How Do You See The Cross?
By Robert E. Coleman
God’s call to commitment costs something. It cost Jesus His life, and if we follow Him it will cost ours too.
Jesus made it clear: "Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Mark 8:34).
Yet for some reason we do not like to believe it. The rugged obedience of the cross may be affirmed in our professions of faith, but it is hard to find in our daily lives.
As A. W. Tozer said shortly before his death: "The Lordship of Jesus is not quite forgotten among Christians. But it has been mostly relegated to the hymnal where all responsibility toward it may be discharged in a glow of pleasant religious emotion."
I am afraid that our reasoning follows much the same line of thought as that of Peter at Caesarea Philippi when he rebuked his Lord for talking about being crucified. The big fisherman cried out: "Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee" (Matthew 16:22).
But Jesus, knowing how superficial was Peter’s understanding, turned and said: "Get thee behind Me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men" (Mark 8:33).
This is a startling reprimand, especially when it is recalled that Jesus is speaking to the leader of the apostolic company, who just a moment before had expressed so forcibly his faith in Christ (verse 29). Yet it should serve to remind us that there is lurking within us all a natural reluctance to accept Christ’s commitment to the cross.
Perhaps it is because the commitment rests upon a fact which is so offensive to men. The horrible spectacle of Calvary -- the ghastly sight of the Son of God nailed to a cross, His tortured body writhing in pain, red blood streaming from his wounds running red down the tree forming a red pool on Golgotha hill -- this is a scene that man does not like.
It is all right to talk about Jesus’ great ethical teachings and even to exalt His exemplary life of obedience, but insistence upon the cross as being absolutely necessary for our redemption is more than the egocentric mind of man can stand. It jerks off the mask of respectability and shows just how far man has sunk in degradation and shame.
Yet God in His infinite love is seen willing to bear the wrath of His own law by taking upon Himself the condemnation of us all.
This comes as a rather jolting revelation to those who in their pretense of self-righteousness seek to earn salvation by human virtue. No wonder the moralistic Jews rejected it. The cross was a stumbling block to their religion of good works. And to the philosophic Greeks, who worshiped the highest aspirations of man, it was utter foolishness.
But to those who by faith commit themselves to it, the very thing which makes the cross so distasteful to the wisdom of men makes it the "power of God, and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:24).
However, lest we lose the force of this gospel in pious mental adoration, let us realize that such a commitment demands a complete surrender of our wills to Christ. Jesus said that whoever would come after Him must "give up all right to himself" (Mark 8:34, Phillips). He must lose his life to find it (verse 35).
When the Christian faces this fact he is made aware of an inner disposition that does not want to submit. His human inclination is to try to work out a compromise whereby both self-centeredness and devotion to Christ are made to live together. But the trouble is that Christ will not be satisfied with less than all. The cross demands that self must die.
There can be no getting around it. "The flesh with the affections and lusts" must be crucified with Christ (Galatians 5:24; 6:14).
Of course, when thinking like men this seems rather hard, but from God’s perspective of Calvary it is our only "reasonable service" (Romans 12:1). As C. T. Studd said: "If Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him."
Some time ago I noticed over the door of a church the inscription: "Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise" (Psalm 100:4). I was impressed immediately with the appropriateness of this admonition of the psalmist. Indeed, we should always enter the church with joy and adoration.
But as I thought more about these words I could not help but wonder if we have that kind of experience in the church today. Those words refer to the "sheep of His pasture" being led through the gates of the Temple where they were to be offered as sacrifices upon the altars of God. That was their only purpose for entering into God’s house.
But is not this the secret of true, deep, abiding joy? Only as we die with Christ can we truly live with Him. Or, to put it another way, only as we are emptied of self can we be filled with His Spirit.
I am convinced that the renewal which the church is seeking will be known only as this truth is experienced. Alan Redpath keenly observed the contemporary situation when he said: "In many places a mutilated gospel is being preached. It majors on free grace but minors on full obedience....
"Failure to preach the entire message, which includes not only the forgiveness of sins but deliverance from the power of the sin principle, has produced a generation of independent Christians who simply have not progressed with God and who do not grow."
This is the issue before us. It is well enough for us in the church to talk about the cross, but what is more to the point is for us to come down from our selfishness and pride and die on that cross ourselves.
The victory is won in surrender. When at last the cross is embraced in loving submission of all to Him who gave all for us, what a wonderful release it brings from the bondage of self. Just as Peter discovered, having ceased from trying to please our "human appetites and desires," we want "what God wills," and find therein a blessed "life-joy and satisfaction" in everything that happens (1 Peter 4:1-2,14 Amp.).
Probably, though, the most difficult thing for us to realize about total commitment is that it involves us in a practical life of service. Jesus called His disciples to "follow" Him. It was not a mere act of dedication that He expected, but rather a continuing act of obedience to His example.
Human thinking is staggered before such a challenge. The worldly-minded chief priests reflected the way men look at it when they mockingly said of Jesus on the cross, "He saved others; Himself He cannot save" (Mark 15:31).
What they failed to comprehend in their smugness of course, was that Jesus had not come to save Himself. He came to save them. He "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). He came "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10).
This was the only reason for His earthly existence -- the only thing that caused Him to throw off the robes of glory and take upon Himself the form of our flesh.
Continually setting Himself apart for this work was His sanctification, and He prayed that it also might be the commitment of His followers. "As Thou has sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth" (John 17:18-19).
Jesus did not need to be sanctified, as we do, in order to be clean, for He was already the blameless Prince of Heaven. Nor did He need, like us, to be sanctified in order to have power to live, for He already had all power in heaven and earth.
His sanctification, as the Scripture reveals, was not for any inherent need in His person. It was for "their sakes." It was a commitment to the task for which He had been sent into the world. It was a daily giving of Himself for us, even unto death.
Surely this is a dimension of life in Christ which needs to be understood. Without this daily giving of ourselves in service our dedication is not going to mean much to others or to ourselves. The victory of the crucified life comes in no other way. The call of Christ is to far more than a profession of faith. It is a call to total commitment, and to total commitment now.
Whether we accept the challenge or not will depend on the way we look at the cross -- whether we think as men or as God. But if we want to know the power of the resurrection life we will have to renounce our self-sufficiency, abandon everything to Christ and go in His name to serve those He died to save.
– From Alliance Life. Used by permission of the author.