It was a mixed crowd that gathered to listen to the earnest, eloquent preacher as He challenged them to committed Christian service. Among the crowd were those who had wholeheartedly thrown themselves into serving their Lord and were living fruitful, fulfilling Christian lives. There were also many, however, whose commitment was half-hearted at best, and who wandered along in meaningless, mundane lives with no clear direction and little in the way of purpose. No, it wasn’t an afternoon session at one of our North American conferences – although given the description it could well have been. The setting was a roadside in the region of Caesarea-Philippi, the date was somewhere around 32 AD, and the preacher was none other than the Lord Himself! The amazing thing is that His message, although delivered almost 2 millennia ago, rings down through the ages to our generation, and its challenge has never been more relevant than it is today in our materialistic, egocentric, self-indulgent society. Let us listen as He cries, and let the truth of it grip our souls, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me“ (Luke 9:23).
Notice how the Lord addresses His appeal – “If any man.” This message is not for some select group of “special” believers; it is applicable to all. There are not two paths of Christian service – one for “full-time” servants who are called to sacrifice everything and devote themselves fully, and another for “regular” believers who can settle down into a life of half-hearted commitment and just be “ordinary Christians.” This may be what we observe around us, and sadly may be what we accept as “normal,” but it is never envisioned in the Scripture, and never countenanced in the teaching of the Lord. He only outlined one pattern for service, that of absolute selfless surrender! On an encouraging note, though, the Lord’s teaching also reinforces that not only is this truth applicable to all, it’s also available to all. Maybe as you read these words, you struggle with a sense of inadequacy and inferiority when it comes to Christian service. Others seem to have much more gift. Others seem to have clear direction. Others seem to be used by God, but you feel small and weak. You fear that there’s nothing you can do. Take courage. The Lord clearly says that this call to service applies to everyone: “If any man.” He can take you just as you are, and, if you are faithful to His call, He can mold you and use you in ways only He can plan. He doesn’t ask first for our capabilities, He asks for our commitment – complete and without reservation. Before He controls our hands or feet, He wants to claim our hearts!
Commitment is a Choice
Commitment will never just “happen” in a believer’s life. The Lord challenges His hearers to exercise their will: “if any man willcome after Me.” The force of this expression is the same as in the subsequent verses, “whosoever will save his life shall lose it, but whosoever will lose his life for My sake, the same shall save it.” Christian service begins with a choice, an exercise of the will, and a dogged determination to pursue a path of obedience. What have you set your heart on? What are you determined to achieve in life? What really matters to you? Paul said in Philippians 1, “For to me to live is Christ.” How would you finish that sentence? How would I? For to me to live is . . . what? Sadly, many of us get drawn into the lifestyle of this age, where the purpose of life is all too often watered down to the pursuit of career goals, the accumulation of material possessions, the achievement of educational standards, the stardom of athletic accomplishments, or the acceptance of society’s admiration or fame. It is in the midst of a society steeped in these godless values that we need to hear our Savior’s call as never before, “If any man will come after Me,” and renew our determination to heed His cry and go after Him!
Commitment has a Cost
How the words of the Lord must have jolted His hearers that day: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross.” Few symbols in Roman society would evoke the powerful, emotional reactions of a cross. The picture was horrifyingly graphic. A man “taking up his cross” meant only one thing: for that man, life as it had been was over. He was going out to die. The sudden, jolting reaction this image would provoke was no accident. It was exactly what the Lord intended to communicate. Being a disciple of His would require complete, total surrender, a willingness to renounce everything of my own self-interest, and to turn my back on everything of meaning or purpose in life apart from Christ. What a standard! We need to allow this truth to penetrate our hearts. This is the only path that leads to fruitfulness, purpose, and joy in Christian living. What has my Christian service cost me? What price am I willing to pay to serve Christ? Will I forego educational opportunity if it means missing weeknight meetings at my assembly? Will I forfeit career advancement or business success if it will stifle my spiritual activity and my functioning in my local assembly? Am I willing to stand for the truth, even when it’s unpopular? Committed Christian service will always have a cost.
Commitment takes Consistency
The Lord introduces a very strange qualifier in Luke’s version of this message (Luke 9:23). “Let him . . . take up his cross daily.” A man in Roman society would only ever “take up his cross” once. He was going out to die! What then could the Lord have meant when He stressed that those who would come after Him must take up their cross daily? It would appear that the Lord understood the weakness of our hearts and their propensity to wander. He knew that the fervor and commitment of a moment, however well-intentioned our ambition might be, would inevitably falter and flicker as time passed and circumstances crowded in. While the call to commitment is complete and unequivocal, there is a need for it to be renewed every day. Paul is an interesting example of this in Philippians 3. He looks back to the point of his conversion and stresses that “what things were gain to me those I counted loss for Christ.” A clear decision! A moment of crisis! A turning point in his life! But he goes on to say, “Yea doubtless and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.” What had been true of him in a life-defining moment of crisis, was also true of him on an ongoing basis in the present. How is this with me? Every day the Lord calls me anew to deny myself, heed His call, and follow Him.
Commitment offers a Crown
The Lord’s challenge to “follow Me” takes on particular meaning from this side of the cross. The disciples had “left all to follow Him” but they had no understanding at that point where His path was going to lead. We have the benefit of the entire revelation of God. When we hear the Savior say, “Follow Me,” we can trace exactly the pattern of service demonstrated in the path He took. His path led Him down and was marked by sacrifice, selflessness, and immeasurable cost. His path demonstrated unswerving consistency and devotion to His Father’s will and ultimately led Him to an exalted place at His Father’s right hand in glory! The world today wrongly promotes the notion that everyone is entitled to a life of fulfillment, happiness, and self-gratification. We are entitled to nothing but judgment for our sin. The amazing thing is, though, that there isa life of true fulfillment and joy available for every believer. The Lord Jesus expressed this desire for His own in John 10:10, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Do you want true joy, peace, and satisfaction in your soul? Do you want a sense of purpose and fulfillment in life? It will never, never come from the empty promises of a godless world. It cannot be achieved by a life lived according to the warped goals of a self-obsessed society. It can only be found in complete, total surrender to our Savior, in wholehearted commitment to walk after His steps and follow Him whatever the cost. His path cost Him everything, but it led to infinite joy and eternal satisfaction. “Who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down on the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
Amid all the noise and clamor of a world designed to stifle us as the people of God and rob us of true usefulness and service for Him, let us each tune our ears and heart to heed the clarion call of the One who left us the supreme example. He cries to our souls today: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”