Today I want to talk about our relationship with God. Specifically I want for us to examine the depth of our devotion. First of all, how much time do we give God? I mean, do we give Him a full day or two each week? OOOOOOOHHHH! I’ll bet He’s impressed. I know that sounds sarcastic but consider that He gave His all to us. Why is it that we only give Him part of our lives; part of our time while we pass through this veil of tears? Our God is infinite and we need Him infinitely. The devoted life is not only for pastors or ‘fanatics!’
Now consider the fact that most “Christians” worship God only on Sunday morning. Of course if there’s nothing exciting happening or if there’s nothing good on TV, well then they just might grace the church building on Sunday night as well. Wednesday is usually too much to ask. And prayer; I’m not talking about something you do before a meal or a quickie before you go to sleep. I’m talking about real communion with Jesus where you talk to Him and listen as you read His word. “I’m not a monk!” Or what about witnessing? “OK, you’ve gone too far, that’s way over the top, beyond the pale. I’m not a religious fanatic!”
You see many people, church people, think that Christianity is just going to Church, occasionally reading the Bible and saying your prayers before meals and before you go to sleep. New Christians are taught the basic ‘stuff’ which usually includes a lesson on tithing. But they are not encouraged to draw near to God, to walk with Him, to seek deep communion with Him. They are told to read their bibles but they are given no instruction as to what is the best way. They are told to pray but they are not told what it means to commune with God! Is it any wonder that the church people and the new believers who have never heard of such a thing as walking with Jesus, is it any wonder that they balk and say, “I’m not a religious fanatic.”
But you see this isn’t fanaticism. In reality this is the normal Christian life! Jesus never said; “Follow Me at a distance” or “I expect to hear from you at least once a month” or “Make sure you read My word every once in a while.” No, when He said ‘follow Me’ His disciples were right there, close to Him, hanging on His every word. And so we can see that this is of utmost importance. Jesus said in Joh 15:5 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. The disciples knew this! We have examples in the scriptures and in Church History of the truth of this statement. As we look to the word and to history we see that Christians are men of deep devotion to God, men who love the word, men of prayer and men who don’t shrink from bearing witness of the grace of God whenever they can.
Now as we compare the two attitudes represented let’s look deep inside and see whether or not we are really His disciples. Ask yourself this question; “am I devoted to Jesus?” Or do you think that the things mentioned are for someone else; that it was just for them back then. ‘Someone else can handle that ‘religious stuff.’ How do you think Jesus views the idea of ‘part time Christian’ kind of ‘service’? There’s really no need to guess for He has clearly stated His thoughts on the subject in Matthew 15:7-8 when He said: “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: 8 ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. 9 ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’”
Lets break that verse down and see what Jesus is saying to so – called ‘part time disciples’ who are in reality, merely playing the church game. First He calls them hypocrites. Now that’s not exactly P.C. but Jesus doesn’t care about whether people are going to get their feelings hurt. He is interested in the heart of the matter and that is exactly what He gets to here. He calls them hypocrites. I think that the Church of Laodicea is a good example of what hypocrites look like. They believed that they had arrived, that they were perfect. And they boasted of being in need of nothing – not even Jesus. And He said, ‘I am going to vomit you out of my mouth!’ Hypocrites make Him sick to His stomach!
Now what is a hypocrite? A hypocrite is someone who is wearing a mask, that is, someone who is hiding behind an outward façade; someone who is putting on an outward show. A hypocrite wants you to believe that they are just like you, that they are on your side, on your team! And they will go to just about any length to make their point. The Pharisees were such people. They were very religious outwardly. They wore robes with extra-long tassels. They wore extra large phylacteries, boxes that contained scripture because God had said in His word that we are to bind the scriptures on our heads and on our hands. They wanted everyone to believe that they had arrived, that they were perfect, that they were doing God a favor by just letting Him hang out with them!
Let’s take a look at their outward actions, specifically concerning the Phylacteries. Listen to the Word of God! De 6:4-9 “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5 “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6“These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. 8 “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. 9 “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Note the command; Love God with all of your heart, soul, and strength. That is first! God wants all of us, all of our love, all of our lives. Note that He said that we are to bind His word on our hands and our foreheads. What does that mean? Should we make boxes and put scripture passages in them and then wear them on our heads and our hands? Let me give you my thoughts on this. I believe God wants His word to fill our hearts. And we are to be ready to testify concerning Him both in season and out of season, that is, when we feel like it and when we don’t. We are to teach the word of God to our children and to all who will listen in everyplace and in every situation.
