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Divine Ups and Downs
By David A. DePra
Christianity is a life of UPS and DOWNS. The tough parts are the DOWNS. But the good news is that there is always an UP side to every DOWN. And the best news of all is that the last step in this cycle is UP.
Of course what I’m talking about is the principle of LIFE from DEATH – the principle of death and resurrection. This principle is not only how God saves us – first we come to the Cross and THEN we are raised in Christ – but it is also how God works in our lives. Before God exalts us, He humbles us. Before we learn Truth, we must unlearn error. Before we can obey God, we must repent of disobedience. Before we are able to live in God’s will, we must have our will dismantled. Before we can practically walk in God’s kingdom, ours must be brought down.
This is the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. And it is necessary because, in Adam, we start out in a place completely at odds with God. Thus, it is always necessary for death to precede life in the things of God.
For the last two thousand years, the church, generally, has never understood this. There have, for instance, always been those who think Christianity is lived in the DOWN part of the cycle – in the death part. There are people who are continually downtrodden, forever lamenting their sin, their awful spiritual condition, and their suffering. Some wallow in self-pity, but others make themselves into martyrs. Folks like this are always trying to win the victory, but never able to win it. Thus, they are forever defeated.
Sometimes those of such a persuasion try to paste on good works as a band aid. Or some just give up and don’t care anymore. Either way, to them, Christianity has no UP side -- no victory, no life from their perpetual condition of death.
But then there is the opposite extreme – and it really characterizes the growing trend in the church today. There are Christians who completely neglect the necessity of any DOWN side, and bypass it completely. To them, Christianity is all UP side. These folks don’t lament their sin – they don’t even acknowledge it at all. Indeed, sin, repentance, and the Cross, are at best, doctrines to believe in. They don’t want to hear about any personal application.
Look at the best selling Christian books today. And take note at some of the most, "successful," mega churches. Titles like, "Your Best Life Now," and, "The Purpose Driven-Life," and many others, all suggest the same message: "God has wonderful things for you. Just accept Jesus and He will give them to you." Many observant people have noted that in these books and messages there a neglect, if not an outright denial, of the Cross of Jesus Christ, i.e., at best, the Cross is what saved you. But once saved, you are done. Now it’s time to reap the blessings.
The problem here is not so much what is said, as it is what is omitted. God does have blessings for us. But on His terms. For instance, Jesus said, "Seek you first the kingdom, and all else would be provided." He did not say, "all else would be provided whether you seek first the kingdom or not." What do we think it means to SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM? Doing so will cost you everything. That is the DOWN side. But God will give you whatever it is HE wants – and that is the UP side.
Here is another example. We pray, "Thy will be done." When we pray that, we often think, "God will answer by giving me what I want. Or at least some great blessing, because to bless me is always God’s will." Sounds good, right? And there is some Truth to it. But have we ever considered the DOWN side (from our perspective) of praying that God’s will be done? It means that we are relinquishing OUR will. It means that we are asking God to pay no attention to OUR WILL, but to instead have HIS will. The DOWN side is that our will is going to be set aside. The UP side is that we will have God’s will.
Likewise, when we pray for God’s will, we often forget that in order to receive God’s will we must BECOME God’s will. Often God cannot just give us His will. He has to FORM us in the shape of His will so that we can be trusted with it, and it with us.
Now, of course, there really is NO DOWN SIDE in Jesus Christ! The reason there is no, "down side," is that even if our will is set aside, it is a good thing. Why? Because it IS our will. And we will end up with GOD’S will.
The gospel today, that God wants to affirm me, and give what I want, not only contradicts the Bible, but also is a neglect, if not a denial, of the Cross. God does not want to give us our will. He wants to give us HIS will. In the final analysis, God wants to give us HIMSELF. And that takes some work – part of which is going to be a DOWN side to our plans and purposes.
