The Cross and Discipleship

THE CROSS

                At last! Through the muddiness of modern Church teachings, and the simple complexity of everyday life as a human, the Spirit has guided me to a galvanized understanding of perhaps the most fundamental tenet of Christianity. Now I can not only distinguish Christianity from all its counterfeits, but I can package it clearly for other people to understand. This won’t make me wealthy. It will make me poor. It will not make me famous. It will make me a criminal. It won’t make me live large. It will bring me down to the scum at the bottom of stagnant ponds: like Jonah in the belly of the whale. “Salvation comes from the Lord.”

Without further ado I will share this glistening gospel gem with you, dear reader. I don’t think it will take long. Let’s start with Paul’s first letter to Corinth. In response to a report that the church in Corinth was divided, he said, “I’m glad I didn’t baptize any of you, so that you would think that I had saved you.” But he goes on to say,

17 For Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News—and not with clever speech, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power. 18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. 19 As the Scriptures say,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise
and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.” (Isaiah 29:14)

20 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. 21 Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. 22 It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. 23 So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.

24 But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. [1]

What is this “message of the cross” that invalidates all the wisdom and strength of humanity? It became clear to me when I recently saw a post by a friend of mine on Facebook. A certain elected national leader had a hammer in his hand and was captioned to say, “I don’t like losers.” And in the background you could see Jesus hanging on a cross. This picture, as you may guess, was controversial, but what really struck me was not the controversy of the religious leader’s respectability, but the cloudy misunderstanding surrounding Jesus’ death on the cross. This post by my friend helped me galvanize a scriptural principle that I believe gets to the heart of the message of the cross.

Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.[2]

Here, Jesus points out that the cross will cost the most fundamentally important relationships a human can hold: family. As he ended in this passage, the first principle can be stated The Cross requires everything even something as precious as family. The message of the cross indicates that there is only one doorway to salvation. It is the door Jesus made by hanging on the cross: total surrender and death to one’s old life, to one’s old self out of humble submission to the Righteous Judge.

This part of the teaching is not as offensive. Some people would say, “I have heard this before, and have even implemented this principle in my life.” What I think most people fail to acknowledge is what this level of surrender, death, and submission will actually cost them. The principle I discovered was this.

Jesus’ time on earth shows that there are two kinds of people in this world: those nailing Jesus to the cross, and those who are being nailed right up there with him.

There is no third option. That means you, dear reader, are either one nailing Jesus to the cross as His judge, or the one being nailed right up there with him under God’s righteous judgement.

What? Really? That sounds harsh. Yup. Now I’m going to go through what I believe to be four kinds of people who may read this and find it unacceptable:

  1. You may say, “I am not getting hung on a cross, but there’s no way I would do that to a fellow human being!” No? Imagine a great political leader told you that there was a man who was bewitching the population, and determined that he had to be exterminated. Also imagine that this political power said, if you follow him or are associated with him, you too will be exterminated. Chances are you would not stand up for the guy even if you thought his teachings were alright. In not siding with him though, it is like the bully beating up the kid on the playground while you watch. Your inaction is a choice to act in favor of the bully.
  2. You may say, “I identify with Jesus, so if the time came I would be willing to be crucified with him.” Really? What if that meant leaving your family behind with no one to care for them? What if that meant being villainized and falsely accused of being a socially morally unacceptable thing like a pedophile? Would you still identify with him then? The question is not about “if the time came” The question is about right now. It is foolish and naïve to believe that you would die for Christ, if you do not truly exclusively live for him now. This is the message of the cross. You who identify with Christ, do you share the burden of His sufferings even leading up to the same way He died?
  3. You may say, “God wants me to be happy. Jesus already died on the cross for me so I wouldn’t have to.” You are partially incorrect. God wants you to be happy in eternal things. If your happiness is in anything that money or time on earth can afford you, then you have missed the point. Furthermore, Jesus death on the cross wasn’t to “take your place,” like many churches espouse in their sermons assuring forgiveness for sins, which of course is there. Jesus’ death on the cross was to “make your place.” Persecution, self-denial, suffering wrongfully as a doer of righteousness—these are the inheritance, function, and purpose of the believer in this life. Power, wealth, fame are temporary substitutes for what brings lasting joy. If they are given in any fashion to the believer, they are a means to the ends of Him who “though He was rich, for your sakes became poor.” This is the oneof whom you are becoming a mini-version, by becoming a “little-Christ.” You may say, “If my sins are forgiven why do I still need to get on the cross?” Because Jesus did, and you are not more righteous than He are you?
  4. You may say, “I have enough smarts and heart to know that letting anything like that happen to anybody would be tantamount to unthinkable.” That line of thought is patterning after a character sketch of “a captain of his own ship trying to find his way in the world with his conscience in tact.” What such a man would have to appreciate is that the message of the cross requires the denial of one’s right or ability to be Judge. Even if you judge righteously, you still are the one in need of being judged. Salvation is only to be found in the submission to the Judgment of God, who is not only the True Judge, but He is also a righteous judge. You may not understand or believe in His justice, but if you live in the world long enough you will be faced with a choice to recognize how irreversibly broken the world is. The only doorway to life is through the cross, where everything is submitted to God’s lordship, and whatever is of God will survive.

