“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven… Anyone who loves their father or mother… their son or daughter, more than me, is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
[Jesus] told them what they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat – I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self.
(Lk 9.23&24, The Message)
Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me. Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
When the will of God crosses the will of man, somebody has to die.
(Addison Leitch , quoted by Elisabeth Elliott in Passion and Purity, 2nd edition, 2014)
What does it mean to walk in ‘the way of the Cross?’ It is no uncharted road, although for each of us the particular features of the landscape through which we walk might be different. It is a road clearly marked out for us by Jesus, and the only way in which to truly live as one who has crowned Christ as Lord in their heart. It is a path which requires us continually to say – with Jesus – ‘Father, your will be done, not mine. Glorify your name in my life.’
To walk in the way of the Cross is to admit before God that my own desires are tainted and unreliable as a guide, that sin has cut me off from right-thinking and choosing, that I cannot trust myself to see what is good and what is evil. It is to return to the choices in Eden, and instead of stretching out my hand to take what is forbidden, I put my hand into God’s hand and ask his help to accept his definitions of good and evil.
If Christ died to save me, so that I can live in God’s love for ever, then surely I am motivated to surrender to his Lordship in all of my life. It is both a sacrifice of self and a joyful offering of my desires and will to God, as I learn to put His will first and centre. Unwillingness to surrender will indicate those places in my life where I am denying Christ’s authority, and failing to trust in his love and goodness. Is Christ Lord of my budget? Is He Lord of my affections? Is He more precious to me than ambition or a good reputation and popularity in my community?
As we grow in faith and maturity as believers, God shapes our desires and wills, and we become increasingly like Christ. Many of our decisions and actions are good and just, and we are living gracious, God-honouring lives. But there will always be more to let go, and fresh occasions for surrender. As we keep focussing on Christ and his resolution to submit entirely to God’s will, do God’s work and seek God’s glory, we can be encouraged. It was not easy for our Lord, so he understands how we struggle and shrink from the pain that God’s will for us may entail. He also shows us that there is joy in such costly obedience and an eternal reward to be enjoyed.
Friends, let us pray for grace to discern where self is masquerading as wisdom, prudence and even kindness to others, so that we may follow Christ to the place of surrender and reject our wills where they contradict God. Let us pray for strength to endure, and faith to motivate our daily choices – believing that when God says this is best, he can be trusted…
The Scottish minister, George Matheson, wrote of this paradox of losing one’s life to find it in this classic hymn of dependence and commitment:
Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.
Force me to render up my sword and I shall conqueror be.
I sink in life’s alarms when by myself I stand;
Imprison me within thine arms, and strong shall be my hand.
My will is not my own till thou hast made it thine;
If it would reach a monarch’s throne, it must its crown resign.
It only stands unbent amid the clashing strife
When on thy bosom it has leant, and found in thee its life.
(George Matheson 1842-1906)