Mark 8:34-35 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.’
Well, folks, we are officially more than a week out from the beloved Easter holiday. Statistically speaking, church attendance is about to plummet and the world will go on forgetting the magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice. But, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Now, I am in no way attributing someone’s salvation or relationship with God to how often they attend church, but there is something to be said about the authenticity of practices such as intentional community and corporate worship for believers. They are essential to Christian living. Just as last week Nick challenged us to “take inventory” of our faith, I would like to appeal to you in a similar way by taking a closer look at the phenomenon of casual faith.
To be very honest, I did not truly understand the gospel until pretty recently. In hindsight, I was what culture calls a “casual Christian”. Yes, I grew up in a Christian home, but it wasn’t until my sophomore year at High Point University when I finally understood and accepted the faith, responding to my belief in baptism. Belief in the gospel is often a long, difficult process. As mentioned above, Mark tells us that Jesus said we must deny ourselves and take up our own cross. That is what it means to be a follower of Christ. And that is not easy, especially when our society is telling us to take complete ownership of our lives and pave our own way.
For a long time I thought being a Christian meant being a “good person” and acknowledging God every once in a while. I stored my faith in a little box and only opened it when I wanted to or when I was in trouble and hurting. I was self-serving, practically worshiping myself. I only cried out to God when I needed something from Him.
But Jesus wants to be more than just a category of our lives. The Greek word for “deny” in this Scripture is “aparneomai,” which literally means to disown or renounce. This passage tells us we must declare Jesus as Lord, owner of our lives, and replace our selfish, earthly desires with God’s will. More than that, Jesus tells us to take up our cross, referring to giving all of ourselves to God.
Another gospel account tells us,
Luke 9:23 And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’
Jesus says choosing to follow Him is an everyday decision. This means total dedication. There is no casual commitment to Christ. I used to think this was too radical and even scary, but now I see it as a wonderful piece of truth. Can you imagine if Christ was only casually committed to us? The good news is, He’s not and He surely wasn’t on the cross. Jesus paid it all and He promises us eternal life when we give our lives back to Him.
The crazy thing about completely surrendering our lives to God is that, as a result, we are set free. Jesus liberated us from the curse of sin and death, breaking every chain that holds us captive. We so often think freedom is found in following our own personal guidelines for this life, but true freedom is found in the right restrictions. The manual for life given by the Creator of life is abounding in joy and rest for our weary souls. Jesus says,
Matthew 11:30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Full dedication of our lives to a gracious, merciful, righteous, loving God for eternal life in return. That’s a pretty sweet deal if you ask me. So, let’s consider our response to the faith. Are we lukewarm, half-in on the surrendering our whole lives thing? Are we casually pursuing Christ? My prayer for us is the same as Paul’s was to the Roman church,
Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.