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’s an unbalanced presentation of the Gospel of Christ today that has led to influx of people to churches but not many true followers of Christ. People are coming to Jesus so as to find solutions to their problems – health, financial, marital, career, etc – they’re in search of miracles. If they come to Jesus, all their problems will be solved! And who doesn’t want to have all his problems disappear. And it’s true Jesus is 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 is not forthcoming as quickly as they want it, they move from one church to the other or even leave church entirely to try other remedies. The commitment of many Christians to Jesus in our days is very low or nil. Jesus is just one of the alternative ways of solving their problems. But Jesus says, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat – I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I will show you how” (Luke 9:23, TM).
The emphasis today is not that people who come to Jesus should deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow Jesus. We’ve presented to them a Christianity of absolute convenience, comfort, paradise on earth. This is certainly another Gospel, not the Gospel of Christ. 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.
People who come to Christ should not come with the mindset of just collecting gifts and no commitment 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 ‘make’ through him. Bible teaching sessions are not as well attended as anointing services! The most attended church programmes are the ones that promise miracles.
It is true Jesus says, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28, NKJV). But contextually which labour and heavy laden or burden was Jesus talking about? I believe he was talking about the grievous, burdensome legalistic system of the Pharisees, the burden of religious duties placed on the Jews by their religious leaders (Matt 23:4, Acts 15:10). So Jesus was promising them rest from this burdensome load; he wasn’t promising a life devoid of problems or challenges which many Christians 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 believing in Jesus and following him. He said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness” (John 10:10, NLT). But we can’t have and enjoy life in all its fullness – abundant life – unless we receive and follow his teachings and commandment.
If you even take a look at verses 29-30 of Matt 11, you’ll see that Jesus replaced the burdensome yoke and burden of the religious system with his own 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). His easy yoke and light burden refer to obedience to his commandment and commitment to following him. Believers in Jesus must bend their necks to his yoke and carry his burden no matter the life challenges they face. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1John 5:2-3, NKJV).
Professional soldiers fight war; they don’t run away from war. And every Christian is supposed to be a soldier of Christ as a member of the Lord’s army because there is war to fight. It’s wrong to think that the army of Christ consists only of those occupying leadership positions in the church. There ought not to be any spectator in the church of Jesus; we all should be participants if we’re not concerned alone about our personal problems or comfort. Paul says, “Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 2:3, NLT). That’s clear enough. He didn’t say pray that you won’t have to suffer. There will be times of suffering, and when such suffering comes, endure it. Soldiers know this, and don’t complain; they know suffering is temporary. That should be our mindset. We must not allow our lives and the work of the Kingdom to come to a standstill or suffer because of our cross. We should carry our cross daily and follow him doing his will, serving him faithfully and cheerfully.
We must be careful not to approach with a civilian mentality the war God has called us to fight. “And as Christ’s soldier, do not let yourself become tied up in the affairs of this life, for then you cannot satisfy the one who has enlisted you in his army. Follow the Lord’s rules for doing his work, just as an athlete either follows the rules or is disqualified and wins no prize” (2 Tim 2:4-5, NLT). How do we know the rules to follow in doing his work? It is as we come to him to learn from him as we have read in Matt 11:29. We must carry our cross daily and fight the war the army we’ve been enlisted into is involved in rather than hoping for some permanent comfort zone. Eph 6:10-18 says, “A final word: Be strong with the Lord’s mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the Devil. For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms. Use every piece of God’s armor to resist the enemy in the time of evil, so that after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the sturdy belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News, so that you will be fully prepared. In every battle you will need faith as your shield to stop the fiery arrows aimed at you by Satan. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times and on every occasion in the power of the Holy Spirit. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all Christians everywhere” (NLT).
We must forcefully advance the Kingdom of God not allowing our personal problems or challenges deter us. Jesus said, “And from the time John the Baptist began preaching and baptizing until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people attack it” (Matt 11:12, NLT). Carry your cross daily and fight on the Lord’s side. Don’t just be a consumer; be a contributor. Be part of this army; don’t just be a miracle seeker.
Christianity of comfort
I enjoy miracles too but God knows our motives. He knows when we want fellowship with Him and when we want fellowship with His blessings alone. 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.” That sounds spiritual but does it not amount to bargaining with God? “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, Emphasis mine). Please, take note of that phrase: they must give up the things they want. Are you prepared to give up those things you want to follow Jesus?
