First, You Pick Up the Cross

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)

Not to offend anyone here, but I believe we have a way to easy and convenient and almost metaphorical picture of cross-bearing. We are not talking inconveniences here. The term is way too glibly used. The general idea that these words of Jesus about bearing the cross refer to passive submission to all kinds of afflictions, like disappointments, pain, sickness and grief that come upon man in life, is totally wrong.

The one carrying a cross essentially walked down death row to their place of execution. He knew there was no turning back. He had no longer any say over his life. Actually, the person bearing his cross was already considered death.

So, to be honest, I don’t think it so much refers to total commitment. Let me explain. To commit means to bind or entrust or pledge or obligate. Now, in that regards, it is Jesus who commits Himself to us, and this is not in any way confirmed or enhanced by our commitment to Him (rather the opposite I would say). I don’t think it refers so much to the way to our death (Jesus didn’t bear His own cross walking to His death).

No, “we were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:4). We are already dead, and brought to back to life, and are a new person. We are not committing to being that new person. We are that new person by His work, not ours. It is all by His grace, and it’s one way.

So, what does it mean then? It is a reminder BEFORE you accept the invitation by faith what the consequences will be. Remember that a disciple (in the sense of a follower) isn’t necessarily yet a regenerated person, a Christian. It is a reminder that when you accept His invitation by faith you will be a dead man walking for “those whom he called he also justified” (Rom. 8:30). You will die and be buried with Christ (by Christ), and raised to walk in newness of life (by Christ’s Spirit).

And read carefully what it says…

First, you pick up your cross.
You need to pick up your cross. No one else can do that for you. You are the one that must be willing to die to self. You pick up your cross. For Jesus the cross was literally dying to self, because Jesus died there as a human, and in another way, Jesus died there as God. And both were necessary to fulfil the Scriptures. What does it take for you to die to self? As long as you are not willing to pick up your cross, as long as you are not willing to lay down your life, you cannot be His disciple.

Second, you follow Him.
Once you are willing to lay down your life, you actually have to do it. And I believe these two actions go hand in hand just like the lame man in John 5 who got up after Jesus healed him from laying on that stretcher for 38 years. It is unthinkable that the healed man would continue to lay on the stretched. No, Jesus’ command of healing and Jesus’ command to get up go hand in hand. Following Jesus after picking up your cross is acknowledging that you would follow the life and pattern of Jesus. This is following Jesus at its simplest. He carried a cross, so His followers carry one. He walked to His self-death, so must those who would follow Him.

Third, you will be a disciple.
You can follow Jesus without being His disciple. Jesus had lots of followers, but all (even including His disciples) stopped following once they figured out where Jesus was going. No, being a disciple (a Jewish talmidim) means so much more. A disciple’s highest calling was to be a reflection of his teacher. A disciple studied to learn, to act, to speak and to respond the same way his master would act and speak and respond. A disciple studied to do the things his master did. His highest goal was to walk after his teacher. There is a story in ancient tradition that tells of a rabbinical student so devoted to his teacher that he hid in the teacher’s bedchamber to discover the mentor’s sexual technique. To be sure, this is a bit extreme, yet it demonstrates the level of commitment required to be a disciple. In Luke 6:40 Jesus said that “a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Jesus made it clear that only cross-bearers can be His disciples. And if you are not His disciple, well, then why are you following?

I don’t at all think this is talking about the daily inconveniences of life. It’s about counting the cost beforehand. This whole section of Scripture from verse 25 till the end is all about counting the cost, not about what you do once you are a disciple.

The Year Of

The year of 2009 (According to our Gregorian calendar)
The year of the Ox (According to the Chinese calendar)
The year of discipline (As this is much needed in my life)
The year of the Cross of Christ (As I need to “feel” its weight more in my life)
The year of the ESV Study Bible (As I ordered one yesterday and really look forward reading it)
The year of CCIE (Will I decide to go for it? Will I pass?)
The year of Barack Hussein Obama II (Will he be He to many, or just stay he?)
The year of Canon EOS400D (Will I actually start having a hobby this year?)
The year of 35 (That old? Yes!)
The year of budgeting (I hope)
The year of #2 (We hope)
The year of Jehoshaphat (Well, only for two weeks actually)
The year of preaching (Or at least an attempt to)
The year of choosing a structure (I sincerely hope)
The year of repentance (much needed)
The year of humility (much needed)
The year of finally getting it (much needed)

The Fruit of the Spirit #10 – Love

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:16-25)

Well, we are down to the last aspect or expression of the fruit of the Spirit: love. You could say that the fruit of the Spirit is love, and that Paul has been so kind to detail eight expressions of love. The fruit of the (Holy) Spirit is the work which His presence within us accomplishes, and in all that it accomplishes it is love that should be the outflow, “for out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Mat 12:34b)

