“Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.’” (Luke 9:23) In last weekend’s message at City Harvest Church, Pastor Kong Hee unpacked what it means to deny oneself and take up the cross.
On the first weekend of February, Kong Hee, the senior pastor of CHC, preached on what it means to follow Jesus. He emphasized that all throughout the four Gospels, Jesus was calling people to follow Him. Many answered His call: the 12 disciples, the 70 and the multitudes who followed Jesus wherever He went. Yet following Jesus is not as easy as it seems. The Bible shows us that many fell away after a while.
On this past weekend (Feb 8 and 9), Pastor Kong expounded on the cost of following Jesus.
Reading John 6:60, 66, Pastor Kong suggested a few reasons why some disciples stopped following Jesus. Perhaps some were disappointed that Jesus didn’t deliver them from the oppression of the Romans. Others could have been upset that Jesus did not give them what they wanted. Then there were those who simply found Jesus’ teaching too hard to bear, or what He said could have hurt their pride.
“It is the same for us today,” the preacher continued. “Many were deeply touched by God in the past but after a while, some dropped out. We might still sit in the church but in some of our hearts, we have stopped following Jesus the way we know He wants us to.”
Luke 18:17-20 records the conversation between Jesus and the rich young ruler. The young man claimed he had kept all of the Ten Commandments since he was young. Pastor Kong cautioned, “But the law can’t save you, it can only show your true inner nature.”
One commandment that the rich young ruler failed to keep was “you shall not covet”, because he was a greedy man. Therefore, Jesus challenged him to sell all his possessions and give it to the poor, then follow Him (Luke 18:22). But this proved to be too hard for the young man.
“When it came down to a choice, following Jesus vs following money, Christlikeness vs riches, holiness vs prestige, the young ruler chose wealth.”
THE COST OF FOLLOWING JESUS
Jesus laid down the conditions to follow Him in Luke 9:23: “Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.’”
The two conditions for following Jesus are to deny oneself and to take up the cross daily.
“‘Denying self’ means to not give in to the unrighteous cravings inside us,” Pastor Kong explained. Because of our fallen human nature, the self is filled with evil inclinations: pride, envy, lust, anger, greed, gluttony and laziness. Denying the self means to reject every unrighteous craving and to intentionally do the opposite.
Jesus constantly denied Himself of his fleshly cravings. All three temptations used by Satan in the wilderness had to do with provoking such cravings. Satan tempted Jesus with self-gratification by asking him to rocks into bread (Matt 4:3) and satisfy his hunger. Secondly, he asked Jesus to throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple to prove that He is the Son of God (Matt 4:6)–that was self-vindication. Lastly, he tempted Jesus with self-exaltation, by offering Him instant fame and glory if He worshiped him (Matt 4:8-9).
“Every temptation we face in life fits into one of these three categories,” noted Pastor Kong. “They are designed to provoke the self. But the good news is, Jesus overcame them all and He wants us to learn from Him; to follow Him.”
FOLLOWING THE CHARACTER OF JESUS
To follow Jesus is to model oneself after His character, which is exemplified by the fruit of the Spirit through denying oneself. Pastor Kong gave examples of how to develop each fruit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
One example he gave was of joy. Joy is different from happiness, he explained. Happiness is the result of circumstances but joy comes from God. “Circumstances change but God is always constant,” Pastor Kong said, encouraging the church to meditate on God’s joy whenever they feel life’s unhappiness dragging them down.
Another example was faithfulness, which means to stay committed to the promises made. Being faithful is a learned response–no one is born faithful. Speaking to married couples in the congregation, Pastor Kong urged them to “do the opposite” whenever temptations arise.
“Give your spouse the three As: attention, affection and appreciation. Stay away from temptation on Facebook and the Internet,” he said, “Instead, be in the presence of your spouse.”
On developing gentleness, the pastor suggested that a Christian should walk away whenever his anger is triggered. “Walk away, go to the toilet, try to praise God and pray. Lower your speaking voice, be gentle,” he said.
When a person denies himself of unrighteous cravings through the power of the Holy Spirit, he develops the fruit of the Spirit.
Pastor Kong went on, “Taking up your cross means to go to your death.” He explained that in Jesus’ time, a person carrying a cross is usually a condemned prisoner going to his execution. “By the power of the Holy Spirit, you are crucifying all your sinful cravings on the Cross.”
Gal 5:24 puts it plainly: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
Crucifixion is the most brutal of all deaths—this means that one has to be ruthless about getting rid of one’s fleshly desires. “Crucifying the flesh is not a one-time thing,” explained the pastor. “It is a decision we must make every single day, by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Pastor Kong went on to emphasize the need to “brutally drain the life out of those sinful cravings”, until they no longer have an effect on the believer.
“Sometimes, submitting to God’s will is very hard to do. But God promises us that His grace is sufficient,” he reminded the congregation.
Only when a believer is willing to surrender to the Holy Spirit daily, can He break the power which lies at the root of every sin he has committed. Pastor Kong encouraged the congregation: “You just be willing and He will do the rest. He will supply the power, and show you the path.”
The task of following Jesus may sound daunting, but the good news is, after every death comes resurrection. Pastor Kong ended the service with a reminder to the church that when they deny themselves and take up their cross, they become like Jesus.