Discipleship

He must increase, but I must decrease. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
~ John 3:30, 2 Timothy 3:12, Hebrews 11:35, Romans 1:16

Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God: Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.
~ Luke 12:8, John 8:51

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. ~ Matthew 16:24-25

The Test of Discipleship, by J.C. Ryle.

And he 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 whosoever 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? For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels. But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.
~ Luke 9:23-27

These words of our Lord Jesus Christ contain three great lessons for all Christians. They apply to all ranks and classes without exception. They are intended for every age and time, and for every branch of the visible church.

We learn, for one thing, the absolute necessity of daily self-denial. We ought every day to crucify the flesh, to overcome the world, and to resist the devil. We ought to keep under our bodies, and bring them into subjection. We ought to be on our guard, like soldiers in an enemy’s country. We ought to fight a daily battle, and war a daily warfare. The command of our Master is clear and plain–“If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”

Now what do we know of all this? Surely this is a question which ought to be asked. A little formal church-going, and a decent attendance at a place of worship, can never be the Christianity of which Christ speaks in this place. Where is our self-denial? Where is our daily carrying of the cross? Where is our following of Christ? Without a religion of this kind we shall never be saved. A crucified Saviour will never be content to have a self-pleasing, self-indulging, worldly-minded people. No self-denial–no real grace. No cross–no crown. “Those who are Christ’s,” says Paul, “have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts.” (Galatians 5:24.) “Whoever will save his life,” says the Lord Jesus, “shall lose it; but whoever will lose his life for My sake shall save it.”

We learn, for another thing, from our Lord’s words in this passage, the unspeakable value of the soul. A question is asked, which admits of only one answer–“And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose or forfeit your own soul in the process?” The possession of the whole world, and all that it contains, would never make a man happy. Its pleasures are false and deceptive. Its riches, rank, and honours, have no power to satisfy the heart. So long as we have not got them they glitter, and sparkle, and seem desirable. The moment we have them we find that they are empty bubbles, and cannot make us feel content. And, worst of all, when we possess this world’s good things, to the utmost bound of our desire, we cannot keep them. Death comes in and separates us from all our property forever. Naked we came upon earth, and naked we go forth, and of all our possessions we can carry nothing with us. Such is the world, which occupies the whole attention of thousands. Such is the world, for the sake of which millions are every year destroying their souls.

The loss of the soul is the heaviest loss that can befall a man. The worst and most painful of diseases–the most distressing bankruptcy of fortune–the most disastrous shipwrecks–are a mere scratch of a pin compared to the loss of a soul. All other losses are bearable, or but for a short time, but the loss of the soul is for evermore. It is to lose God, and Christ, and heaven, and glory, and happiness, to all eternity. It is to be cast away forever, helpless and hopeless in hell.

What are we doing ourselves? Are we losing our souls? Are we, by wilful neglect or by open sin–by sheer carelessness and idleness, or deliberate breach of Gods law–compassing our own destruction? These questions demand an answer. The plain account of many professing Christians is this, that they are daily sinning against the sixth commandment. They are murdering their own souls.

We learn, in the last place, from our Lord’s words, the guilt and danger of being ashamed of Christ and His words. We read that He says–“Whoever shall be ashamed of Me and My words, of Him shall the Son of Man be ashamed when He shall come in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.”

There are many ways of being ashamed of Christ. We are guilty of it whenever we are afraid of letting men know that we love His doctrines, His precepts, His people, and His ordinances. We are guilty of it when ever we allow the fear of man to prevail over us, and to keep us back from letting others see that we are decided Christians. Whenever we act in this way, we are denying our Master, and committing a great sin.

The wickedness of being ashamed of Christ is very great. It is a proof of unbelief. It shows that we care more for the praise of men whom we can see, than that of God whom we cannot see. It is a proof of ingratitude. It shows that we fear confessing Him before man who was not ashamed to die for us upon the cross. Wretched indeed are they who give way to this sin. Here, in this world, they are always miserable. A bad conscience robs them of peace. In the world to come they can look for no comfort. In the day of judgment they must expect to be disowned by Christ to all eternity, if they will not confess Christ for a few years upon earth.

Let us resolve never to be ashamed of Christ. Of sin and worldliness we may well be ashamed. Of Christ and His cause we have no right to be ashamed at all. Boldness in Christ’s service always brings its own reward. The boldest Christian is always the happiest man.

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