The Attraction of the Cross

In a day of self-gratification, what we need is a clear picture of biblical Christianity

An easy way to help people forfeit their own soul is by helping them treasure and seek fulfillment in the things of the world. To them Jesus asks, “What does it profit if you gain the whole world and forfeit your own soul?” Those who live a life of self-denial do so because of the eternal gain that far surpasses any profit the world could offer. 

 

Recently I came across a discussion forum online where people in my city were asked how they would like to be engaged by churches for the first time. The proposals ranged from such things as gift bags and receptions to personal time with the pastor after the service and follow-up visits. Incidentally, I had been meditating on a passage I had known theoretically from childhood but never really grasped. (There are verses in the Bible we know to be at the heart of the Christian faith, and we do well to memorize them and quote them on occasion. But I fear that we are heretofore inoculated from the sharp edge these verses have that give shape to the contours of the Christian faith and distinction from all other religions of the world). The passage to which my mind returned with was Matthew 16:24-26, which reads:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Here we have an open, universal appeal by Jesus for people to come to Him in order to become His disciples. This is an introduction to the Christian faith by the Author and Founder of Christianity. He invites people with the words, “Come after Me.” But what does that entail?

Jesus answers with three simple and yet seemingly impossible demands. You must first, deny yourself, second, take up your cross, and third, follow him. Jesus does not force these demands as though people could be a disciple by spiritual or or physical threat. Rather, Jesus simply expects (and even assumes) that those who come after Him will live lives marked by self-denial–in short, they will live cruciform lifestyles. When get Jesus that is simply what happens.

But that’s the key – you get Jesus. Focusing more on what you get in having Him as your Savior and treasure is what makes it possible to follow Jesus with self-denial and to live a cruciform lifestyle. I fear that many of us have tried to do the self-denial thing but have come up frustrated and disappointed with ourselves. A life of self-denial apart from treasuring Jesus is impossible to sustain, and more than that, it does not impress God. God is pleased when we see and savor Jesus Christ for the infinite worth that He is to us.

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