The other day I came to several readings in the Bible that made me ask myself an important question: What is truly important? Is it the things and people of today, or eternity?
Fear is a tool of the devil and one he uses it quite well, bringing in others to remind us that we should be afraid. Jacob had deceived his father, Isaac, into blessing him instead of his first-born Esau, which angered Esau; so Jacob fled (Gen 31:17-55). After about 20 years the Lord told Jacob to go home, where he would have to face Esau and his own deception. Jacob did what many of us do, he chose to try to appease an enemy so that things would go well with him (Gen 32:20-21). He used his own wisdom, instead of first seeking the Lord (Matt 6:33).
We all do that in one way or time as another. We ask ourselves what we can do to make this situation better. The truth is not all situations or relationships can be made better. But the Lord gives us timeless truths that can and do make a difference, although not always here on earth where life is temporary anyway. “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Prov 1:7) If we seek the Lord, His truth, and fear offending Him over anyone else, we have a firm foundation.
Every single one of us came into this world with the promise that we will all die. It’s a foregone conclusion. So the question is how will we will live with whatever time we have here on earth? As we previously discussed, the devil, his minions, and the people he uses against us would have us be afraid of them, or of not having friends, or being included, or losing our jobs, or whatever fear comes up for you today. Jesus gave us the best advice: “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt 10:28)
The apostles were given a direct warning from Jesus about the persecution and hatred they would face, as have all of His people. That hatred will come as they proclaim the truth about Christ. Those who represent Him will receive persecution from Jewish religious leaders and Gentile authorities, as well (Matt 10:22-27). Jesus urged His disciples (and those of us who believe) not to respond to this persecution with misplaced fear. More specifically, He says to respond with proper fear, not to waste concern on those in authority who can only kill our bodies but cannot kill our souls. Instead, we should reserve our fear and respect for the One Who can kill both body and soul in hell.
Ten verses later Jesus was very specific about who is worthy to follow Him, and who He will say He knows before the Father: “If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” (Matt 10:38-39) He has made clear to His disciples that He demands to be loved above all other relationships, including parents and children (Matt 10:37), and certainly above possessions. Only God could make such a demand. To love God is the greatest commandment. Those who refuse to choose Jesus first make themselves unworthy of being His disciples. They disobey God’s command to love Him with everything they have.
Jesus said to those who would follow Him that they must also participate in putting themselves to death (this, of course, was before He died on the cross). His meaning, in the context of His other teachings, is that a believer must die to themselves. We must willingly let go of our own agendas and personal dreams and ways of living. We must willingly submit to walking the difficult path of Christ all the way to the end of their lives.
Nobody can honestly call himself or herself a follower of Jesus and, at the same time, follow their own path, do things their own way, ignore the righteous life God has called us to. Those who will not die to themselves and live for Jesus are not worthy to follow Him. But this worthiness to live as a disciple of Jesus is one of self-selection. We must all choose to love Jesus more than everyone else—or not. All must choose to die to themselves and live for Him alone—or not. To choose “not” is to become unworthy of following Him.
Jesus has said a startling thing: Those who will not take up their cross and follow Him are not worthy of Him. He had not yet died on the cross, so the disciples would not have associated this with His death, at least not yet. Still, the cross was always about death. Jesus was teaching them to willingly participate in dying to themselves, freely giving up their own lives to follow His difficult path (Matt 10:38).
Scripture teaches that Christ’s path is the path to finding true life (John 10:10). Dying to self is about finding the best possible life, both on earth and especially in eternity. (Do NOT confuse this statement with the “name it and claim it best life now” false teachers.) Some will refuse to believe in Jesus; they will not follow Him. Such people may find “their” lives: their own worldly definitions of success or achievement or getting what they want. In truth, though, they will lose “true” life. They will forfeit eternity with Christ. Whatever life they find in the here and now will come at the cost of losing the abundant life with Christ forever, and instead choose to live eternity in the lake of fire with Satan and his fallen angels (Rev 21:8).
Those who do willingly lose their lives by dying to themselves for His sake, however, will find eternal life. In fact, following Jesus is the path to the life that is true and lasting. I have decided to follow Jesus, and keep my eyes on eternity (Matt 6:19-24). This world and those in it will pass away, but by the grace of the Lord and my faith in Him, I will sing His praises for eternity! I pray that those who don’t know for certain where they will spend eternity, will search your heart and find out who you fear. Those here on earth can only kill or hurt your body, not your soul. I pray (even if I don’t personally like an outcome) that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:10) because I know that He knows what’s best for me, and what needs to happen for His purpose and His glory. Amen!