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Learning How to Die

September 19, 2010 Series: Following Jesus

Topic: Discipleship Passage: Matthew 16:24–16:27

Open your bibles to the book of Matthew, chapter 16. 

Recently, I read an article in Christianity Today Magazine. At the outset of this article the author makes the observation that we, as a nation, are predominantly Christian but that not all those within “Chistiandom” are alike. The rest of the article gives the results of a research study that was conducted to find out what makes us different and then attempts to offer suggestions for the church to deal with these changing spiritual times. 

“Jennifer Hua identifies herself as a Christian. A 35-year-old, she has gone to church all her life and furthers her spiritual development by daily Bible reading, prayer, listening to and singing worship songs, and interacting with other Christians. "I do all of these things because I know from past experience I need to recalibrate my mind and my heart to be in tune with God," she says. 

James Smith also identifies himself as a Christian. He attended church as a child, but his attendance was minimal as a young adult. He believes in God, occasionally attends church when his time-consuming job allows, but he does not often participate in other activities to further his spiritual life. He has a Bible but rarely opens it; what leisure time he has he spends with friends, most of whom are of different faiths, and he does not necessarily believe that his God is any different from the one his Muslim friend worships. "I don't think that God would be a God who would shut others out of heaven because they don't use the word 'Christian' to describe themselves," he says. 

To understand the range and differences among American Christians, [a study was conducted] of the religious beliefs and practices of U.S. Christians. The results reveal a number of significant differences. In fact, portraits of five distinct segments emerged from the study. We have named them Active, Professing, Liturgical, Private, and Cultural Christians.” 

Summary of Study Results (extremes):

• Active Christians

o Believe salvation comes through Jesus Christ

o Committed church goers

o Bible readers

• Private and Cultural (combined) Christians

o Largest and youngest group at 45% of professing Christians

o View of God-ranging from believing in God and doing good things to being “God aware” with little personal involvement

o View of Scripture- ½ own a bible but don’t read it, ½ never mentioned it

o View of Church- not interested, most prefer university theology 

“In addition to these findings about the church, we found a most defining dichotomy over the Jesus question: Active and Professing Christians said "accepting Christ as Savior and Lord" is the key to being a Christian (almost 9 in 10), while Liturgical, Private, and Cultural Christians favored more generally "believing in God" as the main element in being a Christian. So, for a vast number of people who consider themselves Christian, Christ is not the central figure of their faith.” 

The title of the article is “5 Kinds of Christians” 

Did you know that there were 5 different kinds of Christians? Apparently there’s a wide path that leads to destruction, and there’s another path-the, choose whichever path you want path-the ala-cart path. It seems like the narrow path that leads to life has been expanded to a 4-lane highway-and there’s even off ramps now so you can get off when life get too busy or the commitment gets too confining. It’s sad to see how many believe there are more than two roads.

Is that what Jesus taught, that we could be a Christian and just choose our preferred level of commitment? Absolutely not! When a moralistic, socially and environmentally conscious unbeliever can pass as a “Cultural” Christian - something is very wrong! Instead of being salt and light to the world around us we’ve been flavored and influenced by our culture and the lines have been blurred. Tolerance rules the day and the church has followed suit. We need scripture to help us here. 

Let’s read Matthew 16:24-27

[24] Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. [25] For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. [26] For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? [27] For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 

The irony of this article and the condition of the church is that, as you can see in this passage, this is one of the clearest, most often repeated and offensive teachings that Jesus gives us throughout scripture. He tells us: “Do you want to follow me? Deny yourself, take up your cross. (what?) You want to follow me, you won’t have a place to lay your head, don’t even bring one change of clothes; What’s that, your father just died-leave him, let the dead bury the dead. Oh, you want to follow me? Are you willing to say good bye to your mother because she’s not going to like this and I require all of you. If you want to follow me you have to die like a grain of wheat-that’s the only way; you have to die like me. 

