There is a disturbing paradox that most Christians do not know exists or is not willing to address. The problem arises over our claims that we believe in the divine inspiration and infallibility of Scriptures and then question whether Jesus really meant what He said in many of His challenging statements. Either “All Scripture is God-breathed,” or it is not (2 Tim. 3:16). When Jesus claimed that He was the Truth He was also declaring that everything He taught was absolute truth (Jn. 14:16). He meant what He said, whether those difficult teachings are convenient to our comfortable lifestyles or not. The nitty-gritty of this issue revolves around whether we are living what He taught.
A simple examination of the life of Christ will reveal that everything about Jesus was radical—His incarnation, life, teaching, death and resurrection. It will also be found that this radical Jesus clearly commanded His followers to live like He did. This necessitates that Biblical Christianity is utterly radical in all of its demands to all generations and cultures.
One example of Christ’s radical teaching is found in Matthew 16:13-27. It begins with Jesus asking His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” After their varied responses He personalized the question, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter quickly proclaimed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then the Lord told the other disciples that Peter received this revelation from the Father.
Immediately following this event Jesus began sharing with the apostles His coming death and resurrection. Once again Peter was ready with a dramatic declaration, this time reproving Jesus for saying He must die on the cross. Peter’s selfish act received the Master’s stern rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” How astounding! One moment Peter was in the Spirit and next he was used by Satan. Scary, isn’t it?
Jesus turned this event into an object lesson for all the apostles. He established the fact that, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Peter and the disciples understood a principle that most American Christians totally miss—that the student is not above his teacher (Mt. 10:24-25). Peter knew what this involved: if Jesus went to the cross then he would have to go also. Since Peter did not want to die on a cross he was left with only one alternative; to talk Jesus out of going to the cross. We, like Peter, aggressively resist crucifying our old, sinful nature.
One principle of living the crucified life is, “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” In our relentless pursuit for happiness we have rejected the only source of true joy—the crucified and resurrected Christ. Our resistance to die to our sinful nature has only served to separate us from God and fill us with the pain and sorrow that comes through the deceitfulness of sin and rebellion. The wonder of Christ’s resurrection is known and enjoyed only after we have willingly embraced the cross by purposely crucifying our sin, selfishness, lust and pride.
Crucifixion finishes the work it begins. “The old cross is a symbol of death,” wrote A. W. Tozer. “It stands for the abrupt, violent end of a human being. The man in Roman times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said good-bye to his friends. He was not coming back. He was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromise, modified nothing, spared nothing; it slew all of the man, completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with its victim. It struck cruel and hard, and when it had finished its work, the man was no more.” If we had truly nailed our old nature to the cross it would not be causing us all the trouble it does.
There is a beautiful practicality with the Scriptures. John taught, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (1 Jn. 2:6). This is not an option, but a mandatory condition of true discipleship. Christians will obtain Christ’s victory over the world when they walk as He did. We live defeated lives every time we choose to live like the world. Only through death to self can we live resurrected lives that overcome the world. L. E. Maxwell stated that a true understanding of the Cross “takes possession of us; it overcomes and absorbs us, and tears us ruthlessly from everything else.” The Christ of the cross demands that our entire life becomes a perpetual living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1-2).
The radicalness of Jesus is again revealed when He said, “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14: 33). Notice that Jesus did not say we would be a bad disciple if we did not give up everything, but that we COULD NOT be His disciple. Mournfully, many who claim to be Christians in reality are not because they have not given everything to God. One commentator proclaimed that this passage “is perhaps the most unpopular term of Christian discipleship and may well prove to be the most unpopular verse in the Bible. Cleaver theologians can give you a thousand reasons why it does not mean what it says, but simple disciples drink it down eagerly, assuming that Jesus knew what He was saying.”
In our secularized, pleasure driven version of Christianity we have come to loathe the demands of the cross. Since our crossless Christianity is powerless to save, the world ignores the claims of Christ. The unsaved clearly see that we are not willing to live, much less suffer or die for what we believe. It’s obvious to them that most Christians are as pleasure driven as any acclaimed hedonist. Many non-believers have heard about our church splits and know the sum and substance about our divorces, adulteries, drinking, gambling and a host of other sins. They see our children fleeing the church because our lukewarm religion has proved hypocritical and worthless. Jesus puts this all in perspective by warning, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Mt. 16:26).
Our only hope of victory comes through two crosses. The first is Christ’s, where He purchased us with His own blood. This cross reveals the depth of our wickedness and our powerlessness to save ourselves. It proclaims that salvation is by God’s grace alone.
The second cross is the one that bears our name, the one we must voluntarily pick up and claim as our own. For the love of Christ we must die to every form of selfishness and sin, for these destroy our relationship with God and with others. We must then follow Him wherever He leads no matter the cost. Only when we lose our life in Christ will we find His victorious resurrected life.
Jesus said that He would “reward each person according to what he has done” (Mt. 16:27). For those who refuse to pick up their cross and walk with Him through intimate holiness (whether a self-proclaimed Christian or not), there is only sorrow and bondage to sin that comes from a life without God—both now and through eternity.
Those who through loving obedience pick up their cross and follow Jesus will walk in His victory. “Christ Himself shall be the greatest reward of His people,” stated Robert Murray McCheyne. “Any place would be heaven if we were with Christ. No place would be heaven without Him. . . . Oh, to talk with Him as Moses and Elijah did on the mount of transfiguration, to hear Him speak gracious words, to lean our head where John leaned his, to hold Him, and not let Him go . . . to have Him turning upon us His eyes of divine tenderness and holy love–that will be a reward.” Biblical Christianity is radical and it is worth the cost!
Glenn Meldrum has been a national evangelist since 1997. Prior to his calling as an evangelist he pastored for 15 years. He is ordained and holds an M.A. in theology and church history from Ashland Theological Seminary. Visit www.ihpministry.com for articles, sermons, books and information on Glenn Meldrum and In His Presence Ministries.