CARRYING OUR CROSS
CARRYING OUR CROSS Copyright Š 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright Š 973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
The Lord Jesus told us if we would be His disciple we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. There are some understandings, actions and attitudes we can adopt that will help us as we patiently follow the Lord, carrying our cross of imprisonment and denial.
CARRYING OUR CROSS
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sistersyes, even his own lifehe cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26,27)
There is the Christian religion and there are those who adhere to the Christian religion and attend church faithfully.
Then there is another institution and those who participate in it. I am referring to Christian discipleship.
Among the millions of people who adhere to the Christian religion and attend church faithfully there are a few disciples.
If you want to know who these people are in your assembly, they are those who are denying themselves and carrying their cross as they follow Christ.
The cross has two arms, we might say. One arm is that of deferred desire. There are relationships, or circumstances, or things which we desire intensely. But to grasp them we have to break Gods laws. This is one type of cross.
The other arm is our having to remain in a situation we detest. We cannot escape the situation without breaking Gods laws. This is another type of cross.
Sometimes these two, the deferral of desire and the imprisoning circumstances, are combined.
We may be married, for example, and are unhappy. Then someone comes along whom we desire intensely. But we know we have no real, godly reason to divorce our wife or husband. This is our cross and we are to carry it cheerfully.
Sometimes there are genuine grounds for a divorce. But ordinarily there are not; it is just that we are not "happy" in our present circumstance.
The true disciple does not waver. He continues in his situation until God changes it. He understands he is living on a cursed earth and that there is no way to make the world a happy place. He understands also that God is requiring that his desires be deferred in order to perfect him in patience and obedience. His cross is the means of his salvation from worldliness, lust, and particularly self-will.
It appears to me that the average American church-attender has no intention of spending his or her life in such imprisonment.
Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:2,3)
"To humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands."
"He humbled you, causing you to hunger."
We are approaching a new, wonderful world of righteousness. Therefore God tests us in the present world by causing us to hunger, that is, by placing us in a situation in which what we crave is denied us.
We are learning obedience and patience. Today God is calling out those who will be the rulers of His new world. Each one of them must be in the image of God in the areas of obedience and patience.
Sometimes the believers are left with the impression they will govern with Christ. This is true, but only for those who are willing to go for years in miserable imprisonment, as did the patriarch Joseph.
There is much deception in our day. Numerous believers are living in one sort of delusion or another. The only escape from delusion is to patiently carry our cross.
I have been saying for years that the Charismatic movement will be divided into two groups: those who are willing to share Christs sufferings, and then the great majority of believers who are not willing to share Christs sufferings but are looking for gratification in the present world. The minority, the godly, militant remnant, will be placed on the thrones that govern the creation. The majority will be part of the False Prophet and of Babylon the Great.
The majority of Charismatic leaders and their followers may make great religious promises and noises, but they will have no actual Divine power until they deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow the Lord Jesus.
Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. (Revelation 3:4)
A few from among the many believers in Sardis.
We will never possess the power of Christs resurrection until we are willing to share in His sufferings.
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, (Philippians 3:10)
My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long? (Psalms 6:3)
We Christians, as is true of all human beings, are deeply, essentially rebellious and impatient. Only the cross of deferred desire carried over many years is sufficient to purify us from our ungodly nature.
"I cant stand this for one more minute," we cry. But then we are required to continue in our misery for forty years. Will we force our way out of our prison, or will we be faithful to the point of death? The crown of life is at stake.
We have a very high calling on our life. But to lay hold on our upward calling requires the consecration of every inch of our personality every day for as long as God requires.
Only those who are totally committed to the Lord will endure the tests and pressures that fill the path to eternal life.
Notice that the Apostle Paul associates the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, with knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection.,
And then associates the sufferings and the knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection with attaining the resurrection from the dead.
And so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:11)
There is no question, in terms of the third chapter of the Book of Philippians, that the supreme goal of the Apostle Paul was to attain the resurrection from the dead.
It is remarkable, isnt it, how Pauls goal has been hidden from our understanding!
The idea is simple and straightforward. As we are willing to deny ourselves and accept the deferred gratifications of our personal cross, the resurrection Life of the Lord Jesus Christ increases in us. Each day we are given an opportunity to deny ourselves. Each day we increase in resurrection life until we can say with Paul: "I am crucified with Christ. Nevertheless I am living. But it is not I who am living but Christ who is living in me."
Our transformation from a living soul to a life-giving spirit depends entirely on our willingness to deny ourselves and carry our cross behind the Lord.