The word ‘love’ here translates as ‘agapē’. There are four distinct words for love in the Greek. There is ‘eros’, which is romantic or passionate love. There is ‘philia’, which is the love we have for those near and dear to us. There is ‘storge’, which is the love that shows itself in affection and care. And then there is ‘agapē’, the love that is more a decision than of a spontaneous heart; it’s more a matter of the mind; it’s a deliberate choice to love regardless; it’s not simply an emotion, but a principle by which we live. It’s loving people who aren’t easy to love; loving people you don’t like. It can only be done with the help of God – never to seek anything but the best even for those who seek the worst for us; It means that no matter what a man may do to you (by way of insult, injury or humiliation), you will never seek anything else but his highest good.

To discuss something like the topic of love, where do you begin? Love is the major theme of the Bible, it is the quitescential aspect of God, of His mission, of our mission. What better way to address this topic than to look at 1 John 4:7-21, which all deals specifically on the fact that God is love, how that is expressed, and how we should respond.

We are Called to Love
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)
The Greek begins by saying “those who are loved, let us love”. And so love is a response. We love one another because we are loved by God, and have received that love, and live in light of it. If love is of God, then those who claim to be born of God, and claim to know God, must be able to love one another in the body of Christ. Interestingly, the specific Greek word for knows (ginosko) is the word for a knowledge by experience. John is saying that when we really experience God it will show by our love for one another.

What Does Love Mean, and How Do We Apply It?
By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:9-11)
Love is not only defined by the sacrifice of Jesus; it is also defined by the giving of the Father. We need to appreciate and receive the Fatherly love God has to give us. The love of the Father was not only in the sending of the Son, but also in what that sending accomplishes for us. It brings life to all who trust in Jesus and His work on their behalf; There was nothing better God the Father could give to lost humanity than the gift of the Son of God Himself. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15). Real love, agapē love, is not defined by our love for God, but by His love for us. His love for us initiates our relationship of love with Him, our love only responds to His love for us. We can’t love God the way we should unless we are receiving and living in His love.

The Evidence of Love Shows Us God
No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12)
If we really walk in God’s love towards us, it will be evident in our love for one another. The true measure of maturity is the abiding presence of God’s love in our lives, given out to others.

The Work of the Trinity is Assured In Us
By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” (1 John 4:13-15)
We can know by experience that we live in God, if His love has been perfected in us. And we know that His love has been perfected in us if we love one another. This goes beyond hope (hope for salvation, hope for heaven); It is the Spirit of God in us that is the abiding presence of Jesus. It is the testimony of the Holy Spirit within us that makes it possible for us to know that we abide in Him. “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). It is not enough to know the facts about who Jesus is; we must confess the truth. We must be in agreement with God about who Jesus is, and we find out what God says about Jesus through the Word of God.

How Should We Respond to God and His Love
We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16)
We are called to take the love and grace God gives, to know it by experience and to believe it. This is what fellowship with God is all about. If we come to know and have believed the love which God has for us, can we ever stop believing this? Paul says in Romans 8:35-39, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘for your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

How to Perfect Love Now and Forever
By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (1 John 4:17-18)
John doesn’t just use the Greek word teleioo (which has the idea of ‘maturity’ and ‘completeness’); he writes teleioo teleioo – speaking of love that is ‘perfectly perfected’ or ‘completely complete.’ How can we have such confidence? “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” (1 John 4:13) So our identity is bound up in Jesus, thus we can have the same confidence that He has. How is Jesus now? He is glorified, justified, forever righteous and bold, sitting at the right hand of God the Father. Spiritually, we can have that same standing now, while we are in the world, because as He is, so are we in the world. The completeness of love means we don’t have to fear before God (dreading His judgment).

Why We Should Love Jesus
We love, because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
C.H. Spurgeon said it best: “There is no exception to this rule; if a man loves not God, neither is he born of God. Show me a fire without heat, then show me regeneration that does not produce love to God.” Do we dare to say that we love God, love Jesus? “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Do we really believe that God loves us? “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)

The Commandment to Love
If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.” (1 John 4:20-21)
It’s easy to say that we love God, but if we don’t back this up by visible action, than we are liars. We can know the Word, dutifully attend church, demonstrate the gifts of the Spirit, yet love is a fruit of the Spirit. Though love comes from our abiding relationship with God and comes from our being born of Him, there is also an essential aspect of our will involved. Being born of God and abiding with Him give us the ability to love; but it is a choice of our will to draw upon that resource and give it out to others.

