What does it mean to die with Christ? Luke 9. 18-27 - Part 2
Eddie Honeyball, Denston, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
i. The Cost of His words – ‘let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’
It is a very searching question we ought to ask ourselves. Would we still have confessed Christ as Lord and Saviour had we known for certain it would mean being turned out of home and society, being beaten, imprisoned or even killed? Yet we learn that many dear believers in other lands still face all this when He is owned. What of us? Only as He captures our hearts and lives is it possible at all. We see something of this in Paul’s experience. Ananias was sent to him at Damascus to ‘shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake’, Acts 9. 16. He knew the cost from the start of his experience. In the passage before us, so do the twelve, and so do we, if we would ‘come after Him’. It has never changed, nor will it do so in the days of His rejection.
In Philippians chapter 3, the apostle reflects on some of the costs, but considers them nothing in the light of His person. To have Christ for his gain compensated every loss and suffering. We, too, should have these deep spiritual desires to know Him, to come after Him, and to face up to what this will cost.
It is at once evident that it is a contest between self and Christ. ‘Let him deny himself’, Luke 9. 23. If self-interest orders our lives, we cannot experience a Christ-centred life. Will all our abilities, powers and faculties, possessions and opportunities be used for self, or for Him? This is the great issue which so many avoid, and go on through life professing Him to be Lord, but in reality denying Him that place. Surely, most of us must say that this is so. Even Christian service can be taken up in this spirit of self-pleasing and, should it not suit us, given up for the same reason. How contrary all this is to human thinking! Every part of education today is geared up to self-improvement, self-reliance, self-expression, self-advancement, self-promotion. All must be unlearned to follow Christ – ‘let him deny himself’!
Only One is to be promoted, honoured, glorified, not self at all. Elijah in 1 Kings chapter 17 enunciated a principle for blessing which applies in all ages: ‘make me first’. As God’s representative his needs stood prior to those of the widow and her son. Put Him first and true blessing follows. Self clamours to be first, but no one ever had true blessing in their lives on that principle. Him first! But this involves cost and sacrifice. I am going to a cross – He who follows after Me must go that way! In natural things death follows life, but in spiritual things death precedes life. This is the principle of this age; life which comes out of death and resurrection.
The disciples would understand in all its stark reality the meaning of a man taking up his cross. Such a sight was not uncommon. When a man passed down the road carrying a cross it was certain he would not return. It ended for good every relationship as to this world. He was being judicially reckoned as unfit to be here in the world and was thus cast out of it. It was to such a pathway the Lord was calling them (and us) to follow, an absolute and final separation from everything here. The cross was man’s final insult to God, his answer to Divine love, the fixed attitude of the natural heart to God, which nothing can alter. That is how men are, this is how we were, and this is how the world remains unless touched by the Spirit of God in infinite grace. The cross has made an unbridgeable gulf between God and man after the flesh. The old nature of man has been proved incurably evil, and death is the only answer to all that man is as ‘in Adam’. Yet it is wonderful to know that this same cross is God’s answer to men, a demonstration of infinite love, the means of redemption, and resurrection life.
So then, the fact of death, of a daily dying, must be taken up by all who desire to come after Him. Essentially, here it is spiritual but, of course, it is literally true for some. This being so we must pursue this idea in New Testament terms, and, in doing so, we shall discover how it is stamped upon doctrine as the normal and essential part of the believer’s life – a willingness to part with everything, if so required, for Him.
We can only live the true and proper Christian life if we learn the lesson of death and resurrection. Religion will teach us to live better lives, but Christian discipleship is to ‘take up one’s cross daily’.
We will find a two-fold aspect to this truth: (a) a past fact; (b) a continual reality.
1. It is patent in the gospel – 2 Corinthians chapter 5
The very message we profess to believe will tell us of this fact in no uncertain terms. Since One died for all, then were all dead (all died). The death of one on behalf of all is, in God’s eyes, the death of all. It is God’s judicial sentence upon all of Adam’s race. The cross is all it was fit for, and Christ took that place on our behalf. ‘He died for all, that they which live’ should not henceforth, from that point forward, ‘live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again’, v. 15. This will give the sense that only those that are a ‘new creation’ in Christ are living before God, and that to live only for Him.
What kind of gospel did we believe, and what kind do we preach? If we believe He died for us, as we profess, then He has absolute rights over us. The terms of forgiveness and salvation are to confess Him Lord and bow our stubborn wills to him. If that is not so, where do we stand? This is the first lesson of this fact: I have died judicially before God.
2. It is testified to in my baptism – we died to sin, Romans chapter 6
Baptism by immersion was the expected, normal, condition. Again, we are taken back to the cross which effectively ended my career as a child of Adam’s race. It is to that fact that we gave testimony in baptism. Romans chapter 6 makes this clear, ‘our old man is crucified with him’ – a final and settled act, as far as God is concerned. Faith links us with a dead and risen Saviour and we give evidence to that work of grace in baptism. In chapters 6 and 7, the apostle pursues this fact, that as those that have died neither sin nor the law have any power over one who has already, in the person of his Substitute, died as to sin’s penalty and the law’s condemnation. In Christ we are in bondage to neither and, being free, can willingly yield our members to God for righteous living.
3. It must be effective in my experience – Galatians chapter 6, verse 14
Here we find that the child of God should be characterized by his attitude of detachment and separation, not only from the world and the things which make up the world, but essentially from its spirit, motives and ways, controlled as they are by the flesh working in unregenerate men. The Galatian letter deals with the error of legalism in contrast to the free grace of God in Christ. Not only is it impossible for any to be saved by the keeping of the law, as all Jewish history proves, but it renders the work of the cross both ineffective and unnecessary. Christ died unnecessarily if we could be saved by rites, ceremonies and law-keeping. But in chapters 5 and 6 he traces this error to its source, the working of the flesh, desiring to be something, to have something to boast about in themselves. ‘Far be it from me’, says the apostle, ‘that I should glory’, v. 14. Why? Because he kept the cross and its meaning before his heart. The offence of the cross is still there, not in ungodly men, but in those who professed to be Christ’s. Men still want what the world wants. For the apostle, and it should be so for us, the cross meant that he had passed out from the world: it was all dead to him, and he to it.
4. It is essential for my knowledge of Christ – Galatians chapter 2, verse 20
‘I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me’. We know these words yet how little we aspire to their reality in life. We can never fully enjoy Christ in the soul until we learn this great lesson; I must be dead and Christ living in me. The apostle saw it as a past accomplished fact and this is what it is. That is the true meaning of the cross and the words of Luke chapter 9 tell us that it should be our daily reckoning as dead to self, dead to sin, dead to the world. We must mortify our members, Col. 3. 5. It is a doctrine which cuts us off from everything pertaining to the natural man. If that sounds totally negative then we must go on to consider that the cross opens the door to a whole new world beyond death of spiritual and heavenly glory.