So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being" the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. (I Corinthians 15:45)
In fact, the transformation from living being (soul) to life-giving spirit is the coming of the Kingdom of God into our personality. The Kingdom of God is God in Christ in the saints governing and bringing resurrection life to the works of Gods hands.
One can see immediately the difference between American Christian church membership and discipleship. Church membership is adherence to the beliefs and liturgies of a religion. Discipleship is a daily transformation from one kind of human being to another.
It is no wonder the Lord Jesus exclaimed that there are few who find their way to eternal life. We may think our subscription to the tenets of the Christian religion is the path to eternal life. It is not. The path to eternal life is a daily conformation to the death of Christ and a daily knowing of Him and the power of His resurrection. If our doctrine does not bring us to the Man, Jesus, in personal interaction, our doctrine is nothing more than the tenets of one of the many religions in the world.
Our goal is not Heaven, it is eternal life. Christ came to bring life to the spiritually dead children of Adam. But the way, and the only way, to the eternal life of the Kingdom of God is through the personal cross of the believer.
Well, one might think, there are mighty few believers on the earth who attain eternal life.
This is true.
There are unnumbered multitudes who will be spared destruction in the Day of the Lord because they have believed in Christ and been baptized, according to His commandment.
But membership in the governing priesthood, the priesthood of those who overcome the behaviors under the authority of the Lake of Fire, is limited to those who deny themselves and carry their cross after the Lord. Only they are competent and eligible rule the nations with Christ..
They are competent to govern the creation because they have attained the resurrection to eternal life and live by and in that supreme power.
They are eligible because the Word of God grants rulership to those who overcome the behaviors that always remain under the authority of the second death.
Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6)
He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liarstheir place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. (Revelation 21:7,8)
When we insist on escaping from the prison the Lord places us in, the prison of deferred desire, we no longer are eligible to receive the crown of life. The crown of life is the authority to govern the works of Gods hands by the power of incorruptible, resurrection life.
Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10)
Most of the heavenly positions of life and authority we as Christians hope to inherit depend for their possession on our willingness to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus Christ. They will not be granted on the basis of our membership in the Christian religion.
I was praying the other day about the death of a prominent Muslim. Do you pray for the Muslims? I hope so. There are many fine Arab people, just as in any race.
Suddenly it was as though the slain leader was standing in front of me. He was in a plain surrounding. I saw nothing unusual about the environment; it was just ordinary although desolate. I saw no houses.
He was furious!
He cried out, "Ive been lied to!" Maybe it was because he was not surrounded with beautiful women in a paradisiac surrounding, as he had been promised.
I do not make a practice of communicating with the dead. I had asked the Lord about the death of this man, and the above is what took place. I made no attempt, of course, to follow this up. Maybe it was a true impression; maybe not. Time will tell.
But it started me thinking. How many Christians have been taught that all they have to do is make a profession of faith and then join a church. They hope to have Christ meet them and say "Well done, good and faithful servant."
I wonder if they will be as angry as the Muslim leader when they discover they merely pass into the ranks of the multitudes of departed spirits to await the Day of Resurrection and judgment. Will these nominal Christians cry, "Ive been lied to"?
In the New Testament, a Christian is a disciple by definition. But in the reality of todays Christian church world, there exists the division I have mentionedthe division between the mere church-attenders and the fervent disciples of the Lord.
The true disciple ordinarily attends church like all Christian believers and usually is one of the more productive workers in the church. But he is not married to the church but to the Lord. His is a personal interaction with the living Lord Jesus Christ.
We have defined the two arms of the cross as delayed gratification and continued involvement in unpleasant circumstances.
What are some ways in which we can make a success of this imprisonment.
First, we must resolutely determine that we will not budge until the Lord removes the pain. We will remain in our situation until the Lord changes it.
By this I mean, we are prepared to stay in our prison until we die.
Once we decide we will continue for a limited period of time, and then if there is no relief take matters into our own hands, we are doomed. You can be sure the misery will continue for that period of time.
One of the most painful aspects of the Lords prisons is that we do not know when we will be released. Almost anyone can hold out for a specific period of time. But when we do not know how long the misery will last we have to get hold of ourselves or we will break out of our prison.
During World War II I enlisted in the Marine Corps for the duration plus six months. The true disciple enlists for the duration. If this is to the end of his life, so be it. He has made up his mind. He will not change.
God is faithful. We are being made in His image. Christ is called "Faithful and True." Let it be said of us that because Christ is being formed in us and is living in us we are faithful and true.
