Following Him

Lord Jesus, I am unworthy to write about You as a friend when I haven’t treated You like one. I am unworthy to call You my Bridegroom when I haven’t loved You like one. I am unworthy to be called Yours…and yet, here You are. Unconditionally loving, forgiving, redeeming. Giving me life in every breath, watching over my every step, even when I’m trying to run from You. I don’t know how to thank You, or praise You, or love You well, but it is my deepest desire to be fully surrendered to You. All I have to offer is my whole heart. I am all Yours, Jesus.

I’ve prayed to be refined as silver, like the prayer in Psalm 66:10. I’ve pleaded, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” (Psalm 139:23). And now, struggles have shown up. Day by day, I feel more exposed before my Creator, as He reveals layers of sins and strongholds I must surrender to Him. Without His loving guidance, I would be full of shame, guilt, and condemnation. With Him, I realize this is the process of refinement. It’s His promise, His process in action, to present us holy, as He is holy.

But I’ll be honest. Sometimes, more often than not, I forget. I forget He’s in control when I don’t have realistic, material solutions. I forget I’m redeemed when I am staring all my blemishes in the face. I forget that I prayed, earnestly, for God to search out everything that wasn’t pleasing to Him so I could let it go.

I forget the meaning of His call: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” I become a bit desensitized, too comfortable with a cleaned up depiction of the cross as a symbol of my faith. But His cross wasn’t the polished silver pendant hanging from a necklace. It wasn’t the smoothly sanded structure on the church platform. It was an instrument of torture, rough, splintered, and bloody, with His hands and feet pierced by nails lodged in the wood. 

The Bible says to resist the devil, and he will flee (James 4:7). Our flesh, however, is not to be merely resisted, but crucified (Galatians 5:24). This is what Jesus meant when He said to take up our crosses– not to seek out public martyrdom, but to prioritize His desire over ours in all things. To deny ourselves, and intentionally pursue Him whole-heartedly every day. In writing, it doesn’t sound that hard, but the flesh does not go down without a fight. Jesus knew that, which is why He phrased it this way.

Crucifixion is excruciating, both mentally and physically. Excruciating is the adjective derived from the Latin word crux, or cross. Our daily “dying to self” is an acknowledgement that excruciating pain and suffering will show up to get us there. Struggles are not a surprise in the Christian life, but an expectation, and a joy. James says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (1:2-4).

Alright, that was a bit heavy, I know. Possibly a bit scary as well. But we get so shaken by the cross part that we often overlook the second half of the call: “follow Me.” These are the same words that Jesus called to Simon and Andrew, who left their fishing nets, and Matthew, his tax collecting booth, to walk with the Son of God. These are the words with which Jesus characterizes those who believe in Him: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27). This is a deep and beautiful invitation to choose a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior.

As for the first half of this invitation, Galatians 5 thoroughly explains the effects of the uncrucified flesh in detail, and reveals the true freedom God offers us by denying those temptations:

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:16-17, 19-21). 

The Greek word for flesh in this passage, sarx (Strong’s 4561), translates to: “making decisions or actions according to oneself – i.e. done apart from faith (independent from God’s inworking).” Our relationship with Christ is not one of self-ambition but of yielding. Jesus beautifully describes this to us in a parable: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch can not bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me” (John 15:4). As we lay down our own passions and plans and instead abide in the Lord, the fruit of the Spirit becomes evident in our lives.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:22-24).

We cannot achieve any of this without Him. Our first step is to seek Him, not the resulting life free from immorality, because we can’t get there on our own. We need Him to lead us. Galatians 5:25 says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” Jesus also teaches about us being in step with Him when He references His yoke: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” ‭‭(Matthew‬ ‭11:28-30)‬. A yoke is a wooden beam placed between two oxen to keep them right beside each other as they share a workload. Jesus does not desire to weary us, but to take our burdens upon Himself while we remain close to Him. 

All you have to do is come after Him and resolve to leave behind those fleshly tendencies in Galatians, everything weighing down your soul in unrest. Following Him is the greatest honor and adventure and most fulfilling decision you can make. Jesus descended to earth from Heaven to endure every temptation imaginable without sinning in His heart, mind, or body. He lived the perfect life as your intercessor and ambassador so that the Father could look at you with all your imperfections and see the righteousness of His Son.

He is worthy.

Are you willing?

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