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Do I REALLY Need To Leave It All?

Do I REALLY Need To Leave It All?

Jesus demands nothing less than a total commitment from those who choose to follow Him; and that whoever follows Him must be prepared to give Him everything that they are and have.

Linda Castillo | Jan 10, 2018

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) Every time I read these words, my heart leans in to embrace being a better Christ follower, YET tons of questions to come up almost immediately: Do you REALLY mean that I MUST give up my own way? What’s wrong with my way? (And then I remember...lol) Take up MY cross? Follow You WHERE? And then I wonder, “Did Jesus ever have these questions or thoughts?” I know that He knew His purpose---and the cross was a divine necessity. And when Jesus was on earth He set a perfect example of self-sacrifice. He put God’s will above His own desires and comforts...all the way to the cross. As Christ-followers, we too need to show the spirit of self-sacrifice. What does it mean to have a self-sacrificing spirit? It means that a person is willing to give up his own interests in order to help others. In a way, it is the opposite of selfishness. Being unselfish can help us to put the feelings and personal preferences of others above our own. Jesus taught us that unselfishness is at the heart of our worship. How so? Christian love motivates us to have self-sacrificing spirit...the kind of love that identifies us a Christ-followers. Selfishness may be compared to rust. If an iron object is exposed to air and water, it might begin to rust. Ignoring rust is very dangerous because if it is allowed to spread, it can cause a structure to collapse. Similarly, although we cannot remove our imperfection and selfish tendencies, we must continue fighting these tendencies. If we are not careful, our self-sacrificing spirit will be ruined. I had a chance, not long ago, to visit with an unbelieving friend. We enjoyed coffee together and talked for awhile about the Christian faith. One of the things that I love about my friend is that she is very honest and open with me. And so, in the course of our conversation, I asked her about what it was that was keeping her from turning his life over to Christ and trusting Him fully as Savior and Lord. She talked with me about some of the doubts and intellectual questions she had about the Christian faith, and I tried my best to answer them. And near the end of the conversation, I believe we got to the bottom-line on the matter. She told me plainly that the ultimate reason she didn't want to give her life to Christ is that she knew where following Christ would lead her in life, and she quite frankly didn't want to go there. She knew the demands that Christ would make of her, and she didn't want to give up the things in life that Christ would require her to surrender. Though I appreciated my friend's honesty, I was saddened her choice. And I'm still praying for her. But one thing that strikes me about my friend is that she recognizes something that very few people—even some professing Christians—seem to recognize. She recognizes that there is a tremendous cost involved in following Jesus. My friend recognizes that Jesus demands nothing less than a total commitment from those who choose to follow Him; and that whoever follows Him must be prepared to give Him everything that they are and have. This shouldn't come as a surprise. Jesus taught this clearly. Think of that! Jesus didn't just say that, unless we forsake all that we have, we would find it 'hard' or 'difficult' to be His disciple. He lays it on the line: Unless we forsake all that we have, we "cannot" be His disciple. Unless the commitment is total, we “cannot” be His disciple. It seems to me that Jesus often said this to weed-out many of His "would-be" followers. Many began to follow Him. But then, in the midst of their following, He would turn to them and remind them of what "following" Him would really require of them. And as a result, many of them left Him and followed Him no further. They had counted the cost and decided that they didn't want to pay it. I'm not sure but that there may even be several times in our lives in which the Lord finds it necessary to confront us with the cost of following Him. Because He loves us so much and is so jealous for our complete devotion, I suspect that He is willing to do this again and again in our lives; until He fully strips us of the vain things of this world, and truly has full possession of our hearts. Jesus reminds us that those who wish to follow Him must follow Him by way of the cross. What does THAT mean? First, Jesus tells us that we must deny ourselves/give up our own way. Jesus isn't simply speaking here of a minor little act of denying ourselves something that we want—like a bowl of ice-cream after dinner. Nor is He speaking of the more extreme forms of self-denial that we see in many of the religions of the world. Many have denied themselves many things and thought that they were being very spiritual in the process. And yet, they were actually focusing in on themselves the whole time. Jesus isn't merely speaking of “denying” ourselves something. He is speaking of nothing less than a full denial and renunciation of our very "selves". And in the original language, the word that is used is a very strong one. It means to “deny utterly”; to completely “renounce” and “disown” our natural focus toward “self” entirely. Jesus tells us—as the first step in His call—to dethrone “self”. We must lay aside our “agenda”, and the pursuit of our “rights”, and the satisfaction and accomplishment of our "ambitions" as the chief object of our life. In short, unless we decidedly step out of the 'driver's seat' of our own lives, and allow Jesus to sit there in His proper place, then we cannot even begin to truly follow Him. Second, Jesus tells us that we must take up our cross. To "take up the cross” puts practical action to the idea of "denying the 'self'". It means to embrace a complete readiness—at all times and in all situations—to consider that we have no more rights than a condemned man would have on his way to execution. It would mean that we deny ourselves even to the point of death—just as Jesus did for us. It would mean that we consider, as Paul has said, “the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 5:15). It would mean that we testify, as Paul was able to testify of himself, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). And finally, He says that we must follow Him. This means that we must imitate Him. We must go where He goes, and act as He acts, and walk as He walked. It means that we must obey His commands, and keep faithful to His instructions. It means that we must set Him apart as Lord. When I think of this, I often have a picture in my mind of Jesus walking along a path—with me walking along behind Him. Sometimes, as I follow behind Him, I might get distracted—looking around at the scenery, or be thinking about my own concerns and wishes. And then, when I eventually look up, I find that we had come to a fork in the road—and that I'm on one path, and Jesus is on another. At such times, I look down the path that I'm on and see that the way is smooth and comfortable. There are flower gardens and shady trees along the way. But when I look ahead and see that the path that Jesus is on, I see that the road is a hard one. The way He has chosen is rough and narrow, and I can't see what's ahead. And then, I see Jesus stopping and waiting for me on the other path—calling out to me, and saying, “Linda; I'm on this path. Come. Follow Me.” And it's then that I must make the decision to leave the path I'm on, cross over to the path He's on, and follow Him. That is what I believe it means, in a practical sense, to follow Jesus. And if I may, I believe that there's a definite order of events involved in the things that Jesus says. We cannot follow Him unless we have taken up the cross—the instrument of our own death. And we cannot take up that dreadful cross unless we have absolutely and completely denied “self”. Unless we have denied ourselves, and have taken up the cross, we will only be kidding ourselves if we think we're really following Jesus! So you see; Jesus doesn't demand “much” from His followers. He demands “all”. The level of commitment He demands is total. It costs us everything to follow Jesus. But I quickly add that it's a price we can safely pay. He demands everything from us, but He never takes from us without also promising to give us infinitely more than He takes in return! Let's respond to Jesus' invitation, then, by asking the Spirit of God to reveal to us what may be standing in the way of our fully following Him. Let's allow the Spirit to remove the things from us that keep us from a whole-hearted devotion to Christ. Let's allow Him to teach us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him.

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