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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 10:45 am service, 2013-09-15

Text: Luke 9:23,24

For the past 10 Sundays we have been learning how to grow in Christlikeness. The passage we have been studying in 2 Peter 1:5-7 defines Christlikness by eight essential characteristics that we need to cultivate, namely faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity. We need all of them in order to have the likeness of Christ imprinted in us. Now, no one but Christ has the image of God in man in its purest state. Thus, I am sure that by now we all very keen to have His likeness. Who doesn’t want to be perfect, like Him? Just imagine how good it is to be able to reflect His beauty to everyone by cultivating these eight characteristics of Christlikeness in our lives! But there is one important thing we need in order to cultivate them all – Commitment. We must be fully committed to follow our Lord Jesus Christ, otherwise we can never become like Him.

This morning, I would like us to focus our thoughts on the subject of commitment to Christ. This is often misunderstood. Many of us see commitment as something optional, something we give to the Lord only when we can afford the time and effort for it. We can admire the commitment that others have, and we praise their zeal. But we do not see ourselves being so committed. It is something foreign to our lifestyle. We think that we have done enough merely by sitting through a 1½ hour worship service every Sunday. We feel quite satisfied to remain right where we are, and to let others be committed to the Lord Jesus Christ.

But the truth that God's Word declares is that commitment is required from every believer. Let us turn our Bibles to our scripture text in Luke 9:23-24 and read what Christ said about commitment – “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” A few chapters later, in Luke 14:26,27,33 Jesus said something similar to this, “If any man come to Me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after Me, cannot be My disciple…. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot by My disciple.”

Please reflect on these words for a moment. Can you see what Jesus said here that is so crystal clear?Commitment is not an option, but a requirement. The Lord expects it from each one of us. But commitment should also be our own willing response to the wonderful love that Christ has for us. As Paul puts it so well:“For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15) How can we say that we really love the Lord Jesus and that we are very thankful to Him for all that He has done for us, and yet have no desire to be committed to Him? Have we lost sight of how greatly indebted we are to Him?

The last part of this verse says “they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” I would urge all of us to take a good hard look at our own lives. Are we truly living for Christ? Or are we still living for ourselves and giving only lip service to our commitment to Christ? What does it mean to be committed to Christ? Let us consider four things we must do if we are to be committed to Christ. The first one is to…

I. Count the Cost Carefully

This is brought out by the words of Jesus at the beginning of our text – “If any man will come after me…”When we see a clause like that, we need to determine its main thrust. And in this clause, the main thrust is found in the word ‘Me’ which refers to Jesus Himself. We must first consider whether He is worth following. Why should any man come after Him? The answer is found a few verses earlier, in vv.18-20, “And it came to pass, as he was alone praying, his disciples were with him: and he asked them, saying, Whom say the people that I am? They answering said, John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others say, that one of the old prophets is risen again.  He said unto them, But whom say ye that I am? Peter answering said, The Christ of God.”

Here we see the 12 disciples represented by Peter, recognising the True identity of Jesus. They had spent three years with Him; they had traveled all over Israel with Him, witnessed His miracles, heard His teaching, watched Him praying, and seen the authority with which He cast out evil spirits. Out of all this, the conclusion they reached concerning the identity of Jesus, was that He is none other than the Christ of God. To them, He was more than just a prophet. He was the long-expected Messiah of the Jews, the One whom God has given to be their great King and Deliverer. This confession was the pivotal point in the ministry of Christ to His disciples. Now that His identity was fully established to them, He wanted them to know what His work on earth was to be. And so we read in v.22 that “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day.”

