We cannot be Christ’s disciples on any other terms except those declared by Christ Himself. Jesus’ terms are summed up in His words in Luke 14:27: “Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” That is very straightforward, but what does it mean?
Many popular teachings emphasizing prosperity, success and self-fulfillment have paid too little attention to cross-bearing as a necessary condition for Christian discipleship. Jesus plainly asserted that cross-bearing is indispensable to following Him. Any version of the Christian life that fails to insist on this aspect of discipleship is based on a diluted gospel. Part of lack of attention to cross-bearing is due to a distorted understanding of its meaning.
The ministry that the modern church often designs for itself is not always the ministry of Christ. It is wonderful for a church to aspire to be busy, social, well thought of and accepted. But we often plan ministries and activities in our churches that are basically risk-free. We want a positive public image, and we sometimes work for that and try to preserve it to the detriment of an honest and fully biblical witness in the world. We don’t want to offend lest potential attenders and supporters are turned away from our meeting-house doors.
Yet Jesus and Paul both made it plain that in order to make the gospel pleasing to the ears of unsaved men and women, its real message about sin and the need for salvation must often be compromised. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:21-25, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified.” If the message of the cross appears foolish to the world, the life that is lived on the basis of that message (what I have termed “the lifestyle of the cross”) will be deemed equally foolish to the world. In 1 Corinthians 1:17, Paul wrote that God sent him “to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
Many Christians are attempting to make their impact on society through social activism and legislative action. While involvement in these areas may have their place, the most effective way God has given to us for changing the world is to change one heart at a time with the pure message of the gospel. That message confronts people with the claims of Jesus Christ on their lives. Peace talks, military strength, arms treaties, diplomacy, economic strategies, political agendas and picket lines are not the forces of change the world most needs. What is needed most is the gospel presented by God’s ambassadors in the world (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). The time and energy of Christ’s disciples are best spent in the simple and whole-hearted declaration of the message of the cross to people on a personal level.
The Christian hope makes believers to be optimists in the best sense of the word. The lifestyle of the cross is not a life in which we seek self-fulfillment by pleasing ourselves, but rather it is a life in which we trust that joy and peace will come to us through complete obedience to God on His terms. In surrendering one’s life to God’s purpose, the believer knows that it is God’s plan to bless. God’s purpose in the world is to use believers to bring others to faith. Sometimes God leads His disciples into risky situations in which we must implicitly trust Him.
Only by living the lifestyle of the cross can we find the power for victorious living, and the power to take the kingdom of darkness by storm!
This article is an excerpt from The Lifestyle of the Cross.