Matt. 16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
I was very challenged by something I read this morning. I was challenged by how a very important Biblical truth is being ignored to the vast detriment of the health of the evangelical church and how this church has found itself so flat footed in the face of one of the greatest theological, ethical, social, and political challenges it is confronted with today.
The truth is found in the verses above. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and to take up our cross. He did not say,”Some of you may have something that you cannot bring with you as you follow me”, or “Deny things outside of you, which may be challenging or tempting.” No, he says to all of us “Deny yourself.” That means all of us must submit ourselves to the reality that we must do some denying and the thing we deny is resident in us. Then, we must take up our cross, shorthand for sacrificially laying down our lives, often everyday in little and big ways, to echo the Big C Cross to the world.
OK. Let’s get real. In the American evangelical church, how much self-denying-cross-bearing is actually going on? Not much, it seems. We are very good at self-embracing-cross-avoiding. Suffering and American Christianity have an awkward relationship, and that is not a good thing. That is why I think one of the most spiritually fruitful epochs for us is on the horizon as we are going to be further marginalized and even persecuted for being Biblical in our beliefs and practices. The American church has played with Caesars money and power for so long and we are so used to it, that as Caesar is now coming to collect on his loan, we are experiencing a rude awakening. But, it will cause wheat and chaff to part, and a spiritual awakening will come about, and for that I am thankful.
In the meantime, here is the issue this situation reveals. As we want to be Biblically faithful and loving in our pastoral approach to those who experience same sex attraction, by what moral authority do we call these people to deny themselves and take up their cross in living faithfully before God, which will mean for those who never experience freedom from their same sex desires the prospect of life long celibacy? Well, the moral authority is Scripture, but do you see what I am getting at? It is hard for these friends, many of them fellow believers, to see the beauty and blessing of self denial in the Scriptures if they do not see it all over the place in the lives of Christians in their churches! I bet my back teeth that if the Bible Church, and your church, was full of self-denying-cross-bearing Christians, when we ask people with same sex attraction to commit to celibacy, though hard [self denial and cross bearing are by nature hard - that is the point], they will clasp our hands, for our hands will be there to clasp, and we will journey together, following our Savior Jesus, who’s nail scarred hands and feet, glorious now, we will have our eyes upon. I am so glad our Savior is the ultimate and perfect self-denying-CROSS-bearer, but the church needs to grow in his image, and boy will it empower our ministry to those with same sex attraction.
So, friends, in our aim to have Christ increase in us, and for us to decrease, may we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and in doing so, have Jesus shine as we are able to love the sexually broken in fellowship, co-sinners who are hungry for holiness, as friends who love, embrace, and clasp hands. Yes, we want to be faithful to the Bible on this issue, absolutely! But, will we be faithful to all of it, including the part that calls all of us to deny ourselves and take up a cross?
By the way, the article that challenged me can be found at this website which is a UK-based site dedicated to teaching and edification around the issues of Biblical faithfulness, healthy church witness and ministry, godly love, and the issue of homosexuality. http://www.livingout.org