Many start in this race but few complete the course. These few were called. Then they were chosen. After this they were proven to be faithful. These are the ones who are made a part of the army of the Lord and inherit all things.
The first requirement for those who would make a success of the Christian discipleship is they must be determined to bear their cross as long as God directs. They understand one day He will lift the cross from their shoulder. What an unspeakable joy they will experience realizing they were tried in the fire and maintained their integrity. They have overcome as He overcame and are brought up to sit with Him on His throne.
The second action the successful disciple takes is to always pray for deliverance. Even though we are to set ourselves to endure to the end, it is Gods will that we pray to be released from our misery.
Do you remember that Paul prayed three times for the thorn to be removed? He prayed until he received an answer from the Lord that explained the reason for his affliction.
In many instances God refuses to explain to us why we are being assaulted in this manner, as in the case of Job, for example. In this case we are to remain faithful, praying each day that God will deliver us. However, we always pray that Gods will is to be done no matter how much we hurt.
If we do not continue in prayer for release, it may be we are accepting pain needlessly. We are not to just accept misery without praying. Neither are we to walk by the light of our own fires we have kindled. We are to hold steady, doing what is right apparently, and praying for the strength to endure the trouble and for God to remove it as soon as His will has been accomplished.
It is not unusual for the mature Christian to be attacked by the forces of darkness. He is not to accept dread, fear, and misery as being a normal situation. He is to pray God will remove the darkness from his life and surroundings. If he is sick he is to pray for healing. The true disciple is a forceful, decisive, joyous person.
The third way of enduring ones cross is to refrain from focusing on it.
While we are carrying our cross of deferred desire and frustrating circumstances it is difficult to keep from concentrating on what it is we cannot have. It is before us when we wake up, during the day, and when we go to bed at night. "If only . . ." "How long? How long? How long?"
However, if we focus on what we cannot have, and what we are being forced to do, we probably will quit and walk away from what God has for us.
We simply must keep attempting to forget what it is we cannot have, the prison we are in, and concentrate on something else. Usually there is something else we can do or think about. We can busy ourselves with whatever God has provided for us. There will be some way of escape so we may be able to bear our pain.
A final method of dealing with our personal cross is to pray that God will place joy before us. The Lord Jesus Christ was able to bear His cross because of the joy placed before Him.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12;2)
We need to have joy placed before us if we are to endure our cross to the end.
I think it is well to imagine what that joy might be. But the final decision should be the Lords.
If we ask Him, He definitely will place joy before ussomething to look forward to. Then we are to wait patiently until we receive the promise.
The Bible tells us we will be filled with joy in Gods Presence. If we patiently endure the deferral of our desires, the miserable circumstances we are constrained to endure, the time will come when we are filled with joy. It is difficult to picture joy when we are going through a dark valley, but this is the promise of God in His Word.
You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. (Psalms 16:11)
The supreme end of all of Gods working is joyto bring God Himself and all His creatures to eternal joy.
Satan became filled with self-will. The moment he did, misery entered the creation. To obey any will other than the will of God is to invite misery.
When we are suffering affliction it is difficult to keep in mind that the purpose of our chastening is to bring us to perfect joy. Not only to bring us to perfect joy, but to prepare us so we do not lose joy once we are given it. Adam and Eve had perfect joy but they were not able to maintain it.
It might be better never to have known joy, than to have known it and then to lose it for eternity. But this is what has happened to the disobedient angels.
One aspect of faith is the certainty that God is good and all His dealings with us are to bring us to joy. Satan put in Eve the doubt that Gods intention was to give her perfect joy.
The joy of the Lord is our strength. We Christians go through many pains, pressures, and problems. But as we look to Jesus we are able to emerge from our pain full of joy and strength. Ours is not a sorrowful way but one of righteousness, peace, and joy.
But we will never possess righteousness, peace, and joy while we are filled with our fallen, sinful nature. We can pursue fun, thrills, excitement, various fascinations, but we cannot experience lasting joy. Lasting joy is the possession of the Christ-filled nature.
It is the personal cross of the believer that brings about the destruction of our sinful nature and the creation of the Christ-filled nature.
If we would know the joy of the Lord we must cease from seeking to create our own heaven and earth. We must labor to enter the rest of God, that is, the place where Gods will and our will are identical. Numerous enemies will endeavor to prevent our entering Gods Person and will to this extent, but we can overcome all of them through Christ.
