All of Christianity begins with and centers upon the person of Jesus and His work on the cross. It was Paul who said the cross was everything to him. He had a greater education, knowledge, and revelation than any other apostle called before him, including those who knew Jesus personally in the flesh. Yet all he wanted to know was summed up in one saying, “Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
When Christ is displaced from His proper place, when He is no longer followed correctly, the believer finds himself in a cross-less walk. Our means of sanctification, correction, chastisement and growth are not without suffering. Christianity is cross-centered, as it is central point to why Christ came to earth. All of God’s blessings come from Him through the cross, and are delivered to believers by His Spirit and His word. But to walk in the blessings means we are too have faith in God and His word. We cannot disregard the reality that we may experience suffering and even persecution, the fact is- the cross means suffering. The cross becomes the central point to the believers walk as Jesus said we are to carry the cross as well. Today we can listen to most of the popular Christian TV teachers promise everything to a believer but neglect this essential ingredient to Christianity. What is being taught today is that we should not suffer or have pain or be corrected. This leads to illegitimate children, not true sons of God.
It used to be said, “All who desire to live Godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12); but today it is said, “Those who live Godly lives will be rich and successful in this world.” And what was once applied to an individual Christians now is being applied to churches. They pursue growth by any means. The larger the church, the more success they presume they have received from God. Jesus said there would be a remnant that would hold to His teachings despite persecution and ridicule. He never said the remnant would become the majority. He taught that few that would want to travel on the narrow road with the cross, but that many would go on the broad road to destruction.
The apostle Paul wrote, “Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel, for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the Word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. This is a faithful saying: for if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, he also will deny us. If we are faithless, he remains faithful; he cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:8-15). Paul, who was jailed, suffered for the Word of God, and it was during this immobility and stress that he wrote many of His God-inspired letters to the Church.
Paul concentrates on our continual dying to self ,even if wrongly accused, so that the word and the gospel may prosper. But we need endurance. Why? Because we will continually suffer for our witness, and even be persecuted. The early Church suffered greatly. James presented this example to the believers: “My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience” (James 5:10). For even the prophets, who were types of Christ, all suffered; none had an easy life for too long. The descriptions of the faithful in Heb 11 bear this out. Jesus did not promise Paul or any other apostle a life of ease and material riches or health. In Acts 9:16, right after Paul was saved, Jesus said “I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
2 Timothy 2:14: “Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” What words can he be speaking of that have no gain for us spiritually? Words that are not connected to the gospel words that are not centered on the life of Christ and the cross. Empty spiritual promises: the guarantees of success, prosperity and healing without the main ingredient, the cross and suffering in this life
The exaltation of the Cross by the death of self
The cross destroys any way of us becoming acceptable on our own merits. We can’t accept Jesus for who He is without the cross. He went through suffering, and all those who want to follow him correctly must also. “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, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus obeyed and went through suffering before the cross and on the cross. Because of this He was given the most honorable and exalted position, to sit at the Fathers right hand and have the name above all names. He also promises to the believer who overcomes, “I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Revelation 3:21).
“Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple”(Lk.14:27). Here Jesus makes it clear He is the pattern we are to follow. Without suffering, without reproach, without dying to self we cannot learn from him, nor can we receive His blessings. We don’t just watch him but follow Him, which is an activity, a way of life. Jesus was nailed onto the horizontal beam and it was placed on another wood beam that was vertical. He did not move from this place as He was in perfect obedience fulfilling God’s will to suffer and die for us so our sins could be forgiven.
Peter also pointed out in 1 Peter 2:21: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps. He then described the various sufferings one is to go through and concluded, “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). We anguish in the flesh so that the Spirit will fill us and control our lives. We are to go against the old human nature that’s still dwells with us, it can be painful, it can be a raging battle at times but this is our sanctification process that makes us the overcomers Christ wants us to be. We should have the same attitude, as our selfish desires are conquered in our lives by resisting them and by yielding to Christ through the Holy Spirit. This does not mean we should use suffering as an outward symbol of our walk with the Lord, making it into a means of showing off our spirituality. It does mean that when we oppose the ways of the world by walking with the Lord, we should always expect to suffer. He has not removed this element from our life here on earth. He has promised us rest from our labors and rewards for our work for Him afterwards.
