Do you ever read something in the bible and feel completely deflated? I was recently preparing for a study on Mark 8. Jesus has just predicted his death and he tells the disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” I was struggle with this verse because in my heart I feel like I have completely failed as a follower of Jesus. I repeatedly drop my cross and I really don’t want to pick it back up.
I should be inspired, but truth be told this verse has always made me nervous. I have not always been the biggest risk taker. To deny yourself and pick up your cross is an honorable thing to do and it takes great courage. It is a task for someone who is sure of himself. It is a task for someone who has it all together. It is a task for a guy who likes to take risks and come out victorious. I’m not that guy.
I am the guy who has failed at just about every risk he’s ever taken. I hate failure. It’s embarrassing. My biggest fear is that I will be exposed as a poser and people will find out just how big a failure I really am. Jesus asks me to take risks. And I do. And I fail Jesus.
Early in my walk I was told that it was my responsibility to see the Great Commission fulfilled. If people ended up in hell, it was because I did not lead them to Jesus. So I went out to talk to people about Jesus. I hated every minute of it. I just knew it was because I lacked the faith to convince people of their need for him. I knew how I looked at people who wanted to “tell me about Jesus.” I didn’t want to be that guy. The harvest was ripe, but I did not bring it in. I failed Jesus.
As a teacher, I have a natural gift. I can get up before an audience and feel very comfortable teaching people. It doesn’t matter if they are kids or adults. I have attempted leading bible classes, bible study groups, youth groups, men’s groups, marriage groups, singles groups. What I have found is that while I may be very good at teaching and explaining the bible, I am not a leader and I don’t really enjoy leading them. Again, I am exposed before Jesus and I feel like he is disappointed at my lack of enthusiasm. I failed Jesus.
What hurts most is my sin. “The acts of the flesh (sin) are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5: 19-21. I find myself filled with this daily. My anger is probably my biggest issue. My anger hurts my wife and my kids emotionally. It leads to bad decisions. It leads to hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage. To self-medicate I turn to porn, which brings in sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, orgies, etc. What the hell kind of Christian am I? In my sin, I fail Jesus.
It is shameful how I treat the Lord in my sin. I yell at my kids, fight with my wife, pout, cuss, and make a fool of myself right there in front of God. I can go from praising God to watching porn in 20 minutes. God knows the promises I don’t keep. He knows the lies I tell to justify my actions. He sees me avoiding the difficulties of life. He is always there and I am always failing him. The Holy Spirit never stops whispering, but I stop listening. I dropped my cross and I failed Jesus.
What a freaking pity party, right? I struggle with being a Christian. I fail Jesus on a daily basis. Big Freaking Deal. Guess what… I’m not the only one. I think every person reading this can relate. In fact, I’m guessing that 1 or 2 readers of this blog may think, “20 minutes from praising Jesus to porn? Brother, I have you beat. My record is 5 minutes.”
I have learned over the years that when Jesus brings me a verse that frustrate me, like the one in Mark, he is actually trying to open my eyes to something. “…he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” It’s hard and I suck at it. I am weak. I fail. I want to give up before I even start. But I am a child of God and the Holy Spirit is right there with me. He encourages me to pick my cross back up.
A verse like this, taken on its own, can easily be taken out of context. I read this passage and think that God’s expectation is that I live the perfectly from salvation forward. I am doomed to fail with that expectation. Life is agony and I am back under the law. But let me direct you to Galatians 2:20-21, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
I have already been crucified with Christ. I am not carrying my cross to my own crucifixion. I have died to the law and any expectations of perfection. I am now carrying my cross in the grace of Christ. I am taking steps on wobbly legs. I take steps with the faith that when I fail, Jesus is forgiving.
We are no longer under the law. We live our lives knowing that we are fully exposed to God. He knows every struggle we have. He even knows the struggles we spent out entire lives trying to hide. He wants us to stand completely naked before him and feel no shame. When we drop our cross, we are not failing Jesus. Instead we are experiencing his grace and we are given the chance to pick our cross back up and keep going. Failure is a part of life. Pick the cross back up and follow Jesus.
“The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing.” How does this apply to you? How does Christ live in you? What does living in his grace look like for you? Can you stand before him completely naked and be unashamed, or are you hiding from him. I think that the only way to fail Jesus is to hide from him. He wants you to take your junk and lay it out before him and trust him with everything. Hold nothing back. Live in his grace. You are going to drop your cross. Don’t hide it from him. Be thankful for his grace, know that he loves you, and pick your cross back up and continue to follow him.