In earlier articles, I have attempted to explore some basic Christian principles. We have looked at the inspiration and authority of the Bible. We have explored the nature of God and his role in every person’s life. We saw the incredible saving work of Jesus as our Savior. Then, we faced our need for salvation and how that comes about. Last time we realized that, when we are saved, we added to a group of believers called the church. All of these basic principles bring us to the hardest task of all. How does a Christian live? It is one thing to realize that there is a God and I must respond to Him. It is one thing to be saved and become part of a church. But, how do I conduct myself in my daily activities? What priorities do I follow as I go about making a living, getting married or raising a family? Are these things God wants me to do and, if so, how do I successfully live as God wants me to? Jesus Himself will begin to answer all these issues.
“TAKE UP A CROSS. . .”
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23-25). The image of a man carrying a cross was a familiar one in the first century. The Romans “reserved” this horrific method of execution for common criminals and enemies of Rome. Anytime you saw a person carrying a cross, you knew what was about to happen. That person was about to die. We see people wearing crosses as jewelry or decorations. In the first century, no one saw the cross as a positive. It meant the person was doomed. So, when Jesus says we must take up a cross and follow Him that means we have to die to self. We have to surrender control of our lives to His will. And, He adds, we must do this daily. Every day we should start with a simple surrender ceremony, where we turn the decisions for today over to the Lord. What good does it do to make a good life or a lot of money and then miss the salvation God offers through Jesus? The only way to walk successfully for the Lord is to take up a cross and die daily, allowing Him to be in charge. So, what does that look like in practical terms? The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12. Living the Christian life allows us the chance to be what God wanted us to be all along.
A CHANCE TO DIE DAILY
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:1-2). Paul describes this daily surrender using another familiar image: animal sacrifice. An animal would be slaughtered, placed on an altar and offered to whatever god. This was a daily activity in the ancient world. Everyone saw it and understood it. Now, as Christians, we offer our bodies as a living sacrifice. Just as Jesus said, we die to ourselves and offer ourselves to Him.
This means we will no longer conform to the world around us. Instead, relying on God and His word, we have a changed (or renewed) mind that equips us to live according to the will of God. As Christians we will think differently. We will view events differently. We will shape our lives to reflect the values and priorities of Jesus in His life. And, we do this every day, day after day.
A CHANCE TO SERVE THE BODY
“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of this faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness” (Rom 12:3-8). Paul begins this section by reminding us not to be full of ourselves. Anytime someone has a talent (or ability) it is the old human nature to be proud of that gift. Paul reminds us to be realistic in our self-evaluation. No one part of the church is that much more important than the other parts.
After an honest, and humble, self-assessment, we can go to work serving the body with whatever talents we have been given. If that gift is teaching, then teach to serve the body. If your gift is serving food or helping prepare communion or cleaning the building, use your talents to build up the body. Some are good at encouraging. Yet others have been blessed financially and can provide more contribution than others. Whatever gift you have, it is there so you can serve the needs of others. The Christian life is a chance to serve the church Jesus built.
A CHANCE TO TREAT PEOPLE RIGHT
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor: not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, preserving in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality” (Rom 12:9-13). These verses spell out the priorities for a Christian as he or she interacts with others. It all begins with love that is genuine (without hypocrisy). That is the kind of love God has for us. That is the kind of love that Jesus had when He died for us. There were no strings attached. God didn’t say He would love us when we were good enough. He loved us while we were sinners (Rom 5:8). So, if we are going to reflect God’s values, we will love people unconditionally.
This love presents itself in being devoted to the well-being of the people around us. It is shown in giving preference to the ideas and thinking of others. Love means persevering, even when we are in hard times. It is being devoted to prayer for one another. It is being generous to meet the needs of other Christians. It is opening our homes and possessions to help people in need. The Christian life is always focused on others. It always puts others first and does all it can to meet their needs. Like Jesus, it is more worried about saving another soul than staying safe and protected. The Christian life offers us the chance to treat people right.
A CHANCE TO REACT WELL TO CRITICS
Not only do we treat people right, but we treat people right who mistreat us! “Bless those who persecute you: bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation” (Rom 12:14-16). Christians are not exempt from criticism. We will be criticized. Many times that criticism will be unfair or even fictional. When we are unjustly criticized, we should react as Jesus did “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet 2:21-23). When Jesus was verbally attacked, He kept his mouth closed and did not respond in kind. The Christian life, then, is a chance to be quiet and resolute in the face of unfair criticism. While the world would tell us to defend ourselves, or push us to get even, the Christian walks the path of Jesus and restrains verbal counterattacks. This is a challenge for the best Christian. Yet, it is the standard God has for His children. As Jesus was able to resist the temptation to fight back, so must we. When the criticism is just because we have failed to act as God wants, the Christian is not haughty in mind, but, instead, is humble and contrite. More of us should learn to use the simple phrase, “I am sorry, I was wrong.” This humble attitude would heal churches, marriages and relationships. The Christian life gives us tools which enable us to react to criticism the way God wants us to.
A CHANCE TO OVERCOME EVIL
“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ say the Lord. ‘ But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a dark; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome be evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:17-21). This is, perhaps, the greatest tool we have in hand. We can, by acting and reacting as Jesus did, overcome evil in our lives.
Our hope is to get alone with everyone, to be at peace with brothers and sisters and with unbelievers. Some, however, may not leave you alone. They might be fellow Christians who just love to pint our your failings. They might be co-workers who do not believe in Jesus or God and just want to make your life miserable.
How do we overcome all this evil? First, we do the right thing in all circumstances. Second, we do not get even or pay back evil for evil. We trust God to do the judging in the right way at the right time. In fact, we respond as Jesus did. When cruel, unfeeling people were in the act of crucifying Him, He said to God (and for all to hear), “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Jesus could have asked God to send help and kill all those doing evil to Him. Instead, He willingly forgave them and died for them. That is our task as Christians. We can overcome evil by responding kindly when we are mistreated, no matter the source of the attack. So, I love my fellow Christians by not retaliating when they criticize me. I treat my enemy with love and generosity, even when my enemy is doing his worst to me.
SO: START DYING TODAY
This whole process is base d on dying to self and living for Jesus. This takes place when you die to sin so that you can live for the Lord. Paul tells us when and where we die to sin. “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” (Rom 6:3). It is in the water of baptism that we join Jesus in death. As He carried a cross and died, so we die when we are baptized into His name. The result is simple. “Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” (Rom 6:6-7). Dying daily begins by dying to sin in the grave of baptism. That is why the first thing all believers did in the book of Acts was to be baptized. Until you die to your old life, you cannot being to live the Christian life.
SO: BE RAISED TO A NEW LIFE
“Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Baptism takes away our sin. Then, as Jesus was raised to a new life, so we are raised to walk in a new way of life, the Christian life. This new life is then described in this way. “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lust, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6: 12-14). This new life is one of surrender. It is a daily surrender in which you die to yourself and let God reign in your heart. If all begins when you are raised to walk in a new life, when you are baptized. Do not delay. Be saved-Today!