic self. “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) Pray that God will give you the heart of a disciple.
* Note: Christianity was often referred to as “The Way.” (Acts 9:2; 19:9; 19:23; 22:4; 24:14; 24:22).
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 28 Mar 19: Today, really focus on denying self rather than just self-denial. Seek genuine “oneness” with Jesus, in heart, mind, and soul. Seek to step outside of self to see things as God sees them. Seek only His will, not yours, and endeavor to follow Him, not out of a sense of duty, but genuine love. The key is receiving His love and letting it flow through you rather than trying to work harder to create your own love. (Mark 8:33-38)