One of the things I love about the Bible is how it is so full of paradoxes. Statements that at first glance may appear to be an oxymoron, but through closer examination expose life changing truths that could only be revealed by God Himself. One of these life-changing statements can be found in Mark chapter 8, where Christ tells His disciples & the surrounding crowd “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?"
Over this past semester, God has really been challenging me through this idea. Am I really willing to give up my life in order to follow Christ? The day that really made me think about this was when we had our Day of Prayer at school; we spent about 8 hours praying for members of the persecuted church across the world. These are people that are beaten, imprisoned, & even killed simply because they claim the name of Christ & follow Him no matter what the cost. In America, we are lucky. We don't have to worry too much about suffering through any physical harm for sharing our testimony or attending church. But yet we're still afraid because we have so much pride & fear of what people will think about us. So that's where it comes back to the big question: Am I willing to die to myself, my wants, desires, plans...everything I think I need in order to follow Christ through anything?
As I kept coming back to this question, the Lord kept bringing me to two examples of Christ-likeness in the Bible. Stephen & Paul both exemplified what it means to be Christ-like in life & in death.
In Acts 7, Stephen boldly proclaimed the gospel & the people he was speaking to got so angry when confronted with their sin that they stoned Stephen to death. In his last moments he fell to his knees & cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” ...Sound familiar? Let's take a look at Christ's last moments before His death on the cross. In Luke 23, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Christ died as an innocent man to take the punishment for our sins. Stephen died proclaiming the truth in love to a crowd of people who had never heard the gospel. Both of these men were killed for no fault of their own; they both died for the sake of others. And they both asked God to forgive the people who murdered them. "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Neither of these men died for people that loved them, they died for their enemies. "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5) Do we as Christians have this kind of Christ-like love?
Paul is another example that just really stands out to me in Christ-likeness. One of the things he said just really struck me. In Romans 9, Paul says "for I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers." Paul was willing for himself to be separated from God in order for others to come to know Christ. That is pretty powerful when you think about it. People who have never had a close relationship with the Lord will not be able to relate to this, but for those of you who know the deep love & peace that can only come from knowing God, you know how incredible Paul's statement is. There is only one other man that I can think of in all of history that was willing to give up His intimate relationship with God in order to save many & that was Christ Himself. We sometimes read God's words in Hebrews 13:5 in a hurry & never grasp the depth of His promise to us: "I will never leave you nor forsake you." Perhaps we don't grasp the full meaning of God's promise in this verse because we have forgotten another verse--Mark 15:34, when Christ was hanging on the cross for my sins & your sins. When God's own SON cried out in agony as He took on the weight of our sins & was separated from His Father's holiness. At the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God loved us so much that He was willing to be separated from His own Son in order to be able to promise you & I that He would never leave us or forsake us. Christ was willing to be separated from His own Father in order to save you & I! Isn't that crazy?! "the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" Here's another paradox for you found in 2 Corinthians 8: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich." Jesus Christ was willing to leave everything He had in heaven in order to come to earth as a man to take the blame & the punishment for everything that we have done. He gave up everything He had for us. He was willing to be separated from His Father for us. Paul came to the point where he was also willing to be separated from God, all for the sake of others. Would you be willing to give up everything? Your relationship with God? His love? Eternal life? All for the sake of others?
I know that the Lord is still continuing to work on my heart in this area & is daily showing me ways that I am still selfish, but it has been so incredible to see how God blesses when you truly do just obey & follow Him. Another crazy-awesome paradox in that passage is this: When we give everything to the cause of Christ, we don't lose anything! In fact, we gain everything!! "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him." I'm not going to lie to you; there are times that having faith in God can be very hard. Sometimes God chooses to lead us through very difficult situations. But He is faithful & He does reward those who seek Him & seek to do His will. It is always worth it. So here's my challenge to you this summer: Take up your cross daily & follow Him. Be faithful in the little things. Trust Him in everything! And don't get discouraged or feel guilty when you fail; God understands our human frailties & He always forgives us no matter how many times we fail. It doesn't do any good to focus on failure because wherever your focus is, that is most likely where you will end up again. Keep your eyes on Christ, even when you fall.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." ~Hebrews 12:1-2