The Crucified Life!
Charles Naylor, 1918
"Then Jesus said to his disciples: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" Matthew 16:24-26
This saying of Jesus has been so little understood through the ages that people have come to have the idea that to take up your cross and follow Jesus is to do those religious duties that fall to their lot through life. They speak of bearing the cross, as meaning witnessing for Christ, praying in public, or doing some other religious duty. This idea could arise only from a total misconception of the meaning of Christ's words.
We are to take up our cross and follow him. We all know what happened when he took his cross. He went forth on the "way of sorrows" bearing his cross outside the city, and there, on Calvary, he was laid upon it and nailed to it and raised up between the Heaven and the earth. Upon it he suffered and bled and died. He was then taken off the cross, because the cross had done its work. The full measure of the hatred of his enemies had been poured out upon him there.
The crosses that were made were for just one purpose: they were for people to die upon. Your cross and my cross is for us to die upon. The cross is not some burden that we should bear in our Christian journey. It is not some duty that we should do. It is not some penance that we should perform. Whenever the Scriptures say anything about the cross, it carries with it the idea of dying. It is true in the text quoted above: "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." Christ means exactly what he says in these words. He expects us to lose our lives for him. If we do lose our lives for him—then he will give to us that life which is eternal. So he who refuses to take up his cross and go to his Calvary and suffer the crucifixion and death of which Jesus here speaks—will lose his life—that is, he will never have eternal life. It is only by giving up our life, that we save our life. It is only by dying that we live. Christ died that we might live, and now we are to die in order that he may live in us.
Let us get away once for all from that old idea that bearing the cross is doing Christian service. It is nothing of the kind. The cross is to die upon. If you do not die upon your cross, it will avail you no more to carry it through life than it would have availed you had Christ carried his cross around through life and never died upon it. So it is not carrying the cross that matters; it is dying upon the cross.
Paul speaks of the same thing. He says, "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Galatians 6:14). Again, he says, "And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts" (Galatians 5:24). In the next verse he says, "If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit."
He elaborates this idea still further in Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."
There are three main ideas involved in these scriptures:
first, the crucifixion;
second, the death which it brings;
third, the life to which we are raised through Christ, and in the newness of which we walk before him.
Speaking further on this, Paul says, "For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he lives, he lives unto God. Likewise reckon you also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:10-11).
The matter of becoming a Christian is not merely turning over a new leaf. It is not merely forming good resolutions. It is not merely joining a church. It is not merely beginning to do religious duties. It is a death—it is a death as real as the death of Christ. It is a crucifixion as real as his crucifixion. It is being raised to walk in newness of life just as really as he was raised from death. There is no use in mincing words about this. If we have not been crucified, if we have not died with him, and if we have not been resurrected with him, we are not his.
We are told to reckon ourselves dead indeed unto sin. What does this mean? It means that our lives shall be as free from sin as though we were really dead and now lying in our graves. It means an absolute shutting out of all sin from the life. It means this, because that new life which comes to us from Jesus Christ is no longer the old self-life that loved the things of the world. We commit sin, only when we love sin. Christians do not love sin; they hate it. We cannot always tell what a man is by the label he bears. There are a multitude of people who call themselves Christians who bear no resemblance to Christ in their lives.
John says of a true Christian, "As he [Christ] is, so are we in this world" (1 John 4:17). Those who are crucified to the world, cease to love the world. Those who still love the world, have not been crucified to the world. John says, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world" (1 John 2:15, 16).
Again, we read, "Don't you know that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (James 4:4). Those who still love the pride and vanity of the world, those who are absorbed in its frivolities, those who covet its gold and its honors, those who love its applause—these are those who have not yet died to the world. A worldly professor is a disgrace to God, to himself, to the people among whom he worships, and to the community in which he lives. The woman who arrays herself in the paraphernalia of worldly fashions and decks herself in gold and jewels and the finery that pride calls for, and at the same time calls herself a follower of Christ—insults her Lord every time she does so.
A Christian is one who is Christlike in character, in desire, and in deportment. No other has any right to bear Christ's name.
If all preachers had honesty enough and courage enough to preach the truth, the tide of worldliness that is overwhelming such a multitude of souls and sweeping them into perdition would be stayed, and to be a Christian would mean very much more than it now does to the world at large. As long as preachers allow their sermons to be dictated by public sentiment or the worldly desires of their hearers, they will cater to fashions, and souls by the million will drift on to Hell. Oh, what a reaping such preachers will have at the judgment!
What does it mean to be a true minister of Christ? God said to Ezekiel, "Hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me" (Ezekiel 3:17). To Isaiah he said, "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up your voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins" (Isaiah 58:1). To Jeremiah he said, "He who has my word, let him speak my word faithfully" (Jeremiah 23:28). He also told Ezekiel that if the watchman did not warn those who were in danger, He would require their blood at his hands.
The full measure of God's wrath will fall on those preachers who fail to be true to souls and to God in preaching those truths the Bible clearly teaches against sin and worldliness. He who has not courage to preach these truths now will not have courage to face the judgment.
