What do we desire as Christians? We want the salvation of God, everything that God promised to give us and more. We want the blessing of Christ—healing, joy, satisfaction, eternal life, love of God, forgiveness. What fantastic things await for us! And we also seek the blessing of the flesh—family, acceptance, respect, riches, guilt-free pleasure. This is what we are promised by the church. And, frankly, it is what Jesus offers us as well. That is why we want to be Christians, why we seek God and go to church. To gain what the world may promise us, but will never give us without being damned.
We want cost-free, guilt-free, strings-free salvation. Jesus paid it all, so we have no charge, right? Of course, Jesus did die for our sins. He paid the ultimate price for us. But he never promised us a free ride. Jesus promises us the great life of God, but it is not without cost:
• We cannot have forgiveness without painful separation from our sin. (Luke 24:47)
• We cannot have eternal life without suffering. (Luke 9:23-24;Acts 14:22)
• We cannot have a peaceful family without hating our earthly family and friends. (Matthew 12:48-50; Luke 14:26)
• We cannot have the pleasure of God without rejecting the pleasures of earth. (Luke 6:21, 25; Mark 8:36)
• We cannot have the respect of heaven without experiencing rejection from our loves. (Matthew 10:34-38)
• We cannot have acceptance by God unless we give up who we see ourselves to be. (Luke 14:26-27)
• We cannot gain healing unless we first experience suffering and humiliation. (Luke 4:18; Matthew 15:21-28)
• We cannot gain true satisfaction until we are sickened by the world we live in. (Mark 8:36)
• We cannot gain great riches from God until we first experience poverty. (Matthew 13:44-46; Luke 6:20)
• We cannot truly gain joy until we live with the utmost sorrow. (Matthew 5:4)
These seem paradoxical—how can one only gain peace and joy through it’s opposite? Yet it is no mystery, but based on three basic principles of life:
a. We learn what we need only by suffering want
If we didn’t suffer, we wouldn’t know we needed anything. If we never hungered, why would we eat? If we never desired companionship, why would we deal with conflict? Even so, if we never were sick, we would not seek healing. If we were never depressed, we would never seek joy. If we were never stressed or anxious, we would never seek peace. If we were never oppressed, then we wouldn’t seek release. If we didn’t die, we wouldn’t need resurrection.
b. We do not ask for a gift unless we feel its loss
If we give a child a toy they never wanted, they would throw it aside after a short time of playing with it. They don’t appreciate the cost of something, until they experience the loss. But if a child had and loved a toy and then lost it, then the child will cry until the toy is found again. Even so with salvation. If we have lost forgiveness and security and satisfaction, then we too will cry until we get it. And those who cry to God are those who receive.
c. We obtain God’s pity only by being pitiful
The rich and powerful, even the most compassionate, look only at the innocent who are helpless. The powerful and famous, the well-to-do and those who have everything “under control” do not stir the hearts of those who have it in their power to offer charity. Even so, God looks for the just who are weak and oppressed—the mourning and desperate—they are the ones whom God redeems and lifts up high. It is a matter of justice—those who suffer deserve joy, while those who already have joy gain nothing from God.
d. We prove faith through endurance
No one knows whether our faith be true or not unless it be tested. Everyone’s faith is strong in abundance and blessing—it can only be proven by testing and suffering. The one whose love endures through hardship—that is the one whose love is true.
So why do we seek only blessing? Jesus sought the curse in order to obtain the blessing. If the blessing only comes from difficulty and suffering, why do we seek only earthly joy and peace? It is because we do not seek the real Jesus. We have created a fantasy Jesus, a Jesus of our own imagining who promises us everything in this world and the next.
The truth is, many want the promises, but few want to gain the promises through the conditions Jesus offered. Many love the blessings, but few love the cross. The true followers of Jesus are those who take up the cross and follow him. The true lovers of Jesus are ready to follow him anywhere, wherever he leads. But few be the lovers of the cross. We need to love the real Jesus, not the Jesus of our fantasy.
If we are to gain salvation, we are to work hard and love that which Jesus told us to love:
• Benefiting others (Luke 10:25-37)
• Prayer (Luke 11:1-13)
• Commitment to God through Jesus (John 14:21)
• Giving to the poor (Luke 12:33)
• Rejecting the world’s ways of salvation (Matthew 6:1)
• Boldly proclaiming Jesus’ words and life (Matthew 10:32)
And we need to endure in all these acts of love and faithfulness through the crap the world gives us for faithfully seeking God. (Mark 13:13)
Who do we really love? Do we love the real Jesus, looking down on us, ready to endure with us if we are ready to pay the cost (Luke 14:28-30)? Or are we content with only a fantasy Jesus, an image of the true, who will give us what we want without having to endure anything? Let us not love the wealth of this age, the pleasures of the world, the satisfactions of our flesh. Let us be lovers of the cross.
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel will save it. For what is the profit, if one gains the whole world but loses his soul?
Be a lover of the cross.