The Crucified Life and Discipleship
When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. (Mark 8:34 NKJV)
There is a call from Jesus to those who will hear. The first requirement of the call to discipleship is that you must "desire" to come after Him. So many Christians do not truly desire to come after Him. Many Christians want financial blessings, health blessings, and many other things. But they do not want Him. The only way to get Jesus is to desire Him above all else. This requires "denying yourself, and taking up your cross." Denying yourself means that you refuse to satisfy yourself. But your primary focus is to satisfy the Lord. Taking up the cross means that you must partake of the sufferings of Christ. And then there is the command to "follow Me."
The benefit of discipleship is so great that it can not be put into words. Following Jesus will change you. The process will strip you of selfishness and self centeredness. Discipleship will remove the "you" out of you. It will bring you to a place where Christ is living through you. It is the most painful process and the most beautiful. It is the path to maturity.
The Call to Discipleship
The Lord called me to follow Him and be His disciple in September of 2007. I had been a Christian for three and a half years. I had just attained to a position in my field of work that was honorable and sought after. The obtaining of this position required great personal sacrifice. This position had become a source of pride to me. It had become an idol.
The Lord begin speaking to my heart about giving this position up; laying it on the alter as a sacrifice for Him, and becoming His disciple. He gave me the above scripture, Mark 8:34. Every time I would open my Bible, there the scripture was. I kept thinking about it and could not get it out of my mind for a whole week. Later in the week at a church meeting, one of the leaders took up an offering. The leader read from the exact verse that the Lord had been giving me (a very unusual scripture for an offering). The Spirit touched me that night and I knew the Lord had spoken.
When the Lord was calling me to come and be His disciple, I knew that in order to do so, I had to give up the position in my field of work that I had just attained to. I could not follow Jesus without giving Him this achievement. Jesus was requiring me to deny myself. If I truly desired Him, I had to prove that I wanted Him above the position and honor that I had attained. Isaac had to die. And Isaac did die for I chose to follow the Lord. Sometimes the Lord will give your Isaac back from the dead, and sometimes He will not. In this circumstance, Isaac stayed dead.
Oftentimes the Lord will require a sacrifice when He calls someone to follow Him as His disciple. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were required to leave their families' businesses. Their way of life was severely disrupted as they plunged into traveling ministry. Jesus requires more out His disciples than He does from the casual believer.
And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:20-22 NKJV)
As we can see from this passage, not everyone responds to Jesus' call. Jesus called this man to follow Him and be His disciple. But the man was not willing to offer the sacrifice that the Lord was requiring of him. The great possessions (the idol of his heart) had to die. The Lord's disciples can only have one God, and that God is a jealous God. Many Christians never become a disciple of Jesus, because they are unwilling to pay the price. The cost of discipleship is self denial. It it not about what we want, it's about what the Lord wants. If we are unwilling to give Lord Jesus what He is asking for, then we are not worthy to be His disciple. A Christian may know Jesus as Savior, but only a disciple will know Him as Lord.
Self denial and following after Jesus is not enough. Jesus requires us to take up our cross and follow Him. Jesus asks us to carry a cross that is different and fitted for the individual. Carrying the cross is to partake of the sufferings of Christ. No one can be His disciple without embracing the cross.
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. (Matthew 10:37-38 NKJV)
Jesus requires the disciple to put Him above all else. Jesus is the great King and must be treated as such. The disciple must make Jesus his first love. No family member may be loved and valued above Christ. There are many Christians in the church who put their spouse or children before Christ. These are not worthy to be His disciples.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household! (Matthew 10:24-25 NKJV)
Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. (John 15:20 NKJV)
Jesus tells us plainly that His disciples will suffer persecution. If a disciple was greater than his Master, he would not have to suffer persecution. However, it is enough for a servant to be like his Master. Therefore, slander and evil speaking will be directed at His disciple.