We are to follow Him by carrying our cross. To carry a cross is uncomfortable, it is awkward, it has suffering, and it has pain. Picture our walk with the cross as carrying a crossbeam while people are walking by you at a faster speed. You trudge along slowly carefully carrying this object on your shoulders. People stare at you; they mock you; they laugh. They ask why would anyone carry such a thing? Look at how mobile we are. We can go anywhere we want to; we are free. But you can only travel on the path designated for someone who is carrying a cross. We can go in and out of any door in any place; you cannot. Try fitting yourself through a doorway with a crossbeam; it would be very uncomfortable. You would have to force yourself in to enter. That is how Jesus wants us to live, being in the world but not of it. We should not be comfortable with the things of the world and our former life. As a Christian, a new person in Christ does not fit in society and the world’s ways anymore. What appears like freedom to some really is not, as it leads away from the narrow road that Jesus asks us to follow. The narrow road takes effort; the wide road is effortless.
Are you nailed to your cross? Or do you pick it up occasionally and carry it as far as you want, until it is uncomfortable and then lay it down? You may be missing what God wants to work in your life by choosing not to suffer for Christ. “But rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings… if you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified” (1 Peter 4:13-14). True Christianity is sacrifice, a dying to ones self so we can have fellowship with God now, which is our spiritual blessing. But we will be rewarded later on for how we persevered through the testing of our trials today. How we face them and go through them will have bearing on our eternal life later on in heaven.
Rom 8:18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Suffering for Christ was counted as a privilege by the apostles. Maybe you are someone who has been told that suffering is from the devil and there is no benefit to trials. That God is always going to bless and if your not receiving your share then you are not walking in faith. This is not what Jesus and the apostles taught. What is the faith that was delivered once to all the saints? It is a faith that can be tested, one that becomes strengthened through trials. They may be physical, they may be emotional, they may be spiritual, they may even be from the Devil but they all come through Christ’s hands. If there is no testing there is no growth! Tests are to prove our faith. It is the proof of being a genuine Christian. “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us ”(Rom. 5:3-5).
Jesus said while we are in this world we will all experience tribulation, but only a Christian has trials to prove his faith.
In Hebrews 11 we read how the faithful lived in the world. Everyone gave up something and suffered for God so He was able to use them. Hebrews 11:36-40: “Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented--of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” Jesus is our ultimate example who gives strength to the weary and comforts the comfortless: “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin” (Hebrews 12:3-4).
Another good example is in Daniel 3:16-18 where three Jewish men in Babylonian captivity refused to bow down to the golden statue of the then-world ruler Nebuchadnezzar. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your Gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” But Scripture calls our testimony through the sufferings of Christ “ the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10).
There are many today that have bowed to a golden image and would not last a minute in the fire of testing nor be willing to go there. Because they have been taught that it is the Devil that will test them and God is not involved. But Scripture calls in our testimony through the sufferings of Christ, “ the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil. 3:10).
Dan. 3:23-25 As they were brought to the flames the men who stoked them died. Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” “Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” These three men became witnesses to an unbeliever through their trial and He saw the Son of God with them. Nebuchadnezzar then blessed the God of these three brave Jews because of the outcome of their uncompromising dedication.
In Daniel 3:23-25 when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were brought to the flames, the men who stoked them died from the heat. Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished, and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” “Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” They chose to burn instead of turn [to other gods]. They had faith, not the presumption that they would not die (v.17). They were willing to accept death, but God spared them because they already considered their lives as dead. These three men became witnesses to the unbelieving king through their trial, as He saw the Son of God in the fire with them. Nebuchadnezzar then blessed the God of these three brave Jews. Because of the outcome of their uncompromising dedication, they were promoted and God was exalted. The miraculous happened because they were willing to suffer for God even if it meant death.
John the Baptist came on the scene and preached repentance, preparing the people’s hearts for the Messiah. He was clothed in garments of repentance. They could tell He meant what He said by how He lived. John came in the apparel of humility, dressed in camel’s hair. One would dress in coarse hair for repentance. He certainly would not be fit for TV evangelism if he were around today, not only because of His message but because of his dress. Jesus said to the multitudes “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed those who are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in kings’ courts.” You won’t find much repentance in such places of prominence. It was for this very reason that Jesus said it’s harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. One must give up much to gain the spiritual life because many things get in the way. Instead today the Church is being told that we don’t have to give up a thing; we can have the best of both worlds. We are the King’s Kid’s so hold your head high and receive the blessings. After all, we deserve it; “we chose wisely.” The Bible does say we are blessed, but it is with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). Anything more than this, consider it as God’s special grace in your life.
