If It’s Not Difficult, You’re Not Doing It Right

Life in the Kingdom of God should be fulfilling and rewarding. It should be productive and meaningful. It should be challenging and demanding and sometimes exciting. It should not be easy. In fact, if you find life in the Kingdom of God to be easy, that’s a sure sign you’re not doing it right.

I’m not talking about the difficulties we all face simply because we are human. Everybody gets sick, sooner or later. Everybody is subject to the possibility of life-altering circumstances such as accidents, bereavements, financial reverses, and betrayals. Christians recognize events and experiences like those as the consequences of living in a world turned upside down by human sin and rebellion against God.

I’m talking about an added layer of pain, an additional dimension of difficulty, to which the followers of Jesus are subjected if they are serious about living consistently as citizens of the Kingdom of God. I base this conclusion on a truth which figures prominently in the preaching of Jesus in the Gospels: cross-bearing discipleship.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus made it clear that following Him (i.e. living in the world as one of His disciples) would not be easy. In fact, to emphasize just how difficult it was going to be, the Gospel of Matthew tells us…

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  (Matt. 16:24)

We read almost the same words in Mark 8:34 and Luke 9:23.

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Reclaiming The Mind Of Christ (Part 2)

It was the beginning of the week of Passover, the most important Holy Day on the Jewish religious calendar. Whenever it was possible, Jews from all over Judea and Galilee would make the trek to Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice at the Temple and to eat the Passover meal in or near the Holy City. That was Jesus’ plan as well.

For more than a year, He had been making His way steadfastly toward Jerusalem, where He knew He would become the ultimate Passover sacrifice. He knew who He was. He knew He was the Messiah, whom the prophets had foretold, the one the people of Israel had been expecting for hundreds of years.

He also knew that He would be a different kind of Messiah from the one they were expecting. Before He could sit on a royal throne, He would hang from a rugged cross. Before He could enter Jerusalem accompanied by the hosts of heaven, He would enter Jerusalem astride the colt of a donkey.

Unfortunately, the crowds waiting to welcome Him would miss the symbolism. Their yearning for a conqueror who would overpower the forces of Rome and elevate Israel to a position of prominence among the nations of the world clouded their understanding and distorted their thinking.

The Messiah who came riding into Jerusalem would disappoint them. And many of these people who, on Sunday, cried, “Blessed is the One who Comes in the name of the Lord,” would, on Friday scream, “Crucify him!”

I think He anticipated their betrayal, and it broke His heart. Because in Luke’s account of Jesus’ Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem, he includes these words…

41  And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. (Luke 19:41-42)

The word translated “wept” really means “loud wailing.” When Jesus saw the City of David, knowing that its religious leaders would soon be responsible for the gruesome death of the rightful heir to David’s throne, it broke His heart and provoked a gut-wrenching, blood-curdling moan that must have stunned all those within earshot.

The people who covered the road in front of Jesus with their cloaks and with branches they had broken off the nearby date palms wanted, so much, to see Him take the reins of power and establish Himself as their exalted King. But they couldn’t see the situation through Jesus’ eyes. They weren’t thinking with the mind of Christ. The cross and all its implications had no place in their mental picture of what a Messiah should look like.

I’m not so sure it is really all that much easier for us.

Oh, we talk “cross language” in church now. We wear crosses around our necks, either as jewelry or as the symbol of our office. We display the cross, and we reverence the cross, but I wonder if we seriously consider that the One Who died on the cross told us to be willing to follow His example.

In Mark 8, Jesus corrects Peter, in no uncertain terms, for suggesting that the Messiah might accomplish the purposes of God without suffering the humiliation of the cross. Then, after making it clear that Peter had come to his wrong conclusion because his mind was set on earthly things, not on the things of God, Jesus expands His instruction to take in a broader audience. Mark puts it this way…

34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his lifewill lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (ESV)

Thinking like Jesus invariably involves the cross. Just as the cross loomed large in the mind of Jesus, it should also occupy a prominent place at the heart of our thinking as Christians. Just a few years after the crucifixion of Jesus, Paul wrote, in one of his earliest letters (to the Galatians)—

14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Gal. 6, NIV)

That word “boast” translates a word that really has no English equivalent. It means “to glory in, to trust in, to rejoice in, to revel in, to live for.” In a word, Paul is talking about an obsession.

