Ordinarily, we speak of Christian living, but it is an essential fact of New Testament teaching that living for God can be realized only when ‘death’ has occurred beforehand. As will be seen later, since the cross God has nothing more to do with man ‘after the flesh’. All have to stand on the other side of death. As believers, we are linked to a risen man, as partakers of His resurrection life. We must be ‘dead and risen men’. Sadly, this is so often obscured, and lost in our thinking by popular notions of ‘being better’. Indeed, we are often told of this necessity, but rarely how it is to be done. All such notions are unscriptural, however fair their promise.
‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me’, v. 23. It is these words which will occupy our thoughts.
It will be seen that the Lord’s words are in two parts, which may be thought of as:
We shall never be willing to part with anything of this world until we learn to see it as God sees it. At our conversion, we saw it as under the judgement of God, ripe for His wrath, and we ourselves as condemned with it. If any have not yet seen this, may you soon learn to ‘flee from the wrath to come’! It was in this capacity that the Thessalonians ‘turned to God’, and most, if not all, believers learned that, as unbelievers, the wrath of God abideth on us.
But, having trusted in Christ, and begun to learn of His love as shown by His sacrifice for us, that it was the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me, then the world ought, of necessity, to be viewed in an even more dreadful light – the world that hated, despised, rejected and crucified the One whom we love dearly. It is then that we find we have a basic and fundamental decision to make as to our attitude to that world, and our relationship with it. Shall we desire the fellowship of a world that killed Him, and would do so again were that possible? ‘Whosoever … will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God’, Jas. 4. 4. Can we be comfortable, at home, find our pleasure, in a godless world, where every motive and expression becomes increasingly corrupt and vile? This is the basic issue which will come out of these words.
But before this issue will be decided, another, more vital issue, must be addressed, which will have the greatest possible bearing on the former circumstance.
We must now look at what is stated in Luke chapter 9. There are those who feel that the term ‘disciple’ is not appropriate to believers of the church era. They argue that it belongs to the Jewish believers who followed Christ on earth, not to this dispensation of grace. It is suggested that our links to Christ, as raised and seated together with Him, stand on a far higher plane. That, of course, is true. The church-age saint has a unique position. When we read the Gospel records, all is in a Jewish context. It is Israel’s Messiah that is presented to them, and the disciples are clearly representative of a godly remnant which both believe, and receive Him. And it is in the light of Israel and the Kingdom that so much of the teaching is given. But it is not exclusively so, and Luke in particular, as a Gentile writing for a Gentile, reflects that circumstance.
‘Disciples’ is how those who believe and receive Him are viewed by men in this world. This is plainly seen in John chapter 9, ‘Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses’ disciples’ is the language of the scribes to the poor man who had been born blind. Does this, then, apply to church-age believers? Clearly it does. The gospel has now gone over the bounds of Israel to the Gentile nations. These Gentiles believe, and are baptized, and gather together in His name, as previously specified in Matthew’s Gospel. In Acts chapter 11, we read that the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. They had been disciples in men’s eyes and so marked, so different, so compelling had been their testimony to Him whom they confessed that they were called ‘Christ’s ones’, seeing they were so like Him. They were disciples who earned that title. Note that they did not profess to be Christians who ought to be disciples – they were disciples who were plainly Christ’s.
The facts are that true discipleship is so demanding, so costly, that it can only be taken up by such as are both prompted and empowered by the indwelling Spirit.
The twelve had just enjoyed a short period of successful and exhilarating testimony. They had returned weary, but elated, by all that had taken place. There was every sign to them that He was the Messiah, and that they were announcing the Kingdom, soon to come. They had had the joy and privilege of acting for Him as His representatives. His power had been using them to heal and deliver. It all seemed to be so triumphant, and blessed, so easy. They go apart with him to rest, and He feeds the multitude. John, telling of this, says that ‘they sought to take Him by force and make Him a king’. It was the hour of popularity, based not on faith but on material wishes. We can see how, in this atmosphere, their expectations were like the crowd’s, purely on an earthly level.
But the Lord cannot allow false hopes to flourish in their hearts. He will not have a people attracted by outward and material prospects, or enthusiasm buoyed up with thoughts of personal advantage. We must be aware that some are still winning converts on false pretences, promising healing and health, success and prosperity, happiness and freedom from cares to those who comply with their appeals. All is false and ends in disillusionment. It is true that there is unfailing joy and blessing in Christ, but not on the superficial level of modern expectation and not hand-in-hand with worldly conduct.
‘Whom do men say that I am?’ Their answers declare where they are spiritually. Incidentally, these records show that even where the signs and wonders were authentic these did not promote true faith, saving faith, in Him. How less so when what is claimed is spurious.
‘But whom do ye say that I am?’ All rests on this – our laying hold on Him personally as ‘the Christ of God’, the ‘Son of the living God’ as elsewhere. All too often, we simply believe certain teachings, accept certain truths, about Him. This goes deeper; what is your relationship to Me personally? Clearly, it was right, but it will be tested and challenged to the utmost in the days ahead, and only what was genuine, real, and certain could possibly survive the ordeal. If we are going to take up the challenge of Christ’s words today we must have Him personally as the supreme and only object of our faith and love, otherwise we will inevitably break down and take a lower position of faith and obedience.
Thus, their false dreams of glory are about to be shattered. He was the Christ of God indeed, worthy of all their faith and trust. But, ‘He must suffer many things and be rejected’. Death, not glory, lay ahead for Him at the hands of the nation. Death and resurrection must precede the Kingdom that will come, but not as they had expected.
But He was still calling. They must still follow, and come after Him in this intervening period of rejection. Would faith still be in Him as the Christ of God, when all it brings is rejection and death? These words are still full of meaning for us today. He is still in rejection, and the same requirement is asked of us; the same reality must be faced, both spiritually and, still often, literally. It has been so in every generation, for the one who will come after the Man of Calvary.