By Femi Aribisala
Jesus says: “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23). This is tantamount to saying: “If anyone wants to follow me let him follow me.”
Following Jesus is not easy. It does not agree with the desires of the flesh and of the mind. In order to follow Jesus, you have to be born again. In order to follow Jesus, you have to be spiritual. In order to follow Jesus, you have to be spiritually-minded. In order to follow Jesus, you have to be re-created in the true image and likeness of Christ.
Should you choose to follow Jesus, then Christ must be at the center of your life. Indeed, Christ becomes your life. (Colossians 3:4). That means you no longer exist but must allow yourself to die to self. It means you no longer belong to yourself: you now belong to God.
Accordingly, Paul says: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20).
The rest of your life is spent in Gethsemane where you confront every challenge of life by saying to God like Jesus did: “Not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). That means the purpose of your life is now the fulfilment of the will of God. Your likes and dislikes no longer matter: what matter now is whatever God wants. In every situation and circumstance, you submit prayerfully to the will of God.
The ultimate cost for being a disciple of Jesus is to hate your life and lay it down for Christ’s sake. By laying down your life, you die to self. By dying to self, you die to sin. Jesus himself, of course, is our supreme example:
“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:1-2).
Taking up the cross
The cross is an instrument of death. It brings about a slow painful death. Jesus now requires his disciple to apply this slow painful death of the cross to himself by himself. This means you are to kill yourself slowly and painfully until you die to self.
Following this prescription, Paul says: “I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.” (1 Corinthians 15:31). You not only kill yourself; you allow others to kill you. They can kill you by slapping you, or by abusing you, or by maligning you. But you refuse to be offended because you are on the cross.
Here again, Jesus on the cross is our template: “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.” (Hebrews 12:2).
“The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. ‘Ha! Look at you now!’ they yelled at (Jesus). ‘You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, save yourself and come down from the cross!’ The leading priests and teachers of religious law also mocked Jesus. ‘He saved others,’ they scoffed, ‘but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this King of Israel, come down from the cross so we can see it and believe him!” Even the men who were crucified with Jesus ridiculed him.” (Mark 15:29-32).
Jesus did not take the bait and neither should you. You must be dead to every provocation knowing they are of no consequence. They cannot separate you from the love of God.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:35-37).
Therefore, when you are abused, you don’t answer back. When you are slapped on the one cheek, you turn the other cheek. You refuse to be offended, discouraged, or impatient. Instead you: “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Romans 13:14).
David nearly lost the kingdom of God because he succumbed to the lusts of the flesh:
“It happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the people of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold. (2 Sam 11:1-2).
When David should have been fulfilling his responsibility as king, he remained in Jerusalem. At the time when David should have been at war, he was at home. Let me put it within the contemporary setting, for the bible is a living word and not merely a historical document. At the time when David should have been engaged in spiritual warfare, he was busy relaxing at home.
He spent the day sleeping and got up at sundown or in the early evening time. At the time when he should have been prevailing in prayer, David was watching a blue film. He climbed to the roof of his palace and watched a naked woman while she was having her bath.
David was feeding his flesh. He was making provision for his flesh. Jesus said to his disciples at the garden of Gethsemane: “Pray, that you don’t enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:40). But they spent the time sleeping instead. Jesus also taught us to pray: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” David did not pray, so he entered into temptation.
David inquired about the woman and was told that she was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Nevertheless, David sent for the woman and slept with her. This sin was compounded because she became pregnant. This is what happens when we walk in the flesh and not in the Spirit. We succumb to sinful lusts.
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:5-8).