What an anticlimax this would have seemed to the disciples. Hadn’t they just just affirmed His greatness and authority as the Christ of God? And yet He was now speaking about suffering and being rejected and slain. Now, that did not sound at all like the nice prospects of a great Deliverer and King. Our Lord wanted it to be clear that the road He had to take as the Christ of God would not be an easy one at all. It was not to be a road of self-promotion, but a road of self-denial. It was not to be a road of crown-wearing, but a road of cross-bearing. This then, was what He had in mind when He said those words in v.23 to His disciples – “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”

Since He is the Christ of God, following Him is obviously a very high privilege. Many would want to enjoy that privilege and would then jump on the bandwagon. But because Jesus had to walk the road of self-denial and cross-bearing, anyone who follows Him must be willing to bear the same cost that He bore. That is the requirement that He has set upon all of us. The question is: Have we counted the cost of following Jesus carefully? Are we willing to give all that we have for Him?

One illustration about counting the cost is be found in a Shakespearean play entitled “The Merchant of Venice.” A rich man had died and left behind a very large estate and an only daughter named Portia. Whoever marries Portia would also inherit his entire estate. But in his will, the rich man stated that any suitor would first have to pass a simple test to qualify to marry her. He would have to choose one out of 3 caskets made of different metals: gold, silver and lead. If the casket chosen by a suitor contained a picture of Portia, this means that he has passed the test and won the right to marry her. But if it does not, he would have to leave immediately and remain unmarried for the rest of his life.

The first suitor was the prince of Morocco. He chose the golden casket that bore the inscription, “He who chooses me will get what many men desire.” But when he opened it he found a skull with a message “All that glitters is not gold.” He went away disappointed. The Prince of Arragon was the second suitor. He chose the silver casket which had the inscription on it “He who chooses me will get what he deserves.” All he found in it was the picture of a jester, making a funny face. The third suitor was Basanio, a man who really loved Portia, and he chose the casket made of dull lead. On the outside of the casket was the inscription: “He who chooses me, must give and risk all he has.” Guess what he found in it: A beautiful portrait of his beloved Portia. Why did Basanio succeed where the others had failed? It was because he alone had the correct understanding of commitment – to be willing to give and rish all that he has, for her.

How about us? Do we have a correct understanding of our commitment to our beloved Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ? We want to follow Christ and become like Him. But are we willing to give and risk all that we have for Him? If your answer is ‘No, I am NOT willing to give and risk all for Christ,’ then you must examine yourself to see whether you really belong to Him. Listen to what He said in v.24,25– “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?” If we have truly believed in Christ for salvation we would be willing to bear the cost of following of Him.

But perhaps we should ask ouselves, “What has it cost us thus far to follow Christ? What sacrifices have we made to do His will?” I think that if we were to list everything we have endured for Christ’s sake so far, they would be much less than what Christ Himself had to endure for our sake. Why is this so? Listen once again to His words in Luke 9:23 – “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself...”  Can you see what the greatest obstacle to following Christ is? – It is self. Following Christ is impossible without denying self. This brings us now to the second thing we must do if we are to be committed to Christ:

II. Cut off the Contender Conclusively

That contender is self. We must do this simply because we cannot serve two masters at the same time. It is either Christ or self. If we want to follow Christ, then we must deny self. If we want to follow self, then we would end up denying Christ. Unfortunately the world we live in encourages us to choose to follow self rather than Christ. Look at the number of self-help books in the bookshops and the popularity of motivational talks that pander to our selfish ambitions. Most of them are based on the idea that you must have a high self-esteem to achieve great things in life.

This is one of the lies that is being actively propagated today by the ‘Self-Help’ movement which has gained momentum in the last 40 years. Some years ago a Christian writer by the name of Stephanie Forbes did an analysis of this movement and wrote a book entitled “Help Yourself – Today’s obsession with Satan’s oldest lie.” She identified altogether six lies of the Self-Help Movement – “I belong to myself.”; “I am entitled to a life of happiness and fulfilment.”; “I was born to greatness.”; “I can be as successful as I want, if only…”; “I need to build my self-esteem.”; “I need to learn positive self-talk.” This movement identifies low self-esteem as the root cause of all kinds of problems. It recommend programmes that will make people build up their self-esteem, make them feel good about themselves, and love themselves more. Actually doing these things creates more problems than they can solve. It causes people to shift the responsibility for their faults and weaknesses away from themselves, and to their circumstances, or to others. It causes people to expect everything to work out well for them, and to be respected and treated with care.

