What is Christianity?
“And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels. But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:23-27)
The words of our Lord Jesus Christ in these five verses of Scripture are solemn and weighty words. They separate the precious from the vile. They are a winnowing fan in the Master’s hand, by which he distinguishes wheat from the chaff. These are words which ought to be read often, prayed over much, and mediated upon continually. These few words define true Christianity more distinctly than all the volumes of theology and apologetics written by men. Robert Hawker observed…
“A single soul is of more value than the whole world; and for this plain reason: The time is coming, when the whole world and all that is in it will be destroyed; but the soul of every individual must live, either in happiness or misery, forever. Reader, pause over the subject, and calculate, if possible, the value of a single soul. The creation of it called forth the council of the whole persons of the Godhead. The redemption of it cost Christ his blood. The regeneration of it was the work of God the Holy Ghost. The everlasting happiness of it engageth the services of angels and of men continually. Angels rejoice in heaven in the recovery of every sinner. Hell rageth in the event of their salvation. The soul hath a capability of grace here, and glory forever. And therefore what a loss, incalculably great, must it be, that a being of such qualities, and so formed, should be exposed to everlasting destruction.”
Coming to Christ
Throughout the Scriptures faith is portrayed as a matter of coming to Christ. To believe on the Son of God is to come to him. To come to him is to believe on him. We come to him by following after him, as disciples follow after their Master. Our all glorious Christ says, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself” (v. 23).
Coming to Christ is the result of a deliberate, purposeful choice. It is an act of the will. Our Master says, “If any man will”. Let us never alter his Word. I know that faith is a gift of God. I know that none will ever come to Christ unless God the Holy Spirit graciously, effectually causes them to come. Yet, it is certain that any who come to him, come to him because they want him and choose him. God does not save sinners by knocking them in the head and dragging them to Christ. He saves sinners by causing them to want Christ more than life itself.
Faith in Christ is not a matter of conscription, but a voluntary act. The soldiers in Christ’s army are not drafted, forced soldiers, but volunteers. It is written, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power” (Psalm 110:3). — “Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts” (Psalm 65:4).
Coming to Christ is an act of the heart, a spiritual, not a carnal thing. No one has ever come to Christ by walking a church aisle, kneeling at an altar, saying a prayer someone taught him to repeat, or signing a decision card. If you would come to Christ, you must do so without moving a muscle. You must come to him in your heart. Faith is a heart work (Romans 10:8-10). True faith is the willful, deliberate, voluntary confidence of my heart in the power and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is trusting the merits of his blood and righteousness as my only acceptance before God. Faith in Christ involves the willing surrender of my heart to him as my Lord. It is the bowing and submission of my heart to him as my Lord (Luke 14:25-33).
Coming to Christ is a continual thing. Our Savior does not speak of coming to him as a one time thing, as a single act, but as a constant, continual, lifelong thing. Faith in Christ is not an event in life, but a way of life. — “If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious” (1 Peter 2:3-4).
Not only are sinners bidden to come to Christ, we are commanded to come (1 John 3:23). The warrant of faith is not my feeling, my emotion, my meeting certain prescribed conditions, but God’s Word. If the Son of God says for me to come to him, then I may come to him!
Any sinner in all the world who will come to Christ may come to Christ. Our Master uses that blessed world of universal application and uses it frequently — “Whosoever”. I am so thankful he said, “If any man will,” rather than, “if Don Fortner will.” Had he said that, I would have concluded he must have meant some other Don Fortner. But I cannot doubt that “any man” includes me!
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” (John 3:36)
“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” (Revelation 22:17)
Carrying the Cross of Christ
The first aspect of faith is coming to Christ. The second is carrying his cross. This is not an optional thing. Here, and throughout the Word of God, our Master tells us plainly that if we would follow him, if we would be his disciples, if we would be saved, self-denial is an absolute necessity. — “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (v. 23).
Again, this is a matter of personal, deliberate choice. Carrying your cross for Christ is not enduring providential hardships with patience, but deliberately choosing a course that is sure to bring trouble upon you, because trouble lies in the path of following Christ.
Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. We are not saved by what we do, but by what God does and has done. We are saved by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-10). Yet, if we are saved by the grace of God, we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God; and we must deny self. J. C. Ryle was correct when he wrote, “A religion which costs nothing is worth nothing. It will do us no good in the life that now is. It will lead to no salvation in the life to come.” If I am saved by the grace of God, I take up my cross and follow my Master. I must take up the cross of his doctrine, the cross of his will and the cross of his honor. Our Savior’s words here are as plain as the noonday sun. If I choose not to bear his cross on this earth, I shall never wear his crown in heaven.