It was A.W. Tozer who wrote ALL UNANNOUNCED AND MOSTLY UNDETECTED there has come in modem times a new cross into popular evangelical circles. It is like the old cross, but different: the likenesses are superficial; the differences, fundamental.
From this new cross has sprung a new philosophy of the Christian life, and from that new philosophy has come new evangelical techniques, new types of meetings and a new kind of preaching. This new evangelism employs the same language as the old, but its content is not the same and its emphasis not as before. … The new cross encourages a new and entirely different evangelistic approach. The evangelist does not demand abnegation of the old life before a new life can be received. He preaches not contrasts but similarities. He seeks to key into public interest by showing that Christianity makes no unpleasant demands; rather, it offers the same thing the world does, only on a higher level. Whatever the sin-mad world happens to be clamoring after at the moment is cleverly shown to be the very thing the gospel offers, only the religious product is better.
The new cross does not slay the sinner, it redirects him. It gears him into a cleaner and jollier way of living and saves his self-respect. To the self-assertive it says, "Come and assert yourself for Christ." To the egotist it says, "Come and do you’re boasting in the Lord." To the thrill seeker it says, "Come and enjoy the thrill of Christian fellowship." The Christian message is slanted in the direction of the current vogue in order to make it acceptable to the public.(The Old Cross And The New by A.W. Tozer Published 1966)
Paul writes lamenting “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil 3:18). People today want the blessings and prosperity only, not his suffering. But without it there are no eternal blessings only temporary ones spent quickly on earth. The faith teachers tell the people to get to know Jesus in his blessings, the bible and the apostles taught that we should get to know Jesus by following him in his suffering. When the cross is not central to your theology then you have not alternative but to eliminate any suffering, even if it is for the right thing. This is how the majority of the Church’s walk today.
The missing Ingredient
To Paul there was no knowing God without knowing the crucified Messiah, and there was no following Him without picking up ones own cross and suffering for His namesake.Paul desired “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10). When we think of power we often interpret this as miracles. But the power of the resurrection is to have us live our life differently, to be Godly, separated to do His work. “The fellowship of His sufferings” is an interesting concept, yet it sounds strange. How does one fellowship with suffering, when he may not be feeling good, or have optimum living conditions and may be hurting? How can one have an intimate relationship centered in suffering? It means to partner together with Him, to become intimate with him through our sufferings, and we will receive strength now and the promise of the resurrection later. Without this we can’t know him and we certainly can’t possess resurrection power. By participating in suffering we can understand how Christ felt, who had no sin, when He struggled in His flesh to be perfected. We then can have a personal experience of Christ’s power “by means of our suffering,” overcoming the fleshly trials and tribulation. To do this one must pick up one’s cross. “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). To pick up your cross is a lifestyle of suffering in the flesh to follow Jesus. God is slowly transforming us into new persons made in His son’s image through trials and the strengthening of our faith. It’s not easy, because it goes against everything we once tried to avoid.
There is no crown without going the way of the cross. Paul gives this instruction as a requirement for knowing Christ.
Acts 14:21-23: “strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”Suffering is foreign to the Christian lifestyle today, but it was a way of life to the early Church. Without it we can’t know Him in His death and we certainly can’t experience the resurrection power that is available to us. When I’m weak and depend on Him, HE is strong. It is through denying all that we are in our own abilities that we can say, “it is not I but Christ that liveth in me.” When we can live this under pressure, the power to do His will be imparted to us, and then we can give HIM all the glory and honor due His name.
Jesus made specific qualifying statements to have us grow in relationship with God. A cross-less Christianity means not walking with Christ, which means we cannot have a relationship with Him. Jesus explained this to his disciples more than once in different ways Luke 9:23: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26). Jesus must be first for Christianity to work. V.27: “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” Matthew 10:38 “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” Jesus makes it plain that a person cannot learn from Him without doing this.
