BY PASTOR T. O. BANSO
“Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it’” (Luke 9:23-24 NKJV).
There is a difference between a church-goer and a true follower of Christ. The followers of Jesus were first called disciples before being called Christians. A true Christian is a disciple of Christ but not all Christians behave as His true disciples. Many people come to church today to find solutions to their problems – health, financial, marital, career, etc. They are in search of miracles but not necessarily following Christ even though they could claim to have come to Christ. They have been told that if they come to Him, all their problems will be solved! This is their reason for coming to church. Jesus is indeed the solution to the problems of man. That’s why Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil (Acts 10:38).
But these days, if the solution people are looking for does not come as quickly as they want it, they move from one church to the other or even leave the church entirely to try other remedies. Their commitment to Jesus is very low or nil. Jesus is just one of the alternative ways of solving their problems. But Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24 NKJV). Matthew 16:24-26 says a similar thing.
There is a need today for a balanced presentation of the gospel. The emphasis should be that people who come to Jesus should deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow Jesus, even though we invite them to receive miracles from Him. We need not sweet-talk people to come to Christ though Jesus does solve problems in the lives of people when they come to Him. They should not expect the earth they are in now to become heaven! A problem-free world is an illusion.
People who come to Christ should not come with the mindset of just collecting gifts without being committed to the giver. That’s a selfish reason to come to Christ, and many in churches today are guilty of this. Their interest is not in the person of Christ and obedience to His word but in what they can get through His name and power.
Come to Jesus
Indeed, Jesus says, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NKJV). But which labour and heavy laden or burden was Jesus talking about in this context? He was talking about the burden of religious duties placed on the Jews by their religious leaders. Jesus said, “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (Matthew 23:4 NKJV).
So in Matthew 11:28, Jesus promised them rest from this burdensome load; He didn’t promise them a life without problems or challenges which many people are looking for. And I’m not saying Jesus doesn’t deliver us from problems when we accept Him into our lives. He does deliver us from the yoke of Satan but that should not be the major reason for following Him. The Amplified Bible puts Matthew 11:28 thus: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavily burdened [by religious rituals that provide no peace], and I will give you rest [refreshing your souls with salvation].” Indeed, Jesus came so that we may have abundant life, but we cannot enjoy this unless we receive and follow His teachings.
Take Jesus’ yoke upon you
If you look at Matthew 11:29-30, you’ll see that Jesus replaced the burdensome yoke and burden of the religious system with His yoke: “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” (NKJV). Taking His yoke upon you and learning from Him means “Following Me as My disciple” (Matthew 11:29 AMP). In other words, you must imbibe His teachings and obey them. Those who believe in Jesus Christ must take His yoke upon them and carry His burden, no matter the challenges of life they face. “By this we know [without any doubt] that we love the children of God: [expressing that love] when we love God and obey His commandments. For the [true] love of God is this: that we habitually keep His commandments and remain focused on His precepts. And His commandments and His precepts are not difficult [to obey]” (1 John 5:2-3 AMP).
Are you a soldier of Christ?
Professional soldiers fight wars. Every Christian is supposed to be a soldier of Christ as a member of the Lord’s army because there is a war to fight. It is not only those in leadership positions in the church that are supposed to be in the army of Christ. There ought not to be any ‘civilian’ in the church of Jesus; we all should be soldiers. Nobody should be concerned only about his problems or comfort. Paul says, “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3 NKJV). The Amplified Bible says, “Take with me your share of hardship [passing through the difficulties which you are called to endure], like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” There will be times of suffering, and when it comes, endure them. 1 Peter 4:16 says if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.
Suffering is temporary. You must not allow the work of the Kingdom of God to suffer because of your cross. You should take up your cross daily and follow Him, doing His will and serving Him faithfully and cheerfully. Have the right mentality. “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Timothy 2:4 NKJV). Put on the whole armour of God (Ephesians 6:10-13). Fight as a true soldier of Christ. Don’t promote your comfort above the work of the Kingdom of God.
The followers of Christ must forcefully advance the Kingdom of God, not allowing their problems or challenges to deter them. Deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Jesus.
