by Jeannette Haley
The entrance of 2007 is just another intangible proof that mankind has no control over time or space. Maybe it’s just my age, but it seems as if 2006 came and went in a flash, and now we’re being thrust into another New Year that gives me, for one, the sensation of a giant tsunami racing toward an unsuspecting shoreline. It’s as if we’re being warned to “hang on!” The question is, hang on to what?
In my younger years, once in a blue moon my longing to go horseback riding would be fulfilled. I remember well that the one thing I did not want to happen was to fall off, so I hung on with everything I had. I have to admit, the saddle horn on Western saddles was perfect for hanging on, and with fear and determination, I never did fall off of a horse.
Hanging on to a saddle horn is one thing, but hanging on to what makes up our lives is quite another. Hanging on is a consequence of the fall of man, and can be borne out of fear, guilt, insecurity, rebellion, pride, foolishness, and unbelief. Consider that Adam and Eve had no need to hang on to anything. All of their needs were provided for. They had no lack physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. They had daily, open communion with the Lord God. It’s impossible to fully comprehend the world our first parents lived in, for we have nothing in this life to compare it to.
We begin our lives by hanging on to people (such as parents or other family members or people) for security. Parents often hang on to their children, even into their adult years. Along the way, we automatically develop the habit of hanging on to possessions. As we grow older, we usually exchange hanging on to parents to hanging on to our friends. By the time we’re well into our teens, we suddenly “know everything,” so we also hang on to our ideas and conclusions. Some, however, choose to hang on to their childhood as long as they can and refuse to grow up and accept responsibility, while others try to hang on to their youth, and pursue a life of selfishness and vanity. The ambitious are determined to tenaciously hang on to their dreams and goals of success in this life, regardless of the cost of such success. Agendas and causes are also something that we can hang on to with stubborn determination. Finally, there are always a number of rebels who, while denying that they are even remotely interested in hanging on to anything, good, bad or otherwise, defeat their own cause by hanging on to their right to be fools who are basically worthless to both themselves and society.
Many hang on to the past, while others are obsessed with their possessions. But, the most dangerous thing we human beings can insist on hanging on to is our rights. It is at the point of rights that we either hang on to the self life, or relinquish that life to the Lordship of Christ, so that His life can be formed in us. This all sounds simple enough until you begin to consider what all is involved in letting go of the self life.
Luke 9:23-25 says: “And he [Jesus] said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whomsoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?”
Note that Jesus did not single out certain individuals who desired to be disciples to direct these words to. Rather, He “said to them all.” We must always keep in mind, as we find ourselves drowning in a cesspool of nonsensical political correctness, that when the Bible says man it means all mankind, or both men and women. (See Genesis 1:27.)
So, we see Jesus, with respect to the freewill of every person, laying out right up front the cost for following Him. Self-denial is the bottom line. Some may argue that He is referring to persecution and martyrdom, but this is not the case for He stated that it was possible for a person to “gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away.” Self-denial is not a popular topic in our self-serving world with its psychobabble philosophies of self-esteem and self-fulfillment.
Others may try to explain Jesus’ words away by declaring that once a decision has been made to follow Christ, all that is necessary is to join up with a church, do good works (as is convenient) and believe that Jesus died for the sins of the world. However, nowhere in Scripture are Christians told that to become a disciple of Jesus they must “go to church” or “be a good person.” Rather, after denying self, Jesus nails it down to “taking up our cross” daily. “Well,” one might argue, “I take up my cross every day as I suffer my way through life, and do the best I can doing for others. In fact, I am so spiritual that in Jesus’ name, I even do great miracles.”
That may look all fine and dandy on the surface, but what happened to the “follow me” part? Most professing Christians are very good at playing the religious games and giving the impression that they are cross-bearing believers, but if they are failing to follow Jesus, their fruit is going to tell on them. If a person has truly denied their right to their own life, taken up their cross (the process of death to the self life) and is following Jesus, then that person will be a reflection of the One he or she is following. People may not remember such a person, but they will remember the essence of Jesus in such a life.