Let us be careful not to be fooled by this kind of thinking. Denying self means that we ought to take responsibility for our own faults and sins. We must begin with the truth that we are nothing but helpless sinners, unworthy of any grace or mercy (Isa 6:5). It is only God’s lovingkindness to us in saving us from sin that has given us great worth in His sight. As such, there are no rights that we can claim for ourselves – rights to receive respect and honour from others, and even rights to receive love, care and concern from anyone.

In contrast to the present teaching on self-esteem, what the Bible teaches us to build is Christ-esteem. As Paul said in Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”  Paul even testified that it was at times when he was so tried to the point that his own strength was at its weakest, that he was actually the strongest! (2 Corinthians 12:9,10) And so, if you refuse to give up your high self-esteem, you may find yourself deprived of every opportunity to prove the power of Christ in your life and to discover how sufficient His grace is for every situation in life. Dearly beloved, are you willing then to deny yourself even the slightest degree of self-esteem and self-confidence and replace it instead with Christ-esteem and confidence in Him? Will you chose to deny self and follow Christ?

Thus far we have seen that commitment to Christ requires us to count the cost carefully and cut off the contender conclusively. The next thing we need to do is to…

III Carry Your Cross Constantly

This is mentioned by Christ in v.23 – “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily…” I want you to notice that the cross mentioned here is specific. It is not Christ’s own cross, but the man’s own cross. Christ never tells us to take up His cross. Only Christ could take up that cross because He alone could die to make atonement for sinners. Each of us has a different cross to carry depending on the situation we live in and the specific will of God for each of us. For instance, the cross which the 12 disciples of Christ and many early Christians had to bear was to face severe persecution and death for preaching the Gospel.

For others, the cross may be to suffer loss, or sickness, or grief which God in His great wisdom, sees fit for them to bear. It may come very unexpectedly like in the case of Job. It may even be quite unbearable and painful. When that happens, how long will you take to come to terms with it and accept it as God’s will for you, without murmuring? If you have learned what Jesus says here about carrying the cross, it should not take you too long to be able to say with all your heart, “Lord, not My will, but Thy will be done.” But if you keep indulging in self-pity and craving for sympathy, you may spiral into deep depression and nurture a root of bitterness against God. “Why must this happen to me, of all people? Why me?”   Such questions are directly opposed to denying self. It is only when you ask the right questions that you will be able to deny self and carry the cross the Lord has appointed you to bear. And the question you should ask is, “What must I do now, Lord? What is your will for me that I must do? How do I bring glory to you through this cross?”

For many of us, the cross may be one of bearing inconvenience for living a godly life in an ungodly world. Those of us who have been through national service will understand this quite well. When you live together with your platoon mates you have no privacy. Your life becomes like an open book for everyone to read. When you go for meals, everyone will be digging right into their food, but you will be the only one saying grace silently. When you retire to bed at night everyone will be talking or sleeping, but you will be the only one reading the Bible with a torchlight in the dark. When you face a difficult situation under great pressure, it is so tempting to take the easy way out - tell a lie, or pretend that you do not know.

As you live in the working world, the cross you bear may stress your moral and spiritual fibre to the very limit. You may feel deeply attracted by enticing promises of making superquick gains for yourself, and even of gaining the whole world if only you would compromise some biblical principles.

For some of us the cross may be one we have to bear at home. Perhaps you are a caregiver to an aged parent who has several chronic illnesses, making great demands on your love and patience. Or perhaps you have a difficult child who does not respond well to any kind of discipline, or a spouse who refuses to change his sinful habits. You know that God wants you to persevere in being kind and forgiving and to respond to your loved ones with humility. But tempers run short, conflicts arise and every day poses new challenges.

