Discipleship

Drew Craig, Belfast, N. Ireland

‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me’, Luke 9. 23.

Cross bearing is not a once-for-all act, nor is it carrying the daily pressures of life that arise due to our humanity. Neither is the cross forced upon us against our will. Many who say they are disciples of Christ may, in their words and actions, know little of this voluntary but deliberate daily task.

If it is not bearing the afflictions of life or a once-for-all act of dedication to the Lord, then what is it? The phrase ‘take up his cross daily’ is bracketed between two companion phrases, ‘let him deny himself’ and ‘follow me’. These phrases together give us an understanding of cross-bearing. Self denial is not a natural ingredient of human nature. We all, to some degree or other, have an ego in our lives. The capital ‘I‘ and the pronoun ‘me’ are part of everyday speech!

The apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians sets out his ‘I‘ credentials. Seven of them, no less! But he quickly renounces these when he declares, ‘But what things that were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ’, Phil. 3. 7.

The Lord Jesus in His teaching to the disciples uses the words, ‘must suffer . . . and be rejected’, Mark. 8. 31. Now the apostle emulates His Master and exclaims, ‘for whom I have suffered the loss of all things’, v. 8. This is the death blow to self-priority thinking, beautifully and simply expressed in the children’s chorus, ‘Jesus first, yourself last, and nothing in between’. The apostle’s only aim was to ‘win Christ’ and this encompassed all life’s experiences. There are no grand options for loyalty for the Christian. It is a matter of ‘all or nothing’.

From the inception of the church, cross-bearing has been a repetitive occurrence. When the apostles Peter and John were released after being beaten, ‘they departed from the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame (dishonour) for his name’, Acts 5. 41. We might ask, what is the reason for the suffering or the source of the dishonour? The answer lies in that when the angel opened the prison doors he commanded them to, ‘stand and speak in the temple . . . the words of this life’, Acts 5. 20. Thus the apostles were proclaiming the gospel of their crucified, risen and exalted Lord. This was the cause and reason for their suffering ‘dishonour’. For a perishing world the only source of true life is saving contact with the Life Himself. The Lord Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’, John 14. 6, and, ‘I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly’, John 10. 10.

The preaching of the gospel down the centuries has resulted, in many places in the world, in persecutions and death. The testimonies of present-day cross-bearers are available to us through reliable reports. Two examples will suffice:

‘You want me to say that I have
changed my religion, because
somebody pushed me into it,
or for the sake of money
or to get a job. But you are lying.
You should know that I changed
because I found the truth. I will kiss
the rope that hangs me, but I will
never deny my faith’,
TAHIR IQBAL, PAKISTAN, 1992.

‘I would rather have the whole world
against me, but know that the
Almighty God is with me, be called
an apostate, but know that I have the
approval of the God of glory’,
MEHIDE DIBAJ. IRAN, FROM HIS DEFENCE
AT HIS TRIAL FOR APOSTACY,
DECEMBER, 1993.

In this Western Post-Christian era where truth is relative and standards no longer absolute, the genuine believer may soon have to suffer the consequences of cross-bearing again. Our Lord’s clear declaration that, ‘no man cometh unto the Father but by me’, John 14. 6, and the apostles’ confirmation that, ‘neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved’, Acts 4. 12, may well soon be tested under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Securities Act 2001, passed by the European Union. It may well be from our generation that some will be called to suffer this ‘dishonour’ for the Name of the One who is our Lord and Master. We do well to watch and pray that we enter not into temptation.