Some may protest, “Surely, Jesus doesn’t mean this! After all, it’s impossible to live such a life!” We who believe know, however, that Jesus’ words are pure, true and from the Father. So, how can a person live such a life? The answer is, it all goes back to the point of letting go of whatever we are hanging on to in our self-life. Let’s face it, most of us, when challenged with Jesus’ words, initially fudge our way through with a bit of reckless abandon. In other words, we don’t sit down and take stock of what the total cost is. Oh, on the surface, we may count some of the cost, and come up with a “subtotal” that we can live with. It’s like throwing a bone (one that we can spare) at God—just enough to get by, but we’re only fooling ourselves.
But, God is faithful. He will continually bring us back to the point of denying our right to our rights until we finally deny His right to our life in our heart; thus, His Spirit will no longer contend with us, but turn us over to our affections and lusts. These rights can be different for different people. Some people hang on to their past life, such as Lot’s wife, and we all know what happened to her. Esau is an example of the person who cries about losing God’s blessing, but who refuses to let go of his desire for unholy alliances. Some hang on to their right to serve both God and their lusts, such as Samson. King Saul is a good example of the type of person who hangs on to their position, rather than giving way to God’s will in the matter. Some hang on to their right to lead a double life; that is, with one foot in God’s will and the other foot in the world, such as King Solomon. Remember that the Old Testament was written for our example and instruction. By studying the lives of the Old Testament characters, we can gain a clear picture of the destruction people brought upon themselves by what they kept hanging on to. By the same token, we can also learn from those who were blessed by God because they relinquished all for the sake of gaining Him, such as Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Rahab, Naomi, Ruth Queen Esther, and King David.
The New Testament gives us clear cut examples of those who were either hanging on to their life, or who gave up their rights to the self-life. We see Mary, the mother of Jesus, who said to the messenger of God, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” Luke 1:38a. John the Baptist, the greatest of the prophets, declared: “He must increase, but I must decrease” John 3:30. Consider the disciples and Apostles, who left all to follow Christ. Consider also Judas Iscariot, who had a divided heart. A divided heart will always result in denial and betrayal of the life of the Son of God in us.
Giving up our rights is where the “rubber meets the road.” This is where we either get real with God, or we try to subvert the truth and bend it to suit our own desires, definitions or determinations. This is the defining point where we will choose to agree with God and come into line with His truth, embracing it with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, or where we will choose the serpent’s lie, “Yea, hath God said…?” (Genesis 3:1b) This is the point where character is tested and integrity revealed. This is the place where one chooses to exercise faith, or where one makes the choice to hang on to unbelief that is fueled by insecurity, fear, guilt, rebellion, pride, stubbornness, sin, and hatred. Yes, hatred for God and His truth. “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” Jesus’ words as recorded in Luke 9:23-25 are a crossroad where every would-be follower of Christ must choose by faith to believe, receive and obey, or choose to disobey. It is at this crossroad of denying our right to hang on to our own life that the way of following Christ becomes strait and narrow. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that “the just shall live by faith” Hebrews 10:38, and that “without faith it is impossible to please him” Hebrews 11:6a.
Here, at this crossroad, we must stop and consider what we are hanging on to. Is it fear, rebellion, witchcraft, involvement with spiritism, religious traditions of men, culture, fornication, lust, covetousness, idolatry? Is it our agendas, goals, causes, however “good”? Is it bitterness, unforgiveness, conceit, arrogance, pride, selfishness, and jealousy? Is it anger, malice and hatred? Is it unbelief? These are some of the sins that we cannot hang on to if we are to follow Jesus on the narrow road. All sin comes out of idolatry—our right to live on our terms. Such a life is a denial of true Christianity and is wicked and unacceptable in the sight of God. It may appear religious outwardly, but such a life is unholy, unclean and profane. While others may be fooled, God is not mocked, and we can be assured that judgment will follow.
One beautiful Old Testament example of what we need to hang on to is Job. Of such a man God could say to Satan: “Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?” Job 1:8. Can God declare this about you, or me? Job clung to his integrity, and refused to deny God, regardless of his excruciating suffering, horrible loss, agonizing dilemma, and judgmental “friends.”
Finally, consider Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane, who while battling through as the Son of man, gained the victory of self-denial with these words, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” Luke 22:42.
What are you hanging on to as you enter this New Year? Are you hanging on to your past? To your goals, plans, agendas, and causes? To your sin and your right to your life? If so, you need to ask yourself who you are truly serving, self and Satan, or Christ, for in the end, even though you may “gain the whole world” you will lose your own soul. The question is, is it worth it?