We are often obsessed with ourselves or with money or fame or power. Paul’s obsession was the cross of Christ. But it wasn’t simply the cross as an object of humiliation and death that obsessed Paul. He didn’t fixate on the cross because of its gruesome role as an instrument of torture and execution. No, Paul was obsessed with the cross for what it represented in the life of Jesus… the ultimate act of obedience!

If there ever was a human being who did not deserve to end his earthly life nailed to a cross, it was Jesus. He was, after all, God in human flesh. He never uttered a hateful word, never entertained a selfish thought. And yet, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

And that, in a word, is the key to understanding what it means to have the mind of Christ… to think about things the way Jesus would. The essence of Jesus’ thinking was to know and do the will of God the Father. Even when it meant pain and humiliation and death on a cross.

That’s why I wrote in my last post that the contemporary American church has lost its mind… its ability to think and reason and make decisions consistent with the thinking of Jesus. It simply cannot be said that the controlling feature of the American Christian community is to know and do the will of God the Father. For most American Christians, faith is something to be used, not something to be served.

Jerram Barrs is a protégé of the late Francis Schaeffer, one of the most influential Christian thinkers and writers of the twentieth century. I heard Jerram Barrs speak a number of years ago, and at one point in his talk, he compared American culture and society with that of his native England and the European continent, with which he was familiar. At the time, he had been living in the US about ten years.

He reflected on some major differences between Europe/England and the US, so far as the outward evidence of religion was concerned. He noted that church attendance in England was only a fraction of what it is in the US. He was stunned to see police on special assignment to direct traffic into and out of the parking lots of larger churches. He observed that, unlike in England where relatively few new church buildings have been built since WW2, in the US, new churches seemed to be rising all the time. And he noted the proliferation of Christian colleges, Christian schools, Christian radio stations and TV networks, Christian bookstores, almost none of which exist in England or on the continent.

He concluded his comments like this: “America has far more of the ‘trappings’ of religion than does England and Europe; the church is far more in evidence here. But for all of its obvious Christianity, when I read your magazines and newspapers, when I watch your movies and TV programs and listen to your music, I conclude that American society, for all its religious embellishments, is hardly less secular, less self-obsessed, less narcissistic than the societies of Europe and Great Britain.”

In contemporary American culture, we are losing the battle for the Christian mind. Our values are screwed up. We worship our work, we work at our play, and we play at our worship.

If this is the sad state of affairs in the Christian church, is there anything that can be done to change the situation? Indeed there is. And it can be summarized in one word: Repent.

The Gospels tell us that Jesus, at the outset of His ministry, came preaching the message… “Repent, the Kingdom of God is here.”  And John writes, in Revelation 2-3, that Jesus’ last recorded word to the churches of Asia Minor was that same word… repent.

As Jesus used the word, “repent” means “to think again; to change your way of thinking so that you see all of life from God’s perspective. Change your way of thinking about life and reality so that you distinguish yourself from the non-Christian world by the way you think.

Or, as Paul wrote in Philippians 2:5…

Have the same mind as Jesus. Think about things the way Jesus would.

Which is to say…

Look at everything in light of the cross of Christ. Recognize that the cross represents the ultimate fulfillment of God the Father’s purpose for sending Jesus into the world. Be consumed by the message of the cross, which is that through it, because of it, human beings, separated from God because of sin, have the hope of reconciliation and peace with God.

Rejoice in the privilege of unqualified obedience to the will of God, of which the cross of Christ is the supreme example.

And even though most people will reject it, misunderstand it, or dismiss it as foolishness, lift it high, take it up daily, and never waver in your devotion to the cross. Even if it means that, some day, like Jesus, you might be nailed to it.