I realize this is a hard message to hear, but it’s vitally important to our maturity as Jesus disciples. What I don’t want is for everybody to start questioning their salvation because you still own a home and you’re not walking the streets with a cross on your back. At the same time, I do want us all to listen carefully; we need to humble ourselves and evaluate our lives as Jesus disciples. This isn’t a teaching of condemnation but of instruction and warning.

 THE PATH OF DISCIPLESHIP REQUIRES SELF-DENIAL

“If anyone would come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” 

Jesus requirement for all those who would follow him is Self-Denial and He uses the illustration of a cross to describe it-and then He walks the walk by shedding His own blood on His cross. Walter Chantry has been a great help to me in my study of this aspect of discipleship through his book: The Shadow of the Cross. Listen to what he has to say about the subject of self-denial: 

“Your Master's life was dominated by a cross. He has called you also to a life with a cross. This clear gospel note is so easy to forget in flabby Western society. With a great chorus of custom, advertisement and temptation this world is beckoning you to a life of self-indulgence. Your flesh is drawn to that appeal, and [would] fall in with the world's suggestions. But the Lord of glory has called you to a life of self-denial, to a cross.” 

Now, our cross isn't like Jesus' cross. It isn't atoning, it doesn't save us. He died to pay for our sins because we never could. Our cross is a response of gripping Christ instead of sin. This is good news because we fail and we don’t denying ourselves His forgiveness and grace is there in abundance. 

There really is only one way to eternal life (through Jesus) and there’s only one way to Jesus-His way…the way of the cross and self-denial. To follow Jesus we really have to follow Jesus! The requirement to follow Jesus is the same for everybody. There’s not 5 Kinds of Christians-there’s only 1. The kind that has counted the cost, taken up their cross and denied themselves. 

But Jesus isn’t forcing anyone to deny themselves. He’s not chasing people down making deals and lowering the standards just so people will follow Him. He calls us to do this. We are the ones who deny ourselves and take up our crosses. We do it intentionally just like Jesus did-John 10:18-“No man takes my life, I give it…” 

Remember the rich young ruler? A self professed religious man (somewhere between a liturgical and private Christian level in our study) who wanted to know the secret formula to eternal life. Jesus required the one thing that he wasn’t willing to give up-his possessions-and he walked away sorrowful. And Jesus let him go. 

The rich ruler didn’t want to endure the pain of loss. Jesus didn’t use a cross to illustrate what following Him would be like by mistake. The cross is painful and deadly. The purpose of a cross was to inflict a slow, painful, humiliating death. Jesus said “The way is hard that leads to life”. But don’t think that the extent of the pain and suffering that our Lord endured on that day was physical-that was just the beginning. 

The inward torture of the cross was infinitely greater than the physical pain. The confusion of being made sin before the Father, the embarrassment of being judged by a righteous God in front of His enemies, the shame of being laid bare-flesh ripped, naked and (for the first time ever) alone. There’s no doubt that His inner pain was infinitely greater than His outward. And that’s what we should expect from our cross as well. Because…

 The Heart

Self-Denial is about the heart and the will. It’s giving up self will and embracing the will of another; this is going to require doing without, humbling ourselves and discomfort, loss and pain. But when you don’t belong to yourself do you really have a choice. Sometimes, just the way we talk in normal conversations will reveal our understanding of what it means to follow Christ; “I don’t read”, “I’m not a people person”, “I don’t go to church because I trust authority”. Doesn’t scripture, Jesus, have something to say about this? We don’t have the luxury to pick and choose. 

It’s this kind of self-denial that took Jesus to the cross and it’s this kind of self denial that will lead us to our cross. And we don’t just do this once. Christians new and old need carry their cross daily. There’s only one place for you to get rid of your cross and that’s the cemetery. 

I’ll bet I know what some of you are thinking: This is depressing. I thought being a Christian meant life and peace, power and victory. So far all you’ve talked about is denial, death, killing devices and now you’re telling me that the only relief is the cemetery? Yes. But stay with me. This is where we find one of the most amazing paradoxes in scripture. You see, we have a tendency as humans and particularly in this country, to want all the benefits and pleasures without the commitment. But in God’s economy, it doesn’t work that way. 

