Familiar phrase? It takes me back to my Sunday school days. We were always learning and being called to “take up our cross and follow Jesus...” But that ended up becoming a moralistic, legalistic chokehold. Can I get an "Amen?" It was a lot of “try harder, do better.” That isn’t what Jesus is commanding us.
This coming week at church we will be talking about what it looks like to follow Jesus the way Jesus tells us. I am excited. Mostly, because I know it won’t be a sermon about trying harder and doing better because that’s a bunch of BS.
I was reading in Matthew and Luke this morning. (Matthew 4:18-22 & Luke 9:23-27 to be exact.) Jesus is calling his first disciples to “take up your cross and follow me.” So, what does it mean to take up our cross? You ready? This seems to be impossible, but here it is: to take up your cross means to renounce selfish ambition. Dang. Is anyone else thinking, "I am so selfish. How could I possibly renounce that because I am selfish all of the time?” I really doubt I am the only one. I’ll give you good news right now so you don’t fall into the temptation of believing you have to try harder to not be selfish. Jesus died for the many ways our wicked hearts scheme to get what we want and the entitlement we feel when we don’t want to do something. He knew that when He asked us to follow him; he knew we would continue to fail time and time again. That’s good news! That’s great news! Because if our standing with the Lord was based on our performance we would all be screwed.
But, Jesus DID call us to renounce our selfish ambition. He called us to die to ourselves. This is hard. This is SO hard. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that Jesus “bids him come and die.” This is impossible to do without remembering the gospel truth that Jesus bore the cross of death in our place because he knew we couldn’t do this. He knew we needed his help. We NEED his help all of the time. We need his help most of all on our quest for being obedient and following Him, because it can be so easy to get caught up even in our attempt to be selfless.
So, have you died? Renouncing our selfish, hedonistic lifestyle, admitting we need a Savior, and putting our hope IN that Savior is the only way we will experience true joy. Death was the way of life for Jesus. He isn’t asking us to try harder or do better because when we work to try and earn the gift of salvation (which we can't) it leaves us exhausted and in despair (which totally sucks).
He is asking us to come, die, and to LIVE. He wants to make us new. So even in the midst of missing a workout, or not waking up early enough to have your coffee and few minutes of solitude before your kids wake up or whatever you are doing to try and earn or work for righteousness, Jesus already paid for that. You can relax and rest in knowing that He is enough for you. That He died for you and is asking you to follow him by trusting and believing in the Gospel.