Evaluate yourself against these pressures:
Teens tend to be idealistic, and this is good. They often resolve to be serious, "hit the books" and spurn the drugs, sex, smoking, drinking and "hanging out" that they have seen others doing. But if the "right" fellow or girl appears, or if the teen is recognized by the "right" clique, his desire to be accepted by them pressures him to adjust his ideals to conform to them. His ideals or convictions are merely preferences.
A minister may search the Bible for truth and find something interesting that he believes and resolves to do and teach. When he tells his fellow ministers about what he has found, they may say to him, "I don't say you're wrong in this, but don't you think you should tone it down a bit? Make it less offensive, and then maybe we can cooperate with you and work on some of your objectives."
At first he may strongly defend his belief, but little by little, as he sees the reaction of his peers, he may begin to bend. He believes it and resolves to do it, but if he changes, his belief is a preference.
If the Word of God tells us to change something, we must change it! But we must be very careful about things previously proved from God's Word, believed, put into practice and then changed when some form of pressure is brought to bear!
This is perhaps the strongest pressure. When Jesus advises His disciples about counting the cost of commitment to Him, every person He mentions is a family member. "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26).
Usually no one can motivate you like a deeply loved mate. A husband may resolve to commit himself to a strong belief, but on telling his wife, she replies, "Please don't, honey. Do you realize what this will do to us and our family?" His resolve begins to melt because he knows he will feel responsible if, because of his belief, he inflicts discomfort or pain on an innocent bystander.
Fear of Lawsuits
Living in perhaps the most litigious society ever on the face of the earth, we are aware of the expense and hassle of going to court, even for the innocent. We may say, "I'm all for this, but I'm not going to get sued over it! You can't ask me to be sued—that's going too far! The news media will make me out to be a villain. They'll publicly hang me! At the very least I'll lose my hard-earned reputation, maybe my job and all my property because of attorney and court costs." This daunting pressure causes many to change their beliefs.
You may have never really been in a jail, but they are not pleasant places. Most prisoners want to get out as quickly as they can. In fact, some will risk life and limb to escape, knowing they will probably be unsuccessful. If they do make it out, they will most likely be apprehended and returned to "serve" even longer sentences. Jail is very damaging to a person's liberty and reputation.
Most people who go to jails never get past the visitor's area. I have been into the deepest bowels of several maximum security prisons to visit violent inmates on death row. They are horrible places.
In contemplating what it would be like to be in prison, remember that virtually every move an inmate makes is programmed by his captors. You would be isolated from your dearest family members and friends. You are told when to get up, when to eat, when to exercise, when you can read, watch TV, bathe or shower, and occasionally even when you can talk, go to the bathroom or sleep.
Additionally, the people around you have made a living of not playing by the rules. You would be stuck on their turf. Some are quite violent. It is a crazy, frightening environment for one accustomed to the comforts and control of home.
Would you really be willing to go to jail for your faith? Even when no one seems to understand why you would do such a thing? Would the pressure of facing jail make you change your beliefs? If so, your beliefs are preferences.
Maybe some of you men are saying to yourself, "Yes, I'd go to jail." But would you be willing to stand by and watch your wife go to jail? Some have faced that. Would you then pressure her to change her mind?
Do your beliefs mean so much to you that both you and your wife would go to jail, knowing your children would be taken by the state and raised by foster parents you do not even know?
The Pressure of Death
This final test is obvious, yet some have learned through experience that there is a fate worse than death. When a person's resolve over a belief fails, his guilt can be crushing. Luke 22:34, 59-62 shows Peter in such a circumstance.
Do you see the common factor in these? What does your belief mean to YOU? What are you willing to sacrifice in exercising your belief? If you feel you should do something but have the right not to do it, it is merely a preference.
A belief that is God-ordered is a conviction. It is not merely a matter of resolve or dedication, but a matter of believing with all our heart that God requires it of us. If we hold our beliefs as God-ordered, we will withstand all the above tests.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Are Your Beliefs Preferences or Convictions?
Here, Jesus explains that there is a cost to following Him and that it will cause separation from those closest to us. When we reckon ourselves as dead and completely surrendered to the One who is giving us a new and superior life, our decision creates division, putting us at odds with family and friends who have not yet been called. They will continue worshipping in the way that seems best to them, while our surrendering to God constrains us, instead, to worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
If we are to be worthy of Christ, our love for Him must be greater than our love for our parents and children. If God requires something of us that does not make sense to them, we must remember that we have already died and that eternal life comes with a cost. In Galatians 2:20, Paul writes, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.” When we accept Christ as our Savior, we, too, are symbolically crucified with Him, which means our lives now must conform to His.
For Matthew 10:39, various paraphrases render it as “he who clings to his life” or “whoever tries to gain his own life.” In other words, we cannot serve two masters. We will either pursue life on our own terms and lose out on eternity, or we will give up our claim on our lives and trust whatever God does with them. The life God wants for us is incomparably richer than anything this world has, but if our focus is only on our current circumstances, that priceless life will not mean much to us.
I Kings 18 recounts the showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal, in which the prophet asked the people of Israel how long they would falter between two opinions. They knew there were benefits to worshipping the God who had delivered them from Egypt, but they were also attracted to Baal-worship. The people would not commit to follow one or the other, opting instead for an unholy mixture of beliefs, leading to the adoption of rank paganism.