The Words of Jesus
And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. (Mark 8:34-35)
According to Jesus, the way to save your life is to lose it. Again we see the principle of life from death. In short, if you want to hold onto yourself for your own use in this life, there can be no real resurrection life of Jesus Christ.
Jesus was not merely talking about salvation. He was talking about those who would, "come after Him." He talks about three things, all of which have both a DOWN side and an UP side.
First, Jesus said, if we want to come after Him, we must, "deny self." What does that mean? The, "down side people," might suggest that this means we must never enjoy life, or do anything we want to do. Or that we must be continually depressed about ourselves. But that kind of mentality is nothing more than me satisfying myself – perhaps satisfying my religious quest for self-martyrdom. No. To deny self means to relinquish my right to live for myself on my own terms. Jesus is getting at where our faith and motivation are. You have to LOSE your right to be your own boss – even if it costs you everything. If you do, Jesus says, you will find your real life in Him.
Can we see that real life in Christ – the quality of our spiritual life AFTER we are saved -- is conditioned upon first denying ourselves the right to run our lives? If we want REAL LIFE in Christ, we cannot be in charge. And the fact is, the only way in which we will ever relinquish our right to ourselves is if we see that doing so is SIN, and repent of it. Yet, our modern, "all UP SIDE gospel," rarely mentions repentance. That’s too negative, and we are more and more being told that repentance is, "hurtful to our self-esteem. So let’s not talk about that, and get on with the blessings!"
The second thing Jesus said was to, "take up our Cross." This makes sense. For it is one thing to deny ourselves – relinquish our lives – but entirely another for this choice to do so to be made real. The Cross is the instrument of this -- of that death. Thus, if we take up our Cross, it will bring to pass the death to ourselves which we committed to when we denied ourselves.
Here we see that surrender to God is not merely an assent to a teaching. God will take us at our word if we deny our right to ourselves. But then He will bring into our lives various instruments of our death – our Cross. Thus, we must not only make the commitment to relinquish our lives to Christ, but we must then follow that up – if we really meant it – by carrying the Cross He lays across our path. Our Cross will work out that death in us, so that we might find true spiritual life and freedom in Him.
Again -- we see that Jesus never promised His blessings if we merely walk alongside of Him, without carrying our Cross. Words mean nothing. We are not merely along for the ride. We are to deny our right to our own life, and pick up our Cross. THEN – and only then – will we find true spiritual life and identity in Jesus Christ.
The third thing Jesus said we must do to, "come after Him," was, "follow Him." Does that seem redundant? Well, take it in context. We are to FOLLOW Him in the spirit of having denied ourselves, and with a Cross on our back. Indeed, that is the only way we CAN follow Him.
Now, all of this seems like it is negative – all DOWN side. But none of it really is negative. Rather, it spells our freedom from all that is truly bad and negative. The fact is, running our own lives is not only sin, but the most destructive thing possible for a human being to do. We don’t believe that, because we are so used to doing it. To us, it is normal. We simply do not see our need. Indeed, some of us are so comfortable running our own lives, and have so little frame of reference for anything else, that today’s gospel appeals to us. We see NO NEED for denial of self, the Cross, or death. Thus, the, "all upside gospel," appeals to us.
Jesus said we must LOSE OUR LIVES for His sake, if we expect to find true life IN HIM. He was revealing a fundamental principle which is made necessary by sin, and the only way in which we can move into full restoration. We must first be set free from – voluntarily renounce – all that belongs to the old creation. And then come under a redemptive work to set us free from it in practice. THEN, and only THEN, will we save our lives.
All of the UPS and DOWNS of the Christian experience have purposes unto this end. God wants to pry us lose from those things we continue to embrace – because we are, in fact, actually in bondage to them. He wants us to understand the Truth: That in order to be raised with Christ (the UP), we must die in Him (the DOWN). In order to have true life in Christ, we must die to our old life. There is no other way life in Christ works.
Do you want, "your best life now?" To have a, "purpose driven life?" Read again the words of Jesus Christ: "Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it."
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