Those hypocritical professors who bear Christ's name but will not obey him—dishonor him and by their example influence others to do the same, how shall they escape the damnation of Hell? If there is one thing that God hates above all else, it is a proud and worldly heart. Such a heart can never be a reverential heart. Its religion is but hypocrisy. It is only a sham. It has no reality. It is merely in word, while in deed they deny him. It is only a cloak of respectability, while the heart is full of corruption.
What do such professors know of the love of God? What do they know of the sweetness of fellowship and communion with him? What do they know of the joys of salvation, or of the blessed hope that anchors the soul in God? What do they know of the grace which sweetens the bitter cup of sorrow, or of the comfort of God's love? Nothing whatever. Their lives are empty and graceless. Those who make a profession of religion for the sake of personal advantage or business gain, or for respectability, or as a cloak for their deceit—are sowing that which will bring them a fearful harvest of woe in eternity! Everybody hates the hypocrite. Even the hypocrite hates another hypocrite, and in his more sincere moments he must hate his own hypocrisy.
There is no excuse for anyone to profess to be a Christian, who does not live the kind of life and have the kind of character that the New Testament delineates. The way is so plain that even a fool may understand it if he will. God declares that people are left without excuse. They can know how they ought to live if they will read their Bibles, and they may have grace to live such a life if they will abandon their worldliness and sin.
The Christian life is, and ever will be, a life of separation from sin and pride and worldliness. If you are not willing to be thus separated, you should have the common honesty enough not to profess to be what you very well know that you are not. If you are going to be a Christian in name, be one in reality. Your character, not your profession, will be what will matter in the final judgment.
It will be your Christian character, not your external morality, that will matter. Many people pride themselves on their external morality and their careful observance of religious conventionalities—whose hearts are vile and sinful before God. It is not that outward immorality alone, such as licentiousness, drunkenness, profanity, etc., that marks the great sinner. There are many things that are hidden to the eyes of the world, and many things that are considered quite respectable, that are just as bad in God's sight, and disgrace the person in his eyes just as much as these grosser things. External morality is like a marble statue—cold and lifeless. Christianity is warm and vibrant with the very life of God. It is God dwelling in us, living his own life there, and impressing his own character and likeness upon our souls and lives.
Christianity is not a form—it is a life.
It is not in word—but in vital power.
It is not a profession—but a divine possession.
We are told that our citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 3:20). A true Christian is a citizen of that heavenly country. It sometimes meant much to Paul to be able to say that he was a Roman citizen. Roman citizenship was a thing of dignity and honor, and it gave him privileges that he could not otherwise have enjoyed. But he rejoiced far more in his heavenly citizenship and in the privileges that that citizenship brought him.
The life of a citizen of Heaven should correspond to that of the people of his own country, and not to that of the foreigners and strangers among whom he is sojourning. "Do not be conformed to this world," is the command of our Lord. I think one of the most pitiable things that we can behold in this world is one who talks like a Christian—but lives like a lost sinner; one who professes to be a citizen of the kingdom of God—and yet lives like one who is a citizen of the kingdom of Satan.
Peter says of those who are true Christians, "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people . . ." (1 Peter 2:9). They are sacred vessels into which God pours his grace. They are the chosen ones to whom he reveals himself. They are the kingly priesthood who see the glory of his majesty. They are the precious jewels that adorn his kingdom. They eat of the bread from Heaven, the old wine and oil, and honey out of the rock. They drink of the river of his pleasures. They bear his mark upon their foreheads and upon their hearts. They have a clear and clean conscience void of offense toward God and man. Their souls are the dwelling-place of the mighty God.
To be a real Christian is something very high and very sweet. He walks in a path that "the vulture's eye has not seen." In joyfulness he mounts up with wings as an eagle. The worldly professor fills his days with folly. His cup of joy is always bitter at the last. He gathers up the "fool's gold" that glitters in earthly things. He lives after the flesh and after the world. He goes with the crowd. He misses all those good things that he might have if he would only really consent to be crucified with Christ. He misses all the blessedness of righteousness, and, worst of all, he misses Heaven at the last.
O soul, have you been crucified with Christ? Are you dead to the world, so that you have no relish for its follies, its fashions, its sinful pleasures, and its applause? Do you care more for your reputation with God, than you do for your standing with men? Are you out and out for God, or are you going hand in hand with the world? Do you know that your name is written in the Lamb's book of life. If others follow closely the example that you are setting before them, will they be on safe ground? If you were to die just now, would you be fit to enter Heaven?
Face the issue squarely! Are you a real true Christian? Have you been crucified with him? Is he just now living in you—his own innocent, pure, holy life? Do not be a mere counterfeit which will be rejected at last.
It means a great deal to be a real Christian. You may be a whole-hearted Christian if you will. But there is only one road that leads to the exalted plane on which such Christians live; and that is by way of Calvary and the cross. You must take up your cross and bear it to Calvary and there die upon it, if you are ever to have the life of Christ abide in you. But if you will really die to the world, to the flesh, and to the follies of this life—you need know nothing further of heavy crosses. Your shoulders need never again feel its burden, but you may look forward to that bright crown which awaits all those who have been crucified with Christ and are risen to walk in newness of life.