Run! (Part 3)
As we just read, in Christ’s rebuke to Peter, He made it clear that Peter’s sin of trying to obstruct the will of God stemmed from a failure to set his mind on the things of God. Although Peter thought he was serving Christ by trying to protect Him from a tragic fate, he was in fact really only serving himself. He was seeking the path of least resistance, one that didn’t include suffering and hardship, for Jesus or himself. As Christ said, His focus was on the things of man, trying to build a sheltered life around him. Things needed to change.
Christ immediately launches into an explanation of what it would take for Peter and the other disciples to change their focus so that they could truly serve Him and bring Him glory.
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.
His teaching here is a step-by-step guide for the disciples on how to recalibrate their thinking and position it off of them and onto the Father. Until they could accomplish this, they had little hope of truly pleasing the Lord and serving Him faithfully. We too have a lot to learn on getting our minds off of ourselves.
Solution: Develop a selfless perspective focused on God’s will over your desires.
The key to serving God in complete devotion is to first deny ourselves. Christ commands His followers here to forsake their selfish dreams for a selfless attitude of surrender to God’s will in humble obedience. That is not an easy thing, based on the way sin has twisted us into self-absorbed individuals focused on instant gratification, and our culture has not helped that by any means. We are bombarded every day with the message to do whatever makes us “happy”, even at the sake of hurting others. Our motto has become “I am the only person that matters”. The truth is this is a tragically flawed way to live one’s life, shackled to the chains of our fickle desires. True contentment comes from the freedom that exists in knowing that Jesus Christ is the one of true importance and we can find our purpose in selfless service to Him. But when we fail to deny ourselves, we are getting in the way of the work God wants to accomplish.
Christ also explains the need to His disciples in this passage to take up their cross. We always see this passage from hindsight and identify the significance of what He was saying, but picture it from the position of the disciples. They would have recognized His reference to the common Roman capital punishment of crucifixion (and not a very pleasant reference at all), but this would not take on a whole new level of meaning until Christ fulfilled the promise of His coming death. Jesus is literally telling them to shoulder the burden that comes with being His follower, to sacrifice and suffer with dignity and humility on His behalf. Sometimes I think being an American and being a Christian are at odds based on this. We have grown accustomed to a life of comfort as a result of the status quo of our country, but a sold out life for Christ should be anything but comfortable if we are truly keeping our focus on the Lord. We can’t serve the will of the Master and refuse to pick up the cross lying beside us.
Christ’s final warning on how to avoid being an obstacle in God’s divine plan is centered on His simple command: Follow me. That means being completely obedient to whatever He leads us to do. He tells the disciples to follow His path one step at a time and they will find themselves moving away from being a hindrance and instead reaping the incredible reward of being used by God to make His name known.
And just to be clear here, none of us can prevent God’s will from coming to fruition; we can’t throw a wrench in His sovereign plans or derail the whole operation, so don’t begin to think too highly of yourself. But if we aren’t part of the solution, then we are part of the problem, and there will be a price to be paid. Christ Himself said in the passage we just read that each person will be compensated according to what he or she does. Do you want the blessings of faithful service or to be held accountable for your self-indulgence? Spiritual growth results in serving His ends and not our own.
God’s Word has been challenging me lately to rededicate myself to possessing fervor for maturing in my spiritual walk, and I deeply believe this to be a necessary attitude adjustment for all believers on a daily basis. It is so easy to lose our way and neglect what matters most. We make a decision to serve Christ with our lives but then days stretch into weeks, weeks into months, months into years, years into decades, and the spark of that moment fades as a dying ember. The routines of life drown out our initial commitment and life’s distractions keep us from remembering to stay on track. The only way we can overcome these hurdles that will wreak devastating harm on us as we chase after God is by heeding the words of Christ in these passages and watching for the danger signs. We must take things one day at a time.
As I kind of intimated back at the beginning of this series of posts, it is funny that we should call it our Christian walk when it is referred to in the New Testament as a race to run. A walk just sounds so laid back and relaxed and is probably influenced more than just a little bit by our culture today. If we think of our Christian life as a leisurely stroll, then we are missing out on the urgency necessary to consistently seek growth in our spiritual life, to overcome the old nature inside us and become more and more Christ-like. Instead, as I said before, we need to view it more as our Christian marathon to run.
Nikki has really gotten into running lately and I really admire the hard work she has put in it. During our travels this spring we have been able to plan out where we would be and she has run two 5K runs. Now she is hoping to run a half-marathon that is being held one weekend in the fall close to a church we are visiting on our deputation. She has been planning out what it will take for her to train and be ready to run. You see, a marathon is a race of endurance that requires you to pace yourself, train hard, and determine to reach the end at any cost. You can’t just decide all of a sudden to go out and run a marathon; you have to train everyday on a strict regimen of daily running that prepares you for the big race. Before you even step on the course, the race has already been won or lost based on how seriously you took your preparations to get there.
Isn’t that how it should be with our spiritual growth? A daily commitment to do the necessary preparations to reach the finish line that God has set for us? To live this life to the fullest for Him each and every day, so that when the hard times do come and it feels like we are running the gauntlet as Satan tries to trip us up on these hurdles, that we have gone through the necessary training that will help us endure with perseverance. That’s what the Apostle Paul had in mind. Because of his attitude, Paul was able to say to Timothy at the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:7) He finished strong and so should we, by being committed to daily spiritual growth, for the rest of our lives.