Our Master teaches us that true, saving faith involves deliberate and persevering self-denial and consecration. Matthew Henry wrote, “The first lesson in Christ’s school is self-denial.” Those who deny themselves here for Christ shall enjoy themselves in Christ forever. Grace is free; but it is not cheap. Faith in Christ involves the total surrender of myself to him, to his dominion as my Lord and Savior, my Priest and King. That is what it is to take up your cross and follow Christ.
Christianity, true Christianity, true saving faith involves a total surrender to Christ the Lord. Either you will be a servant under the dominion of King Jesus, voluntarily giving up all to his claims, or you will go to hell. You may not have to give up anything in actuality. But surrender to Christ must be just as real and complete in your heart as if you had actually given up everything, even down to life itself. Our Lord Jesus Christ requires total and unreserved surrender to himself. Christ will be Lord of all, or he will not be Lord at all. Is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, your Lord? Is he truly your Lord?
But we must never imagine that this is a matter dealt with only in the initial experience of grace and in the initial act of faith. Here our Lord Jesus addresses these words to men who had been his faithful disciples for a long time. How graciously he warns us and teaches us to guard against the terrible tendency of our sinful flesh to rebel against his rule and his will. How much evil we bring upon ourselves by our carnal misapprehensions! We are all, like Peter (v. 33; Mark 8:33), inclined to judge things by our emotions, personal desires and carnal reason. We must not do so. Rather, we must seek grace to know and bow to the will of God our Savior in all things. Oh, for grace to savor the things which are of God, and not those which are of men!
Consecration to Christ.
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?” (vv. 24-25)
Faith is coming to Christ, carrying the cross of Christ and consecration to Christ. If I would save my life, I must loose it to Christ. I repeat myself deliberately. — Salvation is neither more nor less than surrender to the rule and reign of Jesus Christ as my Lord and King.
“And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-33)
Faith in Christ is giving over the rule of your life to Christ; but that is no great sacrifice at all. — “For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?” That question is so well known and so often repeated that I fear that few take it to heart. It ought to sound in our ears like a trumpet, whenever we are tempted to neglect our eternal interests. Each of us has an immortal soul, a soul that will live forever, either in the bliss of eternal life or in the torments of eternal death. There is nothing the world can offer, nothing money can buy, nothing a man can give, nothing to be named in comparison with our souls. We live in a world where everything is temporal. We are going to a world where everything is eternal. Let us count nothing here more valuable than we shall when we have to leave it forever!
It is a very easy thing for you to lose your soul. You can murder it, by loving and clinging to the world. You can poison it with the deadly wine of false, freewill works religion. You can starve it, by neglecting God’s ordained means of grace, the preaching of the gospel, by keeping from it the Bread of Life, by the neglect of prayer, the neglect of worship and the neglect of God’s Word. There are many ways to hell. Which way you choose is a matter for which you alone are responsible (Proverbs 16:25. But there is only one way to life eternal. Christ is that Way.
Faith in Christ involves coming to Christ, carrying the cross of Christ, consecration to Christ, and confessing Christ. — “For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels. But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God” (vv. 26-27).
Who is capable of being ashamed of Christ and his words? None among the sons of men can be compared to him. We do not have to guess what it is to be ashamed of Christ. It is to refuse to confess him, to refuse to identify ourselves with him. Every son and daughter of Adam show themselves ashamed of him and his gospel who refuse to seek salvation in his name, trusting him alone as Savior and Lord. All who seek to add their own works to his righteousness and his precious blood for acceptance with God prove themselves ashamed of him. To refuse to trust the Lord Jesus Christ is to deny him. That is what it is to be ashamed of him.
If you are ashamed of Christ’s doctrine, you are ashamed of him (Romans 1:16-17). If you are ashamed of Christ’s ordinances, you are ashamed of him. If you are ashamed of Christ’s people, ashamed to identify yourself with them, you are ashamed of him. If you are ashamed of Christ in this adulterous and sinful generation, he will be ashamed of you when he comes in the glory of his Father with his holy angels to judge the world.
“Jesus! and shall it ever be
A mortal man ashamed of Thee?
Ashamed of Thee, whom angels praise,
Whose glories shine through endless days?
Ashamed of Jesus? Sooner far
Let evening blush to own a star.
He sheds the beams of light divine
O’er this benighted soul of mine.
Ashamed of Jesus? Just as soon
Let midnight be ashamed of noon.
‘Tis midnight with my soul till He,
Bright Morning Star, bids darkness flee.
Ashamed of Jesus, that dear Friend
On whom my hopes of heaven depend?
No; when I blush, be this my shame,
That I no more revere His name.
Ashamed of Jesus? Yes, I may
When I’ve no guilt to wash away,
No tears to wipe, no joys to crave,
No fears to quell, no soul to save.
Till then, nor is the boasting vain,
Till then I boast a Savior slain.
And oh, may this my portion be,
That Christ is not ashamed of me!”
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