If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me

by Mike Ratliff

11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:11-13 ESV)

God’s ways are amazing to me. If you go back to the earliest posts on this blog you will find a group of people commenting at that time in very fundamentally sound and edifying ways. It was a very spiritually exciting time for me. When the enemy would attack, everyone would come to the battle armored up and things got interesting. However, through many of those “encounters” it became apparent that God was doing something through them. He was revealing to us the costliness of following Jesus. During those times I lost friendships and even had some family members distance themselves from me. This is is notwithstanding the outright hostility I and many of my friends have experienced from those who view our obedience to God as legalism. Their view is that relationships take priority over obedience to God.

As many of you know, my favorite book outside of the Bible is John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan, a Puritan, spent seven years in prison because he was a preacher, but a nonconformist in the eyes of the Anglican Church. He preached the pure gospel unencumbered by the empty religiosity of The Church of England at that time. However, God used this persecution in the man Bunyan. When he came out of prison for the last time, he had with him the manuscript for The Pilgrim’s Progress ready for a publisher. God uses suffering to prune his people. We are the clay. He is the potter.

On the other hand, the majority of what calls itself the Church in our time is actually a form of idolatry called Churchianity, which is the worship of and faith in those who claim to be the “Body of Christ.” The focus of this form of idolatry is “relationships” above all. This religion has no concept of the holiness of God and the pursuit of His righteousness in obedience to Him. Instead, it is simply shallow religiosity coupled with relationships. They look upon those who live set apart in the sanctifying fires of the Lord as being holy rollers or people bound up in legalism.

In Mathew 16:13-23 we have the account of our Lord asking the disciples who the people thought He was. After their answer, He asked, “But who do you say that I am?” That is one very important question my brethren. Sadly, so many get the answer wrong. Peter got it right though when he replied,  “σὺ εἶ ὁ χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος.”  or “You are the Christ the son of the God of the living.” The word “Christ” is the Greek word χριστὸς, which means Peter was confessing that Jesus was the Messiah. What was Jesus’ response?

17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar- Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 16:17 ESV)

I pray that you did not miss that no one knows this to be true unless God Himself reveals it to him or her. He must open the heart for those born dead in trespasses and sins in order for them to know divine truth. Jesus ended this discourse by strictly charging the disciples to tell no one that He was the χριστὸς. In vv21-23 He revealed how He was going to the Cross and be killed by the enemies of the truth. Peter rebuked our Lord saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Our Lord responded, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance (σκάνδαλον) to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the thing of man.” The Greek word σκάνδαλον translated in the ESV as “hindrance” and in the KJV as “offense” is the source of our English word “scandal.” It was used to refer to a snare or trap as the cause of ones failure in sin.

Think of the vast majority of professing Christians out there in how they would respond if we rebuked them as our Lord rebuked Peter here. What was the rebuke? Peter was setting his mind on the things of man rather than the things of God. He was attempting to force Jewish tradition with his own expectations of the Messiah on our Lord. Our Lord’s teaching of His upcoming death on the Cross was not according to that plan. How often do we attempt to force our own expectations in our pilgrimages onto what God is doing as He works in and through us? What do we do when those with whom we fellowship reveal in their arguments and pressure in their attempts to change our direction and focus in our following Christ that they are focused on the things of man rather than the things of God? In the early days of my walk before the face of God, I attempted to conform to the wishes of the men in our church rather than appear different through my obedience to the Lord. However, those days are over and God has pruned away much of what was in me that loved the praise of men over my obedience to the Lord.

There is only one I desire to please with my walk before the face of God, my Coram Deo, that is the Lord alone. Sometimes, in my research for an article like this one, I will go back to the early days of this blog to read a post. It is amazing as I go through the comments how many used to respond with deep and wonderful things, but they no longer do so. Why? We came to a point of contention about something and I had to choose between making them happy by agreeing with them or I had to stick with the clear truth from God’s Word and confront their error. I absolutely hate it when that happens, but I serve one Lord. This has been costly and there are times I deeply desire to let someone else do this. However, God has not taken away His hand from this ministry yet so I will continue until He does.

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 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? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. (Matthew 16:24-27 ESV)

24 Τότε ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ· εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσω μου ἐλθεῖν, ἀπαρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι. 25 ὃς γὰρ ἐὰν θέλῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ σῶσαι ἀπολέσει αὐτήν· ὃς δʼ ἂν ἀπολέσῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ εὑρήσει αὐτήν. 26 τί γὰρ ὠφεληθήσεται ἄνθρωπος ἐὰν τὸν κόσμον ὅλον κερδήσῃ τὴν δὲ ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ζημιωθῇ; ἢ τί δώσει ἄνθρωπος ἀντάλλαγμα τῆς ψυχῆς αὐτοῦ; 27 μέλλει γὰρ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἔρχεσθαι ἐν τῇ δόξῃ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ μετὰ τῶν ἀγγέλων αὐτοῦ, καὶ τότε ἀποδώσει ἑκάστῳ κατὰ τὴν πρᾶξιν αὐτοῦ. (Matthew 16:24-27 NA28)

The only ones who are truly following Jesus also deny (ἀπαρνησάσθω) themselves. This means that they put their desires and wants aside in place of their obedience to Christ as they take up their own crosses and follow Him. This is true discipleship. Those who are His true disciples are required to completely abandon the natural desire to seek comfort, fame, or power. Instead, they are called to obey the Lord in all things.

My brethren, I promise you this; if you are living this way then it will cost you friendships. It will cause splits in relationships, even in families. It is costly. The majority may look upon you with disdain and write you off as a divisive person not worth knowing, however, didn’t our Lord suffer persecution and even death at the hands of those who hated the truth? Why would we think we who are His disciples would somehow not partake in His sufferings?

Who is Lord? Are you calling the shots in your walk and service or is Christ? What do you do when the Father prunes you? If you are a true disciple then you remain in the True Vine who is Christ. It is this pruning that makes us fruitful in the eyes of God. The world may look at it and not be so impressed. That is okay, for all that really matters is what God knows about us not what the world thinks.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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