In amongst the resolutions to drink less, exercise more and live life differently I’d love to follow Jesus better than I did last year. Am I alone in wanting that? I suspect not.
But what does that actually involve? What does a life following Jesus look like?
Last term’s preaching programme afforded me the privilege of preaching on Luke 9, where Jesus said these words,
23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
Jesus does not describe the way to become a disciple. He describes the way to live as his disciple. And so, in his own words, Jesus explains what it means to live like him. He says it involves three things.
1. Being Jesus’ disciple means following him (23)
If any of us wants to follow Jesus we need to deny our self and take up our cross. When Jesus talked of self denial he didn’t mean deciding to give up chocolate, or caffeine. It means no longer thinking of ourselves as autonomous independent decision makers. It means an end to self determination, self legislation, self centeredness, self indulgence, self promotion and self preservation. And when Jesus spoke of taking up our cross he didn’t mean it literally. He meant it symbolically. It conjures up in our mind’s eye a man on a one way journey to death. And so when we take up our cross it means that we’re crucifying our sinful selfish desires. This is what Jesus modelled. That’s why, when we do this, we follow him. We’re simply going where he’s gone already. We follow his lifestyle. And his lifestyle was supremely one of self sacrifice out of delightful and willing obedience to His Father.
This is going to have a massive effect on what we do. It’ll affect what we do with our time. It’ll affect what we do with our money. And it’ll affect what we do with our abilities. We’re going to need to examine our own agendas. What we want to do may not be what we ought to do. The decisions we make about how we’re going to use the life that God has given us need to factor in God’s will.
2. Being Jesus’ disciple means losing our life for him (24&25)
Jesus puts two choices before us. We can try and save our lives or we can lose our lives. To save our life means to preserve it from self denial. It means to keep it for ourselves. To lose our life means to give it up for Jesus. Paradoxically if we try and retain our existence we’ll end up losing it when it most matters; at the end when we face divine judgement. But if we give it up; if we spend it and consume it for Christ, we’ll end up saving it for all eternity. It’s a clear choice. And if that wasn’t enough Jesus then adds a ruthless piece of logic. There’s absolutely nothing to be gained by trying to preserve your life. It makes absolutely no sense. Even if you gained absolutely everything that the world had to offer for all of your earthly existence it wouldn’t be worth it from the perspective of eternity. There’s nothing that this world can offer to compensate for losing yourself for ever. Jesus warns us not to make a very bad investment deal. ‘What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?’ Nothing.
This world has so much to offer us. Few of these things are wrong in themselves. And yet all of them can entice our hearts away from our obedience to Christ if we value them more than we value him. None of these things is so valuable that it’s worth losing your soul for all eternity. If we don’t factor in eternity then we’re in danger of making some very bad investment decisions with our lives.
3. Being Jesus’ disciple means identifying with him (26)
Those ashamed of Jesus words will face his rejection when he returns. The words Jesus has in mind are these words in Luke 9. The bottom line is that Jesus will not accept anyone into his glory who has not asked him to be a part of their lives. Being Jesus’ disciple means identifying with him. It means associating ourselves with him. It means aligning ourselves with him and his agenda.
I'd love 2010 to look like this, you? So let's remeber these following three things
This is an ongoing commitment; we’re supposed to be doing this daily. When we become a Christian we begin a life of daily self denial and cross bearing. This is the ongoing pattern of our lives.
This is an ultimate commitment; we really are giving up our lives. That’s not a small thing. And so don’t be surprised if your sinful nature rises up in rebellion at the whole idea.
This is a personal commitment; it’s for Jesus. We’re not doing this because it’s a lifestyle that works for us. We’re doing it because of our personal loyalty to Christ.