Becoming a Christian is not doing God a favour as some people wrongly think because we preachers literally have to go on our knees to beg people to come to Christ! (But more important to us is to make them join our churches!) If sinners know the danger ahead of them, they will run to Christ in their millions but satan has blinded their minds (2 Cor 4:3-4).
There’s hell fire waiting for sinners but to them it’s like a folktale. That was what the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 thought too. It was too late for him when he realized his folly. But hear Jesus on hell fire: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched – where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched – where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire — where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43-48, NKJV, Emphasis mine).Please, take note that the words I underlined describe the nature of the fire in hell. No sane person should want to take a risk to end his life there!
The danger ahead of sinners
The danger ahead of sinners is an eternal one that they shouldn’t think that they’re doing God or any pastor a favour coming to Christ. No one needs to give any condition before coming to Christ. God doesn’t need to dangle any carrot before any sinner to lure him from the impending judgment. John the Baptist didn’t dangle any carrot; his message was incisive, fiery! (Matt 3:7-10).
It’s in order to save anyone who comes to him from this fire that shall never be quenched that Jesus tells him to do three things as we saw earlier in Luke 9:23: (1) Deny himself (2) Take up his cross daily (3) Follow him.
Following Jesus requires denial of self. The Amplified Bible explains “deny himself” as “disown himself, forget, lose sight of himself and his own interests, refuse and give up himself.” The New Living Translation renders “deny himself” as “put aside your selfish ambition.” Being his disciple means you allow Jesus to be your guide. It means allowing him to be your leader while you give up yourself to follow him. It means not having your own agenda but his agenda.
What is the meaning of “Follow me” that Jesus said in that scripture, Luke 9:23? The Amplified Bible explains: “cleave steadfastly to him, conform wholly to his example in living and if need be in dying also.” Don’t follow Jesus only because of the miracles you want him to do in your life. That was what many did during the earthly ministry of Jesus. “Jesus answered them and said, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him’” (John 6:26-27, NKJV).
Miracles are good. God is a miracle-working God but don’t become a miracle-seeking Christian who has no personal relationship and fellowship with God. Don’t become a consumer who is not contributing anything to the Kingdom of God but concentrating on what to get out of it. Don’t be a Christian who’s not bearing fruit but running after breakthroughs.
If you’ve given your life to Jesus, take up your cross daily and follow him in spite of your problem. Matt 10:38 says, “If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine.” Taking up your cross (daily) and following Jesus refers to self-denial.
Some are looking for a life devoid of personal problems before they follow Jesus. This will remain a dream. Problem is a reality of human existence. You may call them challenges but even if all your problems are solved, you’ll face new ones in a matter of time. You should carry your cross daily and follow him. Like Abraham did, true followers of Jesus continue to follow him despite the problems in their lives – not because of the problems or without the problems. Abraham was without a child for 25 years yet he continued following God. Can you still continue to follow Jesus even with the need in your life?
Obedience above earthly security
Any man who values comfort and earthly security above obedience to God won’t follow God. What is it that gives you a sense of security that you feel you can’t exchange for anything? That is your idol and it’ll keep you from following Jesus. “Then Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24, CEV).
Paul says, “I know how to live when I am poor, and I know how to live when I have plenty. I have learned the secret of being happy at any time in anything that happens, when I have enough to eat and when I go hungry, when I have more than I need and when I do not have enough. I can do all things through Christ, because he gives me strength” (Phil 4:12-13, NCV). That should be the attitude of every genuine Christian. Like those three Hebrews said in Dan 3:17-18, a true Christian must be able to say, “My God whom I serve is able to deliver me from this problem but if not, I will still continue to serve Him.” This is the mark of a true disciple of Christ. Are you?
If you’ve decided to give your life to Jesus, you need to take the following steps:*Admit you’re a sinner and you can’t 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 to attend a Bible-believing, Bible-teaching church. There, you will be taught how to grow in the Lord and how to discover and fulfill God’s purpose for your life.
Kindly say this prayer now: “0 Lord God, I come unto you today. I know I’m 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 resurrected the third day. I confess Jesus as my Lord and Saviour and surrender my life to him today. I invite Jesus into my heart today. By this prayer, I know I’m saved. Thank you Jesus for saving me and making me a child of God”
I congratulate you if you’ve said that prayer sincerely. You are now a child of God. May the Lord make you a Cedar Christian. May you grow into Christ in all things and become all God wants you to be. I will be glad to hear from you.
T.O. Banso is the President, Cedar Ministry International, Abuja, Nigeria.
Phone No: +2348155744752, +2348033113523