Give up your life to follow Jesus
God knows our motives. He knows when we want fellowship with Him and when we want only fellowship with His blessings! That’s why the heart desires of many people are not being met. God knows they only want to use Him! They don’t want to serve Him. Some will even tell God, “If you do this for me, I will serve you forever.” In other words, if God doesn’t do it, they won’t serve Him. But see this: “Jesus said to all of them, ‘If people want to follow me, they must give up the things they want. They must be willing to give up their lives daily to follow me. Those who want to save their lives will give up true life. But those who give up their lives for me will have true life” (Luke 9:23-24 NCV). Note the phrase: they must give up the things they want. Are you prepared to give up the things you want to follow Jesus? According to Jesus in Luke 14:33, anyone who does not give up everything he has cannot be His disciple.
Becoming a Christian or disciple of Christ is not doing God a favour, as some people think because preachers often beg people to come to Christ! If sinners know the danger ahead of them, they will run to Christ, but Satan has blinded their minds (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
There’s hellfire waiting for sinners but, to them, it’s like a folktale. That was what the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 thought too. But it was too late for him when he realized his folly. In Mark 9:43-48, Jesus talked about hellfire and the need to remove sin from our lives. No sane person should want to take a risk to end in hellfire where the worms that eat the people there never die and the fire there never stops burning.
The danger ahead of sinners is an eternal one that they shouldn’t think that they’re doing God or any pastor a favour by coming to Christ. No one needs to give any condition to come to Christ. No one needs to be sweet-talked to deliver him from the impending judgment. John the Baptist didn’t do that; his message was incisive and fiery! (Matthew 3:7-10).
Set aside selfish interest
To save from hellfire anyone who comes to Him, Jesus tells him to do three things as we saw earlier in Luke 9:23-24: (1) Deny himself (2) Take up his cross daily (3) Follow Him.
Following Jesus requires you to deny yourself. As the Amplified Bible explains it, “set aside selfish interests.” You must give up your selfish interest to follow Him. Don’t follow Jesus only because of the miracles you want Him to do in your life.
Don’t be a church-goer who is only seeking miracles but has no personal relationship and fellowship with God. If you’re a Christian, be truly His disciple. Set aside your selfish interest.
If you’ve given your life to Jesus, take up your cross daily and follow Him despite your problems. Matthew 10:38 says, “And he who does not take his cross [expressing a willingness to endure whatever may come] and follow Me [believing in Me, conforming to My example in living and, if need be, suffering or perhaps dying because of faith in Me] is not worthy of Me” (AMP). Taking up your cross daily and following Jesus refers to self-denial. Give up your life to Jesus to save it. “For whoever wishes to save his life [in this world] will [eventually] lose it [through death], but whoever loses his life [in this world] for My sake, he is the one who will save it [from the consequences of sin and separation from God]” (Luke 9:24 AMP).
Conclusion: Problem is a reality of human existence, even if you call them challenges. Even if they are all solved, you’ll face new ones in a matter of time. Deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Jesus. As Abraham did, true followers of Jesus continue to follow Him despite the problems in their lives. Abraham was without a child for 25 years, yet he continued following God. Continue to follow Jesus even with the need in your life.
Paul says, “I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13 NKJV). That should be the attitude of every disciple of Christ. As the three Hebrew children said in Daniel 3:17-18, a true follower of Christ must be able to say, “My God whom I serve is able to deliver me from this problem, but if not I will continue to serve Him.” This is the mark of a true disciple of Christ. Are you? John 6:66 says that many of the disciples of Jesus turned back and no longer followed Him. They had earlier complained about His hard teaching. But Jesus didn’t change His teaching or beg the rest not to go. Earthly security is an illusion. Save your life by giving it up to follow Jesus. Deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Jesus.
If you are not born again, you need to give your life to Jesus now. I urge you to take the following steps: *Admit that you are a sinner and you cannot save yourself and repent of your sins. *Confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. *Renounce your past way of life – your relationship with the devil and his works. *Invite Jesus into your life. *As a mark of seriousness to mature in the faith, start attending a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church. There they will teach you how to grow in the Kingdom of God.
Kindly say this prayer now: O Lord God, I come unto You today. I know I am a sinner and I cannot save myself. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross to save me and God raised Him on the third day. I repent of my sins and confess Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I surrender my life to Jesus now and invite Him into my heart. By this prayer, I know I am saved. Thank You, Jesus, for saving me and making me a child of God.
I believe you have said this prayer from your heart. Congratulations! You will need to join a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church in your area where they will teach you how to live your new life in Christ Jesus. I pray that you flourish like a palm tree and grow like a cedar of Lebanon. May you grow into Christ in all things and become all God wants you to be. I will be glad to hear from you. The Lord be with you.
T. O. Banso is the President of Cedar Ministry International, Abuja, Nigeria.
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