In binding His word on our foreheads and on our hands, all of this speaks of God’s word becoming part of us. It will color our work (hands) and our words and our thoughts (foreheads) and our homes. You see, devotion to God is no outward religious formality. It is a life of absolute surrender to God in every facet of our lives without exception. And as we walk with Jesus our life will shine like a light before men. In short, WE WILL BE WITNESSES!
Now returning to the Pharisees, they had all of the outward stuff down pat. They looked holy, they acted holy… But it was all just an outward show. This is why Jesus indicted them some 900 years before they were born when He spoke through the Prophet Isaiah. Listen again to the word of the Lord! Isa 29:13 “Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,” The religious men of Isaiah’s day, the Pharisees of Jesus’ and the ‘religious people’ of our day, each are examples of people who merely go through a series of outward religious gymnastics which are specifically designed to convince men that they are the real thing when the reality of the situation is that they are hypocrites. Now ‘church people:’ those who go to church and say that they are Christians but whose lives prove otherwise, they are merely fooling themselves. They claim to have their ‘fire insurance’ and therefore they can live their own lives, there own way! They say, “God will understand.” Trust me, He does. And the sad thing is that if these people die in their present state, they will stand before God and hear these horrifying words, “I NEVER KNEW YOU! DEPART FROM ME YOU WORKERS OF INIQUITY!
True Christians, whose lives have been illuminated by the Holy Spirit of God, can see through such nonsense because they have exercised their minds through the reading of the Word of God and they have the ability to discern the truth! When someone spouts such horrific nonsense they will stand forth and declare the truth from the word of God. They will warn these foolish people just as a watchman on the wall warns of impending danger. They will declare the words of Jesus who said; “33 “Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. 34 “It is like a man away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert. 35 “Therefore, be on the alert—for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 “What I say to you I say to all, ‘Be on the alert!”
This is what Christians are to be about. We are to be 2Pe 3:12 “looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!” We are to be living martyrs alive to God and dead to ourselves. This is what Paul meant when he said; “I die daily.” He was daily dying to himself. He was daily crucifying his flesh so that Christ would be all and he would be nothing. Keith Green describes the Christian life in this manner; “The Christian life is a bunch of squirming flesh getting nailed to a cross.” The word ‘flesh’ is a synonym for the old sin nature, the old man that wants to control our lives with its sinful impulses. And we are to consider ourselves dead to the old nature. We are to plug our ears to its cries for attention and run the race set before us crying out “Life, Life, Eternal Life!”
This is foreign to modern ‘Christianity’ with its slip – shod evangelism easy, instant, 1-2-3 steps to new life in Jesus, where you can become a Christian without having to repent or change your life in any manner of speaking. All you have to do is walk down an aisle, shake the pastor’s hand and you’re in! And when these people are told they have to take up their crosses and follow Jesus, they say, “Hey man, I want a posture-pedic cross with nice springs in it; something comfortable.”
But what did Jesus mean when He said “Take up your cross?” Look with me at Lu 9:23 “And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Our Savior is very clear is He not! He said that if we want to be His disciples, if we want to be Christians, followers of Christ, then we must deny ourselves. This is exactly opposite of what the world teaches? It is exactly opposite of what the false teachers tell their ‘congregations!’
The world tells us that we must get all we can. It twists the golden rule to say “Do unto others first!” The worldly church echoes this message with its health and wealth and prosperity message. And so these false converts think that “if we get a salad instead of French fries we are denying ourselves.” Or “If we hang our clothes on the clothesline instead of using the dryer, we are denying ourselves.” But is this what Jesus means? I don’t think so. No, He was speaking of denying our flesh, our ‘desires’ and our plans and our purposes. If anyone wishes to be His disciples they must turn away from themselves and their ‘self seekingness’ and lay down upon the altar as a living sacrifice. They are to die to themselves and live for God alone. Such people will prove their love for God by obeying His commands! There will be evidence that it is not them but Christ who lives! This is what it means to live the crucified life!
A.W. Tozer spoke concerning the cross and the crucified life and its counterfeit. Therefore I would like for us to take the remainder of our time to look at exactly what this godly man said about what it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus. As you listen, I ask you to prayerfully consider what it means to live a Cross Centered Life.
