If you are a Christian and have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, repented of your sin—because ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23)—and experienced salvation, you might have been tempted to ‘camp out’ at the foot of the cross. After all, it was the pivotal point on the road of your life’s journey and there is a certain comfort in the familiar.
There is no denying the complete positional transformation that takes place at the time of salvation. Peter says, ‘But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light’ (1 Peter 2:9). This transformation takes place when we accept Christ as our Lord and Saviour at the cross and we are ‘born again’ by the Spirit of God.
But our souls are still the same, we still have the same attitudes, temperament and character. When we come to Christ and fall in love with him, our awareness of the things that displease a holy God come into focus. But we are not left alone with this dilemma. It says in 2 Corinthians 3:18: ‘And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness, from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit’.
The process of being changed is called ‘sanctification’; this is a partnership between God and us to transform our hearts, minds, souls and bodies into his likeness. It takes cooperation on our part and a willingness to allow Christ to enact his transforming work in us. ‘Sanctify’ comes from the Greek word hagiadzo, meaning to be set apart or made fit for service. Christ calls us at the time of our salvation to a journey, not to camp out at an experience or a decision.
Jesus says in Luke 9:23–24, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.’ He then goes on to say, ‘And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple’ (v27). To carry our cross is not a call to self-flagellation and monasticism, it is a call into relationship, into discipleship. To take up our cross is to proceed and live in the abiding life that Christ offers us. ‘I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). It is a call to find our identity in Christ. Paul uses the phrase being ‘in Christ’ 165 times in the New Testament. As we experience relationship with Christ we are absorbed into his life.
This walk of sanctification is not a creed, it is a transformative process that recreates us into Christ. It is a process that can only take place in close proximity to Christ. It is a daily yielding to the Lordship of Christ in your life and allowing the Spirit of God to do the work in you as you commune with him.
‘May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it’
(1 Thessalonians 5:23–24).
The story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24) is a prime example of taking up our cross and following Christ. It is an example of the daily discipline of walking with Christ, of talking with and about Christ, of fellowshipping with Christ and his people. If we think we have ‘arrived’ at the cross and settle down for the long haul, then we are missing the glorious transformation and relationship that he calls each of us to as we move out of the shadow of death that the cross casts and take up our cross and follow him.
The imagery around camping out at the cross evokes a backpack full of stuff, including essentials such as food, water and warm clothes. We sit beneath the finished work of the cross and we are quite comfortable in that place.
The first barrier we face when journeying with Christ is holding on to what we think is necessary for camping out, but in order to carry our cross we need to leave our backpacks or our baggage behind. We cannot possibly carry our crosses and our baggage at the same time, but we still need the essentials of life. So instead of natural water, Christ gives us the ‘living water’ that he gave the Samaritan woman; instead of our woolly jerseys, Christ clothes us in the ‘robe of righteousness’; instead of baked beans, Christ offers us the manna of the word of God—because ‘Man cannot live by bread alone but by the spirit of God’ (Matthew 4:4b).
The call of Christ is to follow him. The road is narrow and long and at times the difficulty is overwhelming. It is a tough walk, but we are not alone. Our wonderful saviour and friend accompanies us on our lowly journey.
Samuel Logan Brengle said, ‘Holiness is not some lofty experience, unattainable except to those who can leap the stars, but it is rather a lowly experience, which lowly people in the lowly walks of life can share with Jesus, by letting his mind be in them’.
This lowly walk is a high calling. It begins at salvation with justification, it moves on to sanctification and the outcome of this journey is glorification. How can we resist his gentle call forward to the abiding life?
There is an old hymn written in 1922 by AH Ackley, the chorus reads, ‘“Take up thy cross and follow me,” I hear the blessed Saviour call; How can I make a lesser sacrifice, when Jesus gave his all?’