Although self-denial and death comes with pain it leads to life-not only in eternity but also now. But we must go through the cross to get there. Remember the next verse, 

THE PATH OF SELF-DENIAL IS THE PATH OF JOY

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” 

Aren’t some of the most miserable people you know, people who have everything; people who get what they want when they want it-and yet they’re never happy. But some of the most joyful people I have met get excited about things that I complain about-their happy just to have Christ. In order to find our life, to experience joy, satisfaction and fulfillment, we have to lose our life. We have to die like a grain of wheat, because then we can grow and thrive and bring forth fruit that we never thought possible. 

Jesus knows the price isn’t too high. It was for the joy set before Him that He endured the cross. And that’s our motivation as well. After the rich ruler denied Christ, Jesus gave this encouragement to His disciples (and it’s for us today): [29] He said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, [30] who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:29-30) 

There have never been any regrets from those who have given everything. The product of self-denial and death is joy and life. Theirs are all the promises of God and an inheritance of eternal rejoicing and reward. And don’t you want to have as many rewards as possible to be able to throw at the feet of the one who has suffered and died for you? I do. 

Then let’s not wait. If this is an area that’s lacking in your life as it is in mine-let’s start right now. This is an everyday, all day lifestyle of discipleship; a lifestyle of denying your will and doing His. What’s His will? This book. How did Jesus tell us to make disciples: go, baptize and teach all that He commanded. Try doing anything that He commanded without denying yourself in one way or another. Let me give you an example: 

Practical Life

Devotions- Alarm clock, cold floor, mental interruptions of the day to come

Marriage- Lay down your life for your wife/Submit and respect your husbands

Witnessing- There is not easy way to tell anyone-“you’re a sinner and unless you repent, believe on the Jesus Christ and take up your cross, the wrath of God will be waiting for you.” 

Every time you choose to do His will it’s a blow to your will, every hour committed to serve is an hour of comfort lost, and every dollar that you give is a dollar less in your pocket or the bank but you’ll never miss it-not now or in eternity. Our Savior’s life was consumed by a cross and yet it was through the cross that He found His way to the right hand of the Father in Glory. 

“Bearing a cross is every Christian’s daily, conscious selection of those options which will please Christ, pain self, and aim at putting self to death.” “The only lasting and fully satisfying joys for any man lie on the other side of a cross…Joy in His kingdom comes with a cross. Most of those who fail to experience the joy of the Lord have refused to take up a cross!” Walter Chantry 

And to them this is a warning because eventually God will require everything from everyone. “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” The question is did they do their will or His will? Will you give everything now willingly or will you give it on that day with tears.

I took the title of this message from a song by one of my favorite artists, Jon Foreman called, “Learning How to Die”, The song is about a guy saying good bye to a girl who’s dying but when she brings up the end he doesn’t want to talk about it. But in the chorus of the song… 

“She said, friend

All along I thought

I was learning how to take

How to bend not how to break

How to live not how to cry

But really

I've been learning how to die”

Jon Foreman, Learning How to Die

Every single day in a thousand choices we’re learning how to die. We’re to pick up our crosses daily; not once for all. But daily denying and dying to our will and living to God’s will. And that’s where we find true life and lasting joy. As Disciples of Christ, our life is to be a life of diminishing so that as we decrease, Christ would increase. And with the increase of Christ in and through us comes the reward of joy, peace and confidence in the one who has written your name in the book of life.

Do you want to know Christ more? Deny-yourself. Do you want to walk by faith and see the power of God active in and through you? Take up your cross. Do you want to overcome sin and grow in the gifts of the Spirit and boldly witness to unbelievers and leave this earth having left a lasting impression for the name of Jesus Christ? Then Die. Die the death that leads to life. That’s what our Savior did and He expects no less from us. 

And as we learn how to die we will experience life everlasting.