Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Road to Discipleship Part 3 - Follow Jesus

Today we round out the three steps of discipleship.  I hope that by now that you are seeing that what Jesus breaks down into three steps is really just one event.  We deny ourselves to free us to submit to God and when we submit to God, as we will see today, we are following Jesus.  First, the text:
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  Matthew 16:24 NKJV
To follow Jesus means to follow in His example and to follow His commands.  Some years ago, there was a popular movement where Christians everywhere wore WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) bracelets as a reminder to follow in the example of Jesus.  While full of good intentions, that mindset was void of good theology.  WWJD focuses on us thinking to ourselves "What would Jesus do?" as our guiding principle as we deal with real life each day.  That problem is that it relies on our own wisdom.  We should not be asking ourselves what Jesus would do, but asking our Lord what He would have us do.  Following Jesus is not just trying to figure out what He would do in any given situation, it us living a life surrendered to God.  We are not mere followers of Jesus, but slaves of our Lord.  Here is one of the many examples of Paul, James, Peter, and Jude opening their epistles identifying themselves as a slave of Christ:
PAUL, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began, but has in due time manifested His word through preaching, which was committed to me according to the commandment of God our Savior Titus 1:1-3 NKJV
I know that "slave" is not a popular word.  It brings many necessary negative connotations.  We also have the fact that we love to hear about the freedom in Christ.  In other words, you will not see becoming a slave of Jesus on many promise calendars.  That is a sad thing, because that is what we are.  First of all, no matter the negative connotations regarding one man being a slave to another, it is a glorious thing to be a slave to our Lord.  Secondly, the freedom we have in Christ is freedom from the law and from condemnation.  Being a slave to Christ, yet another grand irony in our faith experience, is a freedom like no other.  I say that because it is only through our total surrender to Him to we find the freedom to become that which we were truly created for.  It is a freedom from sin, from condemnation, and from being caught up in concern for ourselves. 

Following Jesus means being a slave to Jesus, and that is a good thing.  Let us look at some things regarding our slavery to the Lord.  First of all, we are not our own. 
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.  1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NKJV
Here is where the other two steps are important.  The fact of not belonging to ourselves is only an issue for someone who has not denied himself.  When self gets in the way, we have a natural rebellion to accepting our slavery to Jesus.  So what does it mean that we are not our own?  It means just what it says, we belong to Jesus.  When we came to Jesus we made a trade in that we gave God ourselves and He crucified that old self and recreated us as new creations in Jesus.  That new creation we became was purchased by the blood of Christ.  We can not separate our salvation from our slavery to our Lord.  I am not saying that we are saved by our slavery nor am I saying that our salvation is dependent on our slavery.  What I am saying is that by the very fact that we are saved by the blood of Christ, means we are slaves.  Now we can be submissive slaves, rewarded by our Master or we can be rebellious slaves chastised by our Master.  We are slaves nonetheless.

What else we know about a slave is that they live in unquestioning, unwavering submission to their master.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,  who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Philippians 2:5-11 NKJV
Too many teach today about taking dominion in the name our Lord.  They talk about the promises of ruling cities with Christ.  Unfortunately, they forget that what we are responsible for on the New Earth is predicated upon how faithful a servant we are on this earth.  The road to being exalted by God begins with humbling ourselves.  It is not our place to claim exaltation or strive for exaltation but to wait humbly for God to exalt us.  Remember the unfortunate man at the wedding who took the best seat and was reseated to more humble accommodations.  We will rule with Christ, but it begins with submitting ourselves to God.  We see in the passage first that we must have the same mind of Christ.  What is that mind?  It was one of humility where even Jesus (who was fully God) was not above humbling Himself as a servant.  If the incarnate God was not above servant-hood and obedience to the Father to the point of death on the cross, who are we to exalt ourselves?  The God of the Universe knelt down and washed His disciples feet (the lowliest task a servant can perform), submitted Himself to becoming the very sin he hates, and dying horribly for our sins.  That same Jesus who humbled Himself to become a man and humbled Himself further to be a servant is our example.  To have the mind of Christ is to live in complete and humble obedience to the Father. 
For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.  And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.  John 6:38-40 NKJV
Jesus, being fully God and fully man, submitted Himself to the Father.  Following Jesus is following God because Jesus followed the Father.  If we follow God, we are following Jesus as we are living in the example of Jesus.  This is where it all ties together.  We deny ourselves, that is our own will and desires, we are free submit to God.  When we submit to God, we are living in the example of Jesus and therefore following Jesus.  Following Jesus also means we are slaves to Jesus.  We see in John that the Father has given us to Jesus.  We learn through Paul that we are no longer our own, but purchased with a price.  We can not separate the two.  The blood that saves us is the blood that purchases us for Christ.  As a slave, our own desires no longer matter, only the will of our Master and the Master's will (as we see in the example of His own life) is to do glorify the Father.  May we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus.  May we have that humble heart in this life to live contently as bondservants of Christ in order to be exalted to rule with Him in the next.  Yesterday, I alluded to the joy and contentment of becoming what you were created for.  This is what we were created for.  We were created to be disciples of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  True fellowship with God, truly serving in His power, truly realizing the very thing you were created to be, truly experiencing the peace the passes all understanding, and living our lives in the joy of the Lord begins with one step. Deny yourself.  When we deny ourselves, we are free to take up our crosses in submission to God, and when we live in submission to God we are following the example of Christ.  When you are following the example of Christ, submitted to God, and living for His will and not your own, you are truly a disciple of Christ.  There is no greater thing in this world you can be. 
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV

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