This principle is especially relevant for us in the end time. In the letter to the final church in Revelation, Christ's charge is that the Laodiceans are neither cold nor hot. They claim to love Him, but their lifestyle reveals their worldly infatuations. They do not reject God completely, nor commit to Him wholeheartedly—because of the great price. They are still clinging to their lives, because surrendering completely and bearing their crosses are too costly. Yet, trying to have it both ways, they are losing out on eternal life. They are unwilling to lose their lives for His sake, and are thus unworthy of the life of Christ.
David C. Grabbe
What Does It Mean to Take Up the Cross?
The cross of Christ can mean two different things: It can be a symbol of what the crucifixion produced (forgiveness, etc.), or it can represent Christ's own example of self-denial and losing His life for a greater purpose—a symbol of great personal cost.
Paul writes in I Corinthians 1:18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Consider, though, that many who claim to be Christian today do not consider the idea of forgiveness through crucifixion to be foolishness. They glory in what the cross produced. What is foolishness to them is His example of complete surrender, which we are to imitate. As a result, nominal Christianity has become tolerant of sin, increasingly human-centered, and less inclined to actions that might involve discomfort or inconvenience. Even conservative denominations will not follow Christ with regard to the seventh-day Sabbath. They appreciate what the cross of Christ produced, but balk at the cost to follow in His footsteps. Observing the fourth commandment as Jesus and the apostles did seems foolish to them!
But for those who are being saved, that message and example of total surrender—of carrying whatever is placed upon us until we die—is the power of God. Consider the power unleashed when Jesus surrendered completely: The Most High God not only raised Him back to life, but He has put all things under Him. There is no greater power.
This was Paul's solution for the division in Corinth—the example of the Creator being willing to die. Following that example of self-sacrifice is what could have allowed the Corinthians to be reconciled to each other. The carnal mind says that surrender is folly, because it creates a vulnerability or the possibility of loss. But the same carnal mind is blind to the vital reality that God is on His throne, overseeing the outcome—gladly using His power on our behalf if we will but trust Him with our lives.
The message of the cross is not merely about forgiveness of sins. It is also about our response to God after we have been forgiven. If we are to be worthy of the Creator who humbled Himself to die a shameful death, our response must likewise be one of self-denial, complete surrender, and reckoning ourselves as already dead to this present, evil age so that we might live for Him.
David C. Grabbe
What Does It Mean to Take Up the Cross?
The second commandment forbids the use of any physical representation of something used in the worship of God. It prohibits anything that tries to represent divinity in a physical way, such as pictures or statues. The crucifix (an image of Jesus on the cross) certainly fits into this category. Even though the stated intent is for use as a remembrance of the crucifixion, God commands us not to use any image or likeness in our worship of Him.
The cross has been used as a religious symbol since long before the crucifixion of Jesus. It originated in the Babylonian mystery religions, where it was a symbol of the god, Tammuz. In his book The Two Babylons, Alexander Hislop summarizes the universality of the cross by saying that “there is hardly a pagan tribe where the cross has not been found.” The cross did not even become associated with nominal Christianity until the time of Constantine, centuries after the crucifixion. And while the Scriptures refer to the cross metaphorically, the apostolic church never made use of it in a physical way.
In addition to the pagan origin, the question is still unresolved exactly what Jesus died on. The Greek word translated as “cross” is stauros, meaning a stake or upright pole. It may have had a cross-beam on it, or it may have simply been a long piece of wood, thick enough to bear the weight of a human body. Adding to the mystery are four scriptures asserting that Jesus was hung on a tree (Acts 5:30; 10:39; 13:29; I Peter 2:24), and the Greek indicates a green, living tree rather than a stauros of dead wood. Because of this, one possibility is that the stauros of Jesus was just the crossbeam, which was attached to a living tree.
But the traditions of nominal Christianity have memorialized the pagan cross. To add insult to injury, millions venerate the means of death of the Messiah through their physical representations, rather than commemorating His death as He commanded, through the annual observance of the Passover (see I Corinthians 11:24-25). Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus Christ despised the shame of the cross in order to become our Savior, yet nominal Christianity both memorializes that shame in an image and turns it into a good-luck charm.
In studying Christ's instructions for taking up or bearing our stauros, it is clear that He did not intend for us to have anything to do with a physical crucifix, any more than He intended for us literally to pluck out an eye or cut off a hand to avoid sin (see Matthew 5:29-30). Rather, the use of the cross stands for a much larger concept that cannot—and should not—be crammed into a mere icon.
The Jews living under Roman dominion were all too familiar with crucifixions. When they saw a man carrying a stauros, it could only mean that his time on earth was essentially finished; they knew that man was as good as dead. So when Jesus told His followers to take up their crosses, they also were to account themselves as already being dead. What life remained was given over to the control of another, symbolizing complete surrender, while pointing to the encumbered life of a disciple.
David C. Grabbe
What Does It Mean to Take Up the Cross?
Christ calls us to take up our cross and follow His example. This call is not so much a call to martyrdom as a command to deny self or, crucify the flesh, even to the point of death. We must be prepared to die, if that is where the course of events leads, but in most cases it is not so much literal martyrdom as it is to have the attitude of self-denial that is willing to give up all. Christ's disciples live to serve God, not self. Paul admonishes us to put off our former conduct and put to death our sinful actions.
Martin G. Collins
Overcoming (Part 5): Self-Denial
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