Success According to Jesus

Francis Chan stated “if you want to grow a church numerically, the last person you would want to come preach, would be Jesus Christ”.  I don’t 100% agree with that, but there is some validity within that statement.  The point that he was making is that the teachings of our Lord run counter cultural by most individual’s standards.  Most of us were told at a very young age that we needed to do what is best for ourselves in order to succeed in life.  Of course, success is often measured by how far we advance in our careers, how many trinkets we have in our garage, or how many pairs of shoes we have in our closet.  Unfortunately, the motives that drive that type of lifestyle often stem from a very egocentric mentality.  Through our culture, we feel like we rightfully deserve any and everything that brings us self-gratification.

But Jesus has a different standard for success.  To be successful in the eyes of our Lord, we need to become one of His followers.  I think one of the greatest passages about what being a disciple looks like, and what is expected from His followers is in the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus had acquired quite a following by this point in His ministry.  There were some great benefits to being around Him.  Many people were healed, and there were thousands fed.  But true to form, He could offend almost anyone.

Mark 8:34

And calling the crowd to Him with His disciples, He said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 

This is not a prerequisite of salvation.  If we occasionally deny ourselves some sort of selfish pleasure, like not eating the pastors’ wife’s chocolate chip cookies, or we occasionally take up our cross, suffer a little bit, it does not mean that God will save us.  This in fact, is the beautiful position that each of us are currently in once God does save us!  This is what success looks like as a Christian.  Not only the willingness but the desire to live a life that most would deem as radical. 

Deny himself:  This is not the denial of something, but someone.  Oneself!  This means you disown yourself.  You turn away from idolatry.  We don’t need to build a golden calf in our back yard to have an idol.  Our idols are the things in our lives that we selfishly love more than God.  Our idols are the things that give us more pleasure than God.  And we are told to deny ourselves this type of being self centered. We should desire to deny ourselves and submit our lives wholly to God’s will and not our own. 

Take up his cross:  Simply put-you will suffer because of your faith.  The cross signifies suffering, death and commitment.  Not all suffering is a cross.  We know that everyone experiences suffering simply because we live in a fallen creation.  Take up your cross means you experience suffering directly related to your faith in Christ.  The cross also signifies commitment.  Victims of the cross carried their cross to the place that they were to be executed.  They were committed to the cross all the way to their deaths.  Much the same way we are committed to the sufferings that we experience because of our faith.  We are committed to taking up our cross; we are committed to dying to ourselves.  In fact, Luke states that we are to take up our cross daily, meaning that we are committed to die to ourselves and suffer for our faith daily. 

Follow me:  Follow Jesus.  Emulate the life of Christ.  Jesus denied himself;He submitted himself wholly to God’s will.  He took up his cross.  He suffered and literally died on the cross because of His commitment to God the Father. 

Earlier I said this is the beautiful position that each of us are currently in once God saves us.  I say beautiful because if we desire to deny the self centered life, if we suffer because of our faith, and we have an eagerness to follow Jesus, then we live a successful Christian life.  It is confirmation of who we are.  I can’t help but think of Peter and the apostles in Acts 5.  They had just been beaten and left the council rejoicing because they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.  That is a successful life.