The reason there is no third option, I can articulate better after talking with my fiancé about it. She heard my bolded principle above, and shared, “Or perhaps the third option is, you are both.” That is indeed what I am saying. Every one of us have been a crucifier of Jesus. You are either the one Crucifying Christ, or the Crucifier of Christ who has surrendered to the death you are worthy of. And this is no cheapening the value of one’s life to ending it frivolously wrongfully like in suicide. This is the re-valuing someone’s life as in itself being worth nothing, but in right humble standing before God worth giving up for salvation of ourselves and others.

A Story, I hope will illustrate this principle better. A soldier had been nailing criminals to the cross his entire career, until one day He had to crucify a righteous man. The man looked and saw that the righteous man did not deserve to die, but saw that he himself deserved it. He cast aside his armor, and ordered his men to nail him to the cross right next to the man. All who passed by mocked him, but some of his men wondered: what solidarity could a man claim with a righteous man wrongfully condemned to death?

It is this solidarity with Christ that the cross represents. Jesus bore the sins of the whole world on that cross. We carry around in our body the dying of Jesus, just as Paul wrote about his apostleship:

For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now. I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.[3]

The message of the cross is offensive: You’re either embracing Jesus’ death yourself, or you’re the one swinging the hammer.

DISCIPLESHIP

Allow me then to share this pattern for discipleship, based upon the life of Jesus which leads to this proper understanding and manifestation of the cross in a person’s life.

SCRIPTURE: First there is a catechesis stage, where the student (disciple) is familiarized with the basic teachings of the Gospel in the Old and New Testament. This is the stage for listening, asking questions and increasing in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man.

CONVERSION: Second, there is a baptism wherein the Spiritual journey begins with the Lord sending His spirit upon and into an individual. This is the point I would call Conversion.

SPIRITUAL POWER: Third, there is a time for the Holy Spirit’s leading to temper all fleshly, proud, and sinful passions in the heart and body. This is where the disciple learns how to pray, how to hear His voice, to face his own sin, and to grow in Spiritual strength and power and prepares the disciple for the end purpose of his life: The cross.

COMMUNITY: Fourth, there is the accountability to a local church body, in which after these things have occurred, the disciple reveals to them what God had shown him to be true, and what is that mission into which he will be walking. This is where the disciple learns his proper place in the Church as a part of a body of believers, and applies the giftings and power of the Holy Spirit.

SERVICE: Fifth, this disciple will begin implementing the mission and investment of the Holy Spirit in him to serve the body of Christ, and the world and the poor in the community around him.

WARFARE: Sixth, is the standing up for the poor by going against those who abuse them. This is where the social activism will doubtlessly make enemies in the established religion and the government.

PERSECUTION: Seventh, is the point when the disciple fully comes to display Christ: The Cross. When the Believer is not able to dissuaded from his aggressively loving opposition of the enemies of freedom and peace, there will be no choice but to kill him. This is the end of a disciple’s walk here on this earth. While it does not always end in death at the hands of enemies, “He who endures to the end shall be saved.” “And this is the victory that has overcome the world: our faith.”

The result: He who has walked all seven of these stages is a Christ-ian indeed, because he has denied himself, taken up his cross, and done as Jesus did. And unless you are walking according to this principle, and the cross is where you are headed, then you are simply striking the hammer deeper into the flesh of the son of God, who loves you and gives himself for you still today, along with all who bear His name.

For those carrying the cross now, one parting word of encouragement from Peter.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

[1] 1 Co 1:17–25. NLT

[2] NASB Mt 10:34–39.

[3] 1 Co 4:9–16.

[4] 1 Pe 4:12–14.

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