Once I was attending a conference in Albany, Oregon. A man came up to me and told me that he saw my face in a dream the night before. He said that part of my face was disfigured. The disfigurement meant that people were trying to mar my image (my reputation). As the man was telling me this, the presence of God came on me to confirm to me that he was speaking from the Lord. This word was an encouragement to me. It meant that I was carrying my cross and following after Jesus.
Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets. (Luke 6:22-23 NKJV)
Most of the opposition that Jesus faced came from His own people (God's people). So will it be with Jesus' true disciples today. Persecution will come from the church. Whenever a Christian speaks an untrue negative word against someone; this empowers a demonic spirit to afflict the person who was spoken against. I have often been attacked by spirits saying such things as, "You are not called to ministry. You are religious. You are not submitted to authority. You are doing your own thing. You are deceived." I know that I have been spoken against by the church simply by what the enemy attacks me with. I also know who in the church has spoken against me.
The Lord uses the cross (the harsh circumstances allowed in our life) to put our self-life to death. If we are going to fully serve Christ, our self-love and self-will must die. Only when self is dead, can Christ manifest Himself through us. He is seeking empty vessels who He can live and love through. One of the most effective ways for the self-life to be removed is through suffering.
The Sufferings of Christ
Many times Jesus will use the church to bring His disciples through suffering. Some of my greatest hurts have been from spiritual leaders. Most young believers (spiritually speaking), desire to have a relationship with someone more mature in the things of the spirit. This is because the young believer needs understanding in the things of the Spirit. Also, the Kingdom of God is relational as the Lord designed it to be. Timothy had Paul for a spiritual father and prospered because of it. These spiritual relationships are necessary for proper growth and maturity in the Spirit.
I attempted to be close with a few leaders in the church. However those leaders always kept a distance from me. This was extremely hurtful to me and I suffered rejection because of it. One of the fundamental sufferings of Christ is rejection. Rejection by leaders and rejection by God's people. The Lord has allowed my wife and I to be utterly crushed by rejection at times, as He Himself was. A disciple is not greater than his Teacher.
He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (Isaiah 53:3 NKJV)
The above scripture indicates that Christ suffered rejection along with grief and sorrow. Another form of rejection that has severely wounded me over the years has been when other Christians have not believed in me. A number of Christians have not believed in who I am and who I am called to be. Jesus also suffered this from His own family. For even His brothers did not believe in Him. (John 7:5 NKJV)
There are some who have misjudged me saying that I am misled and simply stirring up trouble. I have never heard someone say this in the natural, but have picked it up in the spirit realm. People said the same thing about Jesus. And there was much complaining among the people concerning Him. Some said, “He is good”; others said, “No, on the contrary, He deceives the people.” (John 7:12 NKJV)
Those that carry their cross and follow after Christ will always be misjudged and misunderstood as He was. Misunderstanding is part of the sufferings of Christ. I have been at a church were the leadership held me at more than an arms length away. There always seemed to be misunderstandings in my communication with the leadership of that church. This was allowed by the Lord. Just as the Lord was misunderstood and rejected by His people, so must the Lord's disciple be misunderstood and rejected by his people. This is the life of the cross, and so few choose to walk this path with the Lord.
Many believers in the church want to be thought well of, and have a great reputation among God's people. Jesus did not have a good reputation among His people. His people tolerated His ministry for a time, but they hated Him because He told them that their deeds were evil (John 7:7). His own people even tried to kill Him by throwing Him over a cliff (Luke 4:28-30). The Lord may allow His disciple to have a good reputation among some of God's people at a certain point in the discipleship process. However, generally there are years of crushing and breaking in the wilderness before this happens. The self-life must be destroyed before a disciple can handle being well known in the church.
Self-Life in the Church
There are currently many leaders in the Charismatic and Evangelical church who have a "celebrity" status. This is because the self-life was never crucified in them. The flesh is living through them, not Christ. More attention is placed on these leaders than is placed on Christ. These leaders are using their position to gather a large following. The anointing of the Holy Spirit is being misused and prostituted. It is very sad and sickening.