The truth is, only one kind of faith walk will lead us to eternal life. Those who refuse to allow His suffering and chastisement to change them will face the judgment of God. God wanted to be Lord over our lives but we didn’t let Him. Instead we practiced lawlessness (Matthew 7), doing “God” things our way and in His name, without being under His leadership. Jesus said “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30). A yoke was a custom piece of wood used to join two oxen so they can work in the field together. Our yoke to Christ is the cross. When we walk beside Him He can carry our burdens; if we get behind or ahead of Him it becomes more difficult. When we walk through the field (the world) working together it is then that we have joy, because we know He is with us as we do His will. Fruit begins to grow in the field we labored in because He was with us in our laboring.
There is a secret to the Christian life, and it has remained a secret only because it is avoided. God has revealed to mankind through His Word all that we need in order to live a life of Godliness. The Word of God tells us “Godliness is a means of great gain when it is accompanied by contentment.” Contentment is a concept hardly being heard anymore. Paul understood it to be the essential for endurance and joy: “And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:8). If our basic needs are met, we should be content. This was part of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: If God feeds the birds and we are worth so much more, we should not stress over His provision for us. Through our knowing that He is with us, we can rest assured of His provision. Yet the popular teachers of the prosperity doctrine tell us not to be satisfied with what we have; it is not enough, there is always more. What they are teaching is not faith in order to get more but actually a lack of faith, making people covet and be dissatisfied with what God has already given. The definition of faith means to trust, be patient, and satisfied with what you receive.
A Scripture often ripped from its context in order to justify getting whatever one wants is, I can do all things through Christ. Philippians 4:11-13: “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” In context, Paul is explaining that even in a bad situation he is not overcome by it. He is not saying that he can get ALL things through Christ, but that he had learned to be satisfied in whatever state he was in through Christ’s stamina working in him. We need the grace of God in order to be able to maintain an attitude of contentment. We are to choose to be satisfied and not look to our circumstances wants or even needs.
In the prosperity teaching, to be blessed is interpreted as having an abundance of things. It teaches that the Church, being under a new and better covenant, should have what some of the great men of faith had under the old covenant. It is said we are not under the curse but the blessing. Certainly there is a portion of truth in this; the writer of Hebrews tells us we have a new and better covenant. Most prosperity preachers believe that this should include abundance of health and wealth. If the Jews were promised prosperity and health, why not us? The prosperity teachers neglect to see that the blessings for Israel were contingent on Israel’s obedience. If they obeyed the commands, they were blessed. It was a conditional covenant; we are under an unconditional covenant that operates through trusting God and His will for us as individuals, not as a nation. One of the reasons the new covenant is better, and superior is because it operates by grace. Israel was punished if they did not obey, and this punishment was at times quite severe. What we see today is no mention of chastisement but only the blessing. We want to have our cake and eat it too.
Honey can taste sweet and we can gorge ourselves on the blessings of the Word without realizing that we have moved ourselves into a position of judgment.
Proverbs 25:27 notes “It is not good to eat much honey; so to seek one’s own glory is not glory.” Proverbs 25:16 states, “Have you found honey? Eat only as much as you need, lest you be filled with it and vomit.” To eat only the sweet things of God and neglect the harder truths that will make you grow will make one sick. This is why the body of Christ has found itself in spiritual ill health. We have pursued honey like a hungry bears. We want to hear only positive words, and not those that challenge us in order to change or correct us. As a result we have become anemic in our walk and no longer treasure the truth.
Both Ezekiel and John were revelators of great Scriptural truth, said truth tasted sweet at first until it was digested. Ezekiel 3:3 relates, “And He said to me, ‘Son of man, feed your belly, and fill your stomach with this scroll that I give you.’ So I ate it, and it was in my mouth like honey in sweetness.” But the Word is not all sweetness. Revelation 10:9: states, “And I went to the angel and said to him, ‘Give me the little book.’ And he said to me, ‘Take and eat it; and it will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.”’ Once the true Word is accepted, one must swallow its content (meditate on it in order to understand). It can make one upset after it’s digested; it affects the sin within us.
The church has “every spiritual blessing.” If one looks up the word “blessing” and notes the concept, we encounter something quite different from the material abundance talked about and taught so much today. Ephesians 1:3 says, “Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” Galatians 3:14: “that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” This is the Gospel of salvation. This is the blessing of Abraham now available to all -- to have a spiritual relationship with God through faith.