Did you know that Christianity will cost you something? That is strange, you may think. Is salvation not a free gift anymore?
Salvation is, of course, a free gift. Jesus says: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11: 28). And the Apostle Paul says: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8). Salvation is, undeniably, a free gift of God to lost and weary sinners in need of hope.
God has paid the price for all of His children to come to Him through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross. We incur no cost, and we will never have to pay anything for our salvation. What happens after we are saved, however, is a different story.
Jesus offers us a free gift in salvation, but He also says: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mat. 16:24-25). So, salvation is free, but a life of faith is costly by the looks of it. What can we understand from what we see here?
Think about it. Imagine you lived in the days of the Roman empire. Those who committed severe crimes received a severe punishment. That severe punishment was to be hung on a crucifix for hours (sometimes even days) where you would slowly die from the crushing weight of your body on your lungs. Your death would be slow, painful, and outright torture.
Now imagine that you are listening to a teacher in the midst of this empire, and you hear him say that if anybody wants to follow His teaching, then they must take up their Cross. This would have been a horrifying thing to consider. Jesus was not saying, “follow Me if you want a happy life and rainbows on every horizon.”
He was saying, “If you follow me, then expect you to die.”
What this means is not that we should go to the nearest local authority and say, “I have decided to follow Jesus, now show me to the nearest electric chair.” What Jesus means is that following Him will cost us our lives.
What it Means to Take up the Cross
To take up our crosses, Jesus first tells us that we must deny ourselves. This means that we no longer live the way that we want. Before, we lived for all the pleasures of our desires. We may have pursued sex, money, entertainment, or whatever else. But now, if we are to take up the Cross, we must forsake the value we find in those things and reorient them towards Jesus Christ. No longer are earthly pleasures our main motivators in life. Instead, we live for Christ.
Seems quite dreary, right? We just live our lives in self-denial for the sake of some teaching? That might seem to be the case, but Jesus is actually saying something else. He says that if we truly want to live and live the fullness of life, we will take up this Cross. He says that we must lose our lives to gain our lives. But what does that mean?
It means that we renounce the ways of this world. The cultural ideas we carry with us must be put to death, and even some relationships that misguide us. It is not easy, but Jesus says that if we are willing to deny ourselves these things, we will have life. We may feel that we are losing out in this life, but what we will gain for that self-denial is much better. The gain is eternal life!
Think about it. You will probably live for around eighty years, and then you will die and be embraced by eternity. If you are to go to Heaven, you must deny yourself the way that Jesus is talking about. If you fail to do so, then you will go to Hell. That is the bare reality of the matter. Surely it is worth it to deny ourselves for this short life in light of how we will get to spend eternity? We might feel that the pleasures of this world are excellent and worthwhile, but in the end, they will only lead to Hell (death). If we deny ourselves and take up our crosses with the willingness to die, we will spend eternity in life (Heaven). In dying to our former desires, we take up new life desires and live for righteousness instead of hedonistic pleasure.
The earthly life, which lives in the roots of hedonism, is actually a deceptive path to death. If we cut ourselves off from the earthly path and take the narrow and more difficult way of denying ourselves and taking up the Cross, then we will know life for eternity. That seems like a fairly amazing trade-off, right? Eighty years of self-denial for an eternity of life. Surely that should be enough to make us take up our crosses and follow Jesus with passion and endurance for the rest of our lives?
Have you counted the cost? Have you said it is worth it? You must know that your salvation is a free gift, but the new life that comes as a result of that salvation is one of hardship, trial, upstream swimming against the world, and self-denial. But, oh, how worth it is! We will know it to be so when we open our eyes at Heaven’s gate and see our smiling Savior beckoning us to come home.