Let us who have faith that Gods is bringing us to the fullness of joy accept the daily deferrals of our most fervent desires. Let us continue with as little complaining as possible in our imprisoning circumstances. It is relatively easy to praise God when the days are sunny and the horizon is clear. But when we have been pressed down to what seems the very bottom, and then are willing to look up and worship Godthat is an act of majesty worthy of a king.
Christ knew the depths of suffering:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. (Psalms 22:1,2)
Out from that darkness came resurrection into the fullness of authority, power, and joy.
If God finds us worthy to suffer to the limits of our endurance, out from that darkness will arise resurrection into the fullness of authority, power, and joy.
Jesus informed us that many who are last will be first in the Kingdom. My interpretation of this saying is that many disciples who live in the closing days of the Church Age will be of first rank in the Kingdom of God.
I think in our day there is an unprecedented opportunity to attain the best God has to offer. It is as though those who have gone before us have established base camps. Now the summit is in sight.
Perhaps we are living in a period when sinful behavior is more available to us than ever before. How many pastors and believers are worshiping the slavering, ghoulish demons of pornography presented on the Internet!
It may be true that while there is more sinful behavior available to us, there also is more gracegrace that will take us to the heights of God.
Maybe it is in this hour, in our generation, that the Lord is developing generals who will ride with Him in the Battle of Armageddon, and who after that will inherit large portions of the new world of righteousness that is on the horizon.
How many Calebs are there who, unlike faithless Israel, will demand a mountain of their own to possess? How many American believers will leave the endless fascinations of computer technology in order that they may more perfectly address themselves to the pursuit of the Lord?
How many will, as cheerfully as they can, remain in the Lords prison when they can escape as readily as they wish? They can escape because the level of morality in the United States has sunk so low. The laws do not prohibit immoral behavior as they once did.
It appears to me that the believer who does not "sell all" in order to follow Christ into the grandeur of the Kingdom of God, choosing instead to occupy himself or herself with the world system of money and education, the lusts of the flesh, and the opportunities for personal expression, is behaving in a foolish manner. All the treasures he is spending his life to acquire are perishing while he yet is obtaining them.
The villas and camels of the rich young ruler, along with himself, are buried under many feet of the accumulated sediment of the centuries. What a disastrous choice he made. He could have had an inheritance in the new world of righteousness. But he chose instead the perishing pleasures of the world of his day. How sad!
What are some of the benefits we gain from suffering patiently under the hand of God, from enduring the wilderness of tribulation?
We learn to follow every command God gives us.
We are disciplined. We learn what is good and what is evil, and we receive wisdom and strength that we may embrace the good and utterly denounce and renounce the evil.
We learn the peaceful ways of holiness.
We are humbled.
We are tested until God and we know what truly is in the depths of our personality.
We learn to depend on God, on no one and nothing else.
We are driven into the rest of God, into untroubled rest in the Person and will of God.
We are taught to exercise patience until patience has its perfect work in us.
We learn godliness, which is profitable in the present world and in that which is to come. We are being prepared today for our life in the new world of righteousness that is on the horizon.
The concept that the members of the royal priesthood are being brought through an intense period of training at the present time is of the greatest importance. God is interested in our every thought, word, and action. If we are to make a success of governing the saved nations of the earth we must be changed into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ. Only the overcomers will inherit all things.
Above all, we must be shown to be perfectly obedient to God in all situations no matter how severe the trial of our faith.
As we stated in the beginning, there is the Christian religion, and then there is the institution of discipleship.
True Christianity is not membership in a religion. It is a transformation from one kind of humanity to another; from an adamic soul to a life-giving spirit. The adamic soul is born of the line of Adam and Eve. The life-giving spirit is born of God. They are distinct in kind.
Because the transition involves the death of the first personality and the creation of another, much pain and perplexity are involved.
Thinking about the Christian people, it appears few are pursuing the way to the fullness of Christ. It is like any other high calling in life. Many begin but few finish. Of the thousands who enroll in the university every year, how many finish the doctoral program?
If it is in your heart to bless God, mankind, and yourself, why dont you tell the Lord right now that you are a candidate for His highest and best? He will always provide the grace you need for each step of this most wonderful of adventures.
The Apostle Paul suffered patiently under the hand of God. His writings, as a result, have affected the course of Western and Eastern civilization.
The seed that falls into the ground and dies bears much fruit.
Let us, you and I, choose to suffer with Christ for a season. Then we will have all eternity to experience the joy that can be found only in the Presence of God, knowing we have made the best choice of allthat of losing our life for the sake of Jesus Christ and His Gospel.