In John 13:36-38 we read: “Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you shall follow me afterward.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for your sake.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Will you lay down your life for my sake? Most assuredly I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied me three times.’” NKJV
When I first got saved, I was on fire for the Lord. I immediately said goodbye to my old, sinful lifestyle and former friends, and within a few weeks I was filled with the Holy Spirit. I clearly remember wondering what was taking the Lord so long in coming back to pick us up: I was in such a hurry to get to Heaven.
As far as I was concerned there were three simple steps to getting to Heaven: get saved, be filled with the Holy Spirit; and await the Last Trumpet. I had completed the first two requirements, and was just waiting on the Lord to fulfill the last one. I did not feel that anything else needed to happen in my life.
It is clear, however, from the above scripture in John 13 that Jesus was telling Peter and His other disciples that they were not yet ready to go to Heaven. In other words, even though they had been with Him for three years, there was still a work that needed to be done in their lives before they could be considered worthy to inhabit that holy abode.
For me, this reality hit me hard when I married my wife four years into my salvation. Prior to that, as a young, unmarried man, I was considered the humblest person in the church and even in our neighborhood. But when I got married, my innocent demeanor suddenly collapsed. Hailing from one of the fiercest tribes in Tanzania my desire to control my wife was absolute. I wanted her to “lie low like an envelope”. Unfortunately, she comes from the most stubborn tribe and she proved to be too independent-minded. She wouldn’t budge an inch under any of my threats. This enraged me and I became bitter and envious, even violent. Within weeks after our honeymoon, we were knocking at our pastor’s door, and for all the wrong reasons.
My wife and I both loved the Lord with all our hearts. But there were areas in our lives where we just could not seem to attain victory. So, although the pastor tried to mend things here and there, ultimately we simply accepted the fact of our defeat and went on with our silent inner conflicts. It was not until a few years later, when the Lord allowed the revelation of His Son into our lives through the preaching of the Gospel of the Cross by Brother Miki, that we began to realize what a tremendous work God needed to do in our hearts. We both saw that even though we had been saved for many years, and had left off the old life, somehow the old man was still very much alive in us. The fruits of that were all too clear.
We may appear polite, meek and humble and even holy before men, but it is God who really knows our hearts, and that is what counts. We may not do these things on the outside, but in our hearts we could be proud men and women, adulterers, judgmental, slanderers, spiteful, unforgiving, envious, haters. God knows all about these things. There is a world inside our hearts that far outspans the universe we live in, a world which God knows all too well, and which He desires to put in order. That is why Jesus could tell Peter: ‘No, you cannot join me now. Even though you have been with me these three years you are not Heavenly material yet. You will need to wait until a more perfect work is accomplished in you by the Holy Spirit whom I shall send to you.’
With God, the only humble man or woman is the person who allows the work of the Cross in their hearts. The Apostle Paul was one such person. He says: “But God forbid that I should boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). A clear, positive acceptance. No excuses, justifications, explanations, defenses or arguments.
It took me many years to realize and accept that although I was saved and filled with the Holy Spirit, there was a deep work that I needed to yield myself to if I were to become a truly spiritual person. There was a time I was not willing to confront that reality. But today, even I myself realize that were it not for the grace of God working in me, I am just an ordinary sinner. Without the Cross, and the grace that goes with it, I am nothing in the sight of God.
The Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians that even though they had all the gifts of the Spirit operating amongst them, yet they were still spiritual babes, because they still carried the carnal nature with them. But thank God Paul had the solution to their problem. He tells them he purposed in his heart that he would not preach to them any other gospel “except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” -1 Cor. 2:2. The Cross was the solution.
This was a man who truly loved God’s people. He wanted to bring them to true spiritual maturity. Unfortunately for us today, many preachers are not like Paul. They do not preach to us that challenging gospel that Paul preached his churches. Instead, they preach this mushy, cuddly gospel which only results in entrenching us deeper into spiritual babyhood.
Dare we think that we can just breeze into Heaven with our carnal natures simply because we are saved? Dare we believe that just because we are saved we are perfect yet? The carnal nature is a force we cannot dismiss lightly in our lives. But God has given us a way to deal with this enemy of God. The Cross brings death to the flesh and its desires.
Jesus said He was the way, the truth and the life. Those are three stages in a Christian’s life. If we are not walking in the revelation of the Cross and dying to self, our journey ends right at the door. But God wants us to press on, until we reach the place of perfection, the place of true holiness.
This is a serious matter, and we ought to pay great heed to the Cross in our lives, otherwise we might not arrive at the “life”. And what are the implications of that? An analogy of this is found in 1 Samuel 14:32, where we read about Agag, king of the Amalekites, who, when he was called upon by the Prophet Samuel, came forward “cheerfully” (NASB), clearly ignorant of the seriousness of the issue at hand. (Some versions say he came “fat and trembling”; another version (NLT), “full of hope”). There was just too much flippancy about him! Unbeknown to him, the matter was very serious in God’s eyes, and it bore very serious consequences. God’s wrath had been kindled by Agag’s ungodly manner of life and He was about to exact vengeance on him. The prophet Samuel cut him in pieces before the Lord.
We too could die in many ways if we are not careful to allow the Cross to deal with our carnal natures. God is not in the joking business.
When you allow yourself to be humble enough, God will bring you to that place of realization and will show you how to defeat that carnal nature in you. In other words He will reveal the Cross to you. This is what happened to the Apostle Paul. When God met him on the road to Damascus, Saul, as he was known then, did not engage God in a discussion. Rather, he asked the Lord, “Lord, what do you want me to do?”
To which Jesus replied, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” We all know the instructions that God gave Ananias concerning Saul: “…For I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:16).
In Galatians 1:13-14, Paul has this to say of himself, “But when it pleased God… to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood.”
Little wonder, then, that this man, Paul, became the spiritual father of the modern Church. We are called upon to follow his example. We, too, need to desire the work of the Cross in our lives, so that our lives may count for something in the Church and in God’s sight.
If we hold onto our lives we will lose everything.