Why does the Lord allow leaders in the church who have not yet experienced death on the cross? Sometimes if you ask the Lord enough He will give you what you are asking for before its time (Numbers 11). But when you get what you are asking for before His timing, it will send leanness into your soul (Psalm 106:14-15). Those who make God give them their destiny or calling before the appropriate time will only feed their self-life. Their soul will actually become lean and more full of self.
Just because a leader is operating in spiritual gifts, it does not mean that he is mature. And it does not mean he is special. For far too long we have valued gifting over character. We are more focused on spiritual gifts than we are on Christ Himself. The Holy Spirit is grieving over this. The Holy Spirit's desire is to bring glory to Christ, not to His gifts. The church has been backwards on this issue. We value the person moving in the gifts more than the person who has an intimate relationship with the Lord. We honor the person who moves in healing or has many visions over the one who sits in the presence of Christ as a lifestyle. Our priorities are out of order because there is too much self-life among God's people.
Many in the church have made ministry the goal. We see the well known leaders that operate in healing and miracles, and that becomes our goal. We have valued ministry more than knowing the Lord. Some will spend time with Him for what they can get, instead of simply wanting to be with Him. This is what happened with the church in Ephesus. They because immersed in ministry and did many good deeds. Ministry became their focus and their idol, and they left their first love. Jesus warned them that unless they repented, He would judge them by removing the entire city church. This would mean that no more light would shine in that city. It would be a place given over to darkness and damnation. The same will happen to us unless we repent. Jesus is a jealous God.
Returning to the Alter
On the path of discipleship there are many alters. Offerings must be burnt at each alter we pass. The further one walks down the path, the greater the sacrifices are. The Lord begin to reveal to me my earthly calling and ministry in 2008. The Lord continued to nurture that calling and give me additional understanding over the next two years. In 2010 the Lord asked me to lay that calling on the alter, and give it up for Him. It had become to close to my heart as Isaac had to Abraham. I tried to put it on the alter but did not fully do so. The Lord removed His presence from me for a year and a half. Finally at the end of that season I was able to lay down my calling. It begin to die in the spring of 2012. It took three full years for the calling to completely die in my heart. By the spring of 2015 it was dead.
The Lord refocused my attention on Him. By stripping away my desire for my calling, He was able to focus and purify my desire for Him. He has shown me how much better He is than the ministry. In fact our first calling is to know Him and be transformed into His image. To be with Him is far greater than anything we can ever do in ministry. The secret place is far above the public place. Only those who truly learn this lesson can be trusted of God. In the spring of 2015 the Lord told me that He was giving me Isaac back from the dead. A few days later I was contacted about being ordained into ministry (which happened in a couple weeks time).
The Fiery Furnace
Since 2010 my wife and I have been going through the wilderness. A season of fiery trials. A furnace of affliction. Jesus learned obedience through the things He suffered and so must we (Hebrews 5:8). In fact we are only heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ if we suffer with Christ (Romans 8:17). The Lord has a specific fiery furnace for each of His disciples to walk through. Job went through a severe season of trial, in which he suffered the loss of his children, finances, and health. Job passed the test because He did not turn his back on God.
These fiery trials are meant to purify us as silver. The pressure and discomfort from these trials removes the impurities in our hearts. It brings all the garbage in us to the surface. When this happens, we must confess to the Lord what is coming out of our hearts and ask Him to remove it. The crucified life is meant to transform us into His image. The Lord is much more concerned about seeing us look like Christ, than He is life being easy for us. He allows hardship in our lives because He wants us to grow and become mature.
And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4 NKJV)
Jesus told Peter that Satan had demanded Peter for a trial (translation from the Greek). Satan's intention was to sift Peter like wheat. Jesus prayed for Peter, that his faith would not fail. Jesus didn't say that he prayed Peter wouldn't have to go through the trial. God allows trials for our benefit.