It is titled; “The Old Cross and the New”
ALL UNANNOUNCED AND MOSTLY UNDETECTED there has come in modern 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 a new evangelical technique-a new type of meeting 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 words are the same but their meaning is different.) The old cross would have no dealings with the world. For Adam’s proud flesh it meant the end of the journey. It carried into effect the sentence imposed by the law of Sinai. The new cross is not opposed to the human race. Rather, it is a friendly pal and, if understood aright, it is the source of oceans of good clean fun and innocent enjoyment. It lets Adam (the old nature) live without interference. His life motivation is unchanged; he still lives for his own pleasure, only now he takes delight in singing choruses and watching religious movies instead of singing bawdy songs and drinking hard liquor. The accent is still on enjoyment, though the fun is now on a higher plane morally if not intellectually.
The new cross encourages a new and entirely different evangelistic approach. The evangelist does not demand abnegation (a abandonment) of the old life before a new life can be received. He (The pastor who proclaims this false gospel) 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 your 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 (it is made to conform to the latest fads) in order to make it acceptable to the public.
The philosophy behind this kind of thing may be sincere but its sincerity does not save it from being false. It is false because it is blind. It misses completely the whole meaning of the cross. The old cross is a symbol of death. It stands for the abrupt, violent end of a human being. The man in Roman times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said good-by to his friends. He was not coming back. (He was not going out to have his life redirected) He was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromise, modified nothing, spared nothing; it slew all of the man, completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with its victim. It struck cruel and hard, and when it had finished its work, the man was no more.
The race of Adam is under death sentence. There is no commutation and no escape. God cannot approve any of the fruits of sin, however innocent they may appear or beautiful to the eyes of men. God salvages the individual by liquidating him (executing him) and then raising him again to newness of life.
That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of men is false to the Bible and cruel to the souls of its hearers. The faith of Christ does not parallel the world, it intersects it. In coming to Christ we do not bring our old life up onto a higher plane; we leave it at the cross. The corn of wheat must fall into the ground and die. We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world.
We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not called to be diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a message of compromise but rather it is an ultimatum. God offers life, but not an improved old life. The life He offers is life out of death. It stands always on the far side of the cross. Whoever would possess it must pass under the rod. He must reject himself and agree with God’s just sentence against him.
What does this mean to the individual, the condemned man who would find life in Christ Jesus? How can this theology be translated into life? Simply, he must repent and believe. He must forsake his sins and then go on to forsake himself. Let him cover nothing, defend nothing, excuse nothing. Pr 28:13 ¶ He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. Let him (the sinner) not seek to make terms (a deal) with God, but let him bow his head before the stroke of God’s stern displeasure and acknowledge himself worthy to die.
Having done this let him gaze with simple trust upon the risen Savior, and from Him will come life and rebirth and cleansing and power. The cross that ended the earthly life of Jesus now puts an end to the sinner; and the power that raised Christ from the dead now raises him to a new life along with Christ.
To any who may object to this or count it merely a narrow and private view of truth let me say God has set His hallmark of approval upon this message from Paul’s day to the present. Whether stated in these exact words or not, this has been the content of all preaching that has brought life and power to the world through the centuries.
The mystics, the reformers, the revivalists have put their emphasis here, and signs and wonders and mighty operations of the Holy Ghost gave witness to God’s approval. Dare we, the heirs of such a legacy of power, tamper with the truth? Dare we with our stubby pencils erase the lines of the blueprint or alter the pattern shown us in the Mount? God forbid! Let us preach the old cross and we will know the old power.”
So you see that the life of the Christian, the life of devotion to God really means death; death to ourselves and our desires and a new life of devotion and surrender to God as we lay down upon the altar and offer ourselves up, a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable, as we yield our members instruments of righteousness to God, which is our spiritual service of worship! This is the life of Absolute Surrender!
In closing let us bow before our God and Savior and make a clean sweep of our lives before the Throne of Grace, before the Mercy Seat. Remember that “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, watching the evil and the good.” Pr 15:3 As we go before The Lord let us pray according to His word; asking this question, “How many are my iniquities and sins? Make known to me my rebellion and my sin.” Job 13:23 And when He reveals to you where you have erred we may lay our burdens down at His feet for He promised that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1Jo 1:9 As we go to prayer take this warning with you; He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion. Pr 28:13