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.” Many Christians read this passage and simply ignore it. What does Jesus want us to deny of ourselves? Are my self-denial requirements different from those of others or are they all the same?
What cross does Jesus insist we must carry, and on a daily systematic basis? Certainly, the value of the cross to our faith goes far beyond the ornamental. It is now commonplace to find Christians wearing crosses so that when, for instance, we score goals while playing football, we can kiss it superstitiously.
However, Paul ascribes far greater intrinsic spiritual value to the cross. He says the cross of Jesus Christ crucifies us to the world and it crucifies the world to us.” (Galatians 6:14). What exactly does this mean? Why must we be crucified to the world? How can we be in the world and yet be crucified to the world? Moreover, if we are crucified, how can we continue carrying our crosses?
We must be crucified to the world because this world proved to be the enemy of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. The world hates Jesus. So, if we belong to Jesus, the world will also hate us. Jesus says: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19).
The world not only hated Jesus, it rejected him and had him killed. That makes those of us who aspire to be disciples of Jesus implacable enemies of the world. If we were to love the world in spite of its treatment of Jesus, that would make us traitors and betrayers of Jesus. Therefore, to be true disciples, we must hate the world and reject its allures and entreaties.
Accordingly, James says: “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4).
John also counsels: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life- is not of the Father but is of the world.” (1 John 2:15-16).
This raises certain nagging questions. How long would you like to live on earth? Do you want to live long because you want to enjoy life for as long as possible? What precisely do you like in this world when we are expected to hate the things in the world? Can you be a follower of Jesus and yet find the things of this world so enjoyable that you want to spend more time on earth with them?
Jesus raises the stakes even further. He insists we must hate our life in this world, having now realized that the real and abundant life is exclusively in the kingdom of God. Hear him: “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25). Paul also amplifies this: “She who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.” (1 Timothy 5:6).
So, how can we ensure that we are crucified to the world, even while living in the world? The answer also lies in the cross. Paul says: “Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24). If you are reading this, I have a simple question for you. Have you crucified your flesh? Jesus will not do it for you. You have to do it for yourself, but always with the help of Jesus.
Planning to sin
It is no surprise that we sin. This is because we plan to sin. Sin is not something that happens to us haphazardly out of the blue. We consciously and deliberately prepare to sin by making provisions for sin. The only problem is that we are often unaware of the elaborate preparations we make for sin. Solomon says: “A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished.” (Proverbs 22:3).
When the armies of an enemy want to take a city, they may first soften it up with aerial bombardments. This ensures that when the foot-soldiers finally move in, they meet a degraded opposition. The same applies to sin. We fail to recognize, for example, that the films we watch, the magazines we read, the sites we visit on the internet, systematically soften us up for committing future sins.
The psalmist says: “I will set nothing wicked before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will not know wickedness.” (Psalm 101:3-4).
But from childhood, we are socialized into enjoying seeing wickedness by watching Tom and Jerry beat each other up in our cartoons. We then watch action films or thrillers as adults, where the protagonists seek revenge and go on delicious rampages; maiming and killing. Many of our famous Hollywood blockbusters, such as “Die Hard” or “Rambo,” are the celebration of evil where we are socialized to hate and kill our enemies.
However, Habakkuk says to God: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil.” (Habakkuk 1:13). The same thing should apply to us if we are truly God’s children.
Pastor Tobi Adegbonmire once gave a powerful testimony about a man who made a covenant with God that his eyes would not be used to look on evil. One day, there was an accident and a man was seriously injured. When he arrived on the scene, he reminded God that his eyes are not meant to behold evil. As a result, God healed the injured man instantaneously so the evangelist would not see the injury. So doing, his covenant with God remained intact.
In the scriptures, Job says: “I have made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I look upon a young woman?” (Job 31:1). Job’s covenant would not only keep Job from committing adultery, it would keep him from committing adultery of the heart.
But how can we duplicate this today with the prurient and sexually explicit films we watch on television and on the internet? In effect, what we watch and look at often lay the foundation for our sins of adultery and fornication. By watching the salacious Big Brother, for example, we are promoting our conformity to, and the inculcation of, worldly values.
Therefore, Paul cautions: “Make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Romans 13:14). James provides further caution: “Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.” (James 1:14-15).
TO BE CONTINUED