Dearly beloved, let us settle it once and for all in our minds that it is not easy to follow Christ. Our Lord never said that it would be easy. It requires constant effort and courage to do God’s will and obey His Word. It is actually a lot easier just to give up and follow self. We can get instant relief and instant gratification that way. How then can we choose to follow Christ instead of self? One thing that helps is to keep our minds focused on the long term gains of cross-bearing.

In v.24 Jesus said, “whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” Think of all the eternal rewards that Christ has promised to those who persevere in following Him – the blessed eternal rest we will have, the crowns instead of crosses, the wonderful freedom from all the strife and struggles of this present life, and the joy of being with Jesus in glory – These future blessings will definitely be worth all the crosses we have to bear right now.

Verses 28-35 of our text records how Jesus gave three of His disciples a glimpse of His future glory at His transfiguration. Why did He do this? Perhaps it was to show them how worthwhile it will be for them to deny self, take up their cross daily and follow Him. Later on, Christ gave even more glimpses of His future glory in the last book of the Bible (SLIDE42) – a book that we should all read to be encouraged to deny self, take up our cross daily and follow Christ.

This brings us to the 4th and final thing we need to do if we are to be committed to Christ. Besides Counting the Costs Carefully, Cutting off the Contender Conclusively and Carrying Our Cross Constantly, we need to…

IV. Cleave to Christ Completely

This point comes from the last part of v.23 – “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”  The problem with many of us is that we want to have the best of both worlds: We want the Lord’s best plans and blessings for our lives, but at the same time we also want the best of all the good things that the world has to offer to us. We want to be successful in God’s eyes and at the same time, we also want to be successful in the eyes of the world.

Dearly beloved, we cannot go on like that. We must be single-minded. Let us cleave to Christ completely and not half-heartedly. Our loyalties should be focussed on just one main pursuit in life. Let us be like the Apostle Paul who said in Philippians 1:21 – “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul also said in Philippians 3:13,14 –  “… this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

This is the way to real blessing in living the Christian life. When we cleave to Christ completely, we will experience His awesome love and power working in our life. This is the abundant life that Jesus said we would have. Life with Christ is really a blessed, meaningful and fulfilled life. Those of us who have truly known Him can testify to that. And when we cleave to Christ completely, nothing will bring us greater joy than to see Him exalted. John the Baptist captured the whole essence of Christian living when he said, “He must increase, but I must decrease!” (John 3:30) This is what the Christian life is all about. Success is measured by the extent to which Christ is increased by our life.

Let this become the goal and foundational principle of your whole life. If you are seeking great things for yourself, seek them no more. Speak more about Christ and less of yourself. Let His honour become the goal of everything that you do. Use whatever respect or esteem you receive from others to point them to Him. Turn every personal success in your life into an opportunity to exalt Him. Whenever someone compliments or praises you for any achievement, always be quick to give all credit to Jesus Christ and all that He has done for you.

Why should we mind the full commitment that Christ requires of us when we realise how fully committed He was to save us from sin and eternal death? Since Christ was willing to give up His precious life for us, is there anything that we cannot give up for Him? Since Christ gives His utmost care to save us to the uttermost – not only dying for us, and sending the Holy Spirit to seal us, but even right now interceding for us before the Father’s throne – should we not also exercise the utmost care in giving our best for Him? And since Christ has saved us from sin and made us heirs of eternal life and heaven, it stands to reason that we should now be fully committed to follow Him forever.

Let us decide that from this day onward, we will bring all things in our life under just one thing that we want to accomplish: Being committed to Christ. Remember what Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” We have seen that this means counting the cost carefully, cutting off the contender conclusively, carrying our cross constantly, and cleaving to Christ completely. If God has spoken to your heart today through His Word, please act upon it. May the Lord help us to be committed to Christ.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11