Discipleship to Friendship
The only way to become a friend of God is by first being His disciple. The casual believer will never become a friend of God. The Lord's friends are those who endure trials with Him. His friends are those who spend time with Him and are carrying their crosses following after Him.
You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. (John 15:14-15 NKJV)
After three and a half years of being with Jesus everyday; Jesus told His disciples that they were His friends. Why do Christians who spend a few hours a week with the Lord think that they are His friends? We cannot claim the word that Jesus gave His disciples in this passage. Jesus wasn't speaking to us, He was speaking to them. Only when Jesus tells us personally, can we claim friendship with Him. In addition, we are only His friends if we do whatever He commands. If we do not live a lifestyle of obedience to His word and His Spirit, then we are not His friends.
Many Christians have misquoted the scripture saying that "Jesus is a friend of sinners." The scripture does not say that Jesus is a friend of sinners. Jesus said that the Pharisee's and the people were accusing Him of being a glutton, wine bibber, and a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Please note that the Bible did not not say this, and Jesus did not say this. The Pharisee's and the people were saying these things. Obviously Jesus was not a glutton, drunkard, or friend of sinners. He could not have been a friend of sinners, since He wasn't even friends with his own disciples until after He had been with them for three and a half years. Discipleship leads to friendship with the Lord.
Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God (James 4:40 KJV). Sinners are friends of the world, since the idols of the world are their gods. This obviously makes them enemies of God, according to the scripture. Enemies of God are clearly not friends of God. Since Jesus is God, He surely is not a friend of sinners. God does not contradict Himself. Obviously Jesus desires sinners to repent, be saved, become disciples, and be His friends.
A Return to Suffering
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation. For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, (II Corinthians 1:3-10 NKJV)
When we suffer with Christ, we have authority to encourage and comfort others who are going through difficulties. If the sufferings of Christ are not at work within us, we have nothing to offer those going through a difficult time. When we walk through the sufferings of Christ as His disciple, He Himself will comfort us. Then we will in turn carry the grace to comfort others.
Paul states in the above scripture that on a missionary journey they were "burdened beyond measure." They despaired of life itself and had a death sentence within themselves. In other words, they felt like they wanted to die. They experienced such spiritual warfare and persecution that they wanted to die. The pressure was overwhelming. This is the same pressure that Christ had to suffer. Christ's true disciples must bare the same cross.
We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you. (II Corinthians 4:8-12 NKJV)
Anyone who wants to be a minister of life must first experience death. There is no resurrection life without a death. The only way that the resurrection life of Jesus can be manifested through us to impact people, cities, and nations; is if we carrying about in our bodies the dying of the Lord Jesus. His death working in us will release resurrection life to the world around us. There is a great price to being used of God. The price is the crucified life.
The cross of Christ and the sufferings of Christ lead to becoming one with Christ. This is the goal of the crucified life. Oneness with God. The crucified life removes the veils in our hearts that hold us back from knowing the Lord. It kills the self-life that is in direct opposition to the will of God. The cross of Christ kills our own way of doing things and the timing in which we want things done. The cross crucifies our desires, our wants, our soulish nature. Only then can Christ have His way through us. The goal is that Jesus would have what He wants, and receive the reward for His suffering. If our fleshly nature has not been crucified, we will make things about us and not Christ.
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; (Galatians 2:20 NKJV)
This is the purpose of the crucified life. Us no longer living and Christ living through us. Once we progress in the crucified life, Christ will begin living through us. As we continue to yield to Him, the measure of Him manifesting through us will increase. This will progress to a point where we are fully yielded to Him and His will. At this point our relationship with Him will be full. And He will manifest Himself through us to the world around us. Christ will receive the glory and the honor. This is a disciples longing. To see his Master exalted. Christ is the fulfillment of the crucified life.