We Can Overcome the World
For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.” (1 John 5:3-4)
A Christian who does not love God or keep His commandments is of little effective use in the body of Christ. Simply, love for God will show itself in obedience. His commandments are not burdensome, when we see how wise and good the commandments of God are. They are gifts from Him to show us the best and most fulfilling life possible. Because when we are born again, we are given new hearts – hearts which by instinct wish to please God. Instead of keeping hundreds of little rules and regulations, Jesus simply says to us, ‘Love Me and love my people, and you will walk in obedience.’. When we love God, we will want to obey Him and please Him. If we are born of God, we will overcome the world. Since believing in Him is the key to being born of God (1 John 5:1), the key to victory is faith. The life of abiding faith and trust in Jesus Christ is the life that overcomes the pressures and temptations of the world.

Keep Yourselves in the Love of God
But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, ‘In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.’ These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.” (Jude 1:17-21)
We are to be different. We are to remember what Jesus and the apostles said. To keep yourselves in the love of God means to keep yourself in harmony with God’s ever-present love. Three ways of keeping ourselves in the love of God: 1) holy faith: we need to keep growing spiritually. It means that we cannot wait for spiritual growth to just happen, or expect others to make us grow; 2) praying: the battle against wrong living and wrong teaching is a spiritual battle, requiring prayer in the Holy Spirit. “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26); 3) waiting anxiously: as we keep the blessed hope of Jesus’ soon return alive in our hearts, this effectively keeps us in the love of God, and helps us to not give away our faith.

The Fruit of the Spirit #9 – Self-control

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:16-25)

Would you not like to be self-controlled? To be in control of one’s self. I know I would! But what does it really mean to be self-controlled? The Bible talks about four aspects of self-control:

The first is “egkrateia“. This is what is talked about here in the fruit of the Spirit. It is the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites. This type of self-control is also spoken of in 2 Peter 1:5-7 “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love,” which talks about growing in Christian virtue. Evident here is that you need knowledge (understanding) in order to practice self-control; and that self-control leads to perseverance which ultimately leads to godliness and (agapē) love.

The second is “egkrateuomai“. This is drawn from athletes, who in preparing themselves for the games abstained from unwholesome food, wine, and sexual indulgence. The best Scripture to illustrate this is 1 Corinthians 9:24-26, which says: “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing.” Meaning that we should be self-controlled for the purpose of winning. Winning a prize which is eternal, not temporal. And so in order to do this we have to run with purpose in every step, making everything we do intentional.

The third is “egkratēs“, which means being strong, robust; having power over, possessed of (a thing); mastering, controlling, restraining. This type of self-control is mentioned in context of an overseer (Titus 1:7-9). It’s being self-controlled for the sake of others, to be an example, to lead your family well, to lead and correct the flock.

And, lastly, the fourth is “sōphronismos“. This is more an admonishing or calling to soundness of mind, to moderation and self-control. “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).

So self-control goes hand-in-hand with putting up a good fight, working hard. “We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” (Colossians 1:28-29). The Greek word for striving here is “agōnizomai”, which means to contend with adversaries, fight; to struggle, with difficulties and dangers. We must strive according to His power to be made complete in Christ.

Self-control, then, is being in control of one’s self; in the context of the Scriptures, the control of self so as to be in harmony with the will of God. You say no by faith in the superior power and pleasure of Christ. The self-control that is the fruit of the Spirit is actually Christ-control.

We can and have to choose not to sin! “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” (Romans 6:5-7). Because “do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Romans 6:16). We no longer have to choose to sin. We are being freed from the power of sin in our lives. We have the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome sin, so we should live according to the Spirit, and set our mind on the Spirit. For “those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit” (Romans 8:5).

Let me give you a quote from John Piper: “And how does the Spirit produce this fruit of self-control in us? By instructing us in the superior preciousness of grace, and enabling us to see and savor (that is, “trust”) all that God is for us in Jesus. When we really see and believe what God is for us by grace through Jesus Christ, the power of wrong desires is broken. Therefore the fight for self-control is a fight of faith.” “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Titus 2:11-13).

We should “apply your heart to discipline, and your ears to words of knowledge” (Proverbs 23:12). We should “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7b). But how can we apply our heart to discipline? How can we correct our heart? How do we create stamina, like an athlete, with regards to training the heart? I believe we need to really fully understand the love that God has for us, and realize that the same Holy Spirit that descended on Jesus Christ for His earthly ministry is the same Holy Spirit that is available to you and me today for our earthly ministry, so that we can strive according to His power, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin, so that we are controlled by the Holy Spirit, so that we can bring salvation to all men, so that we can live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, for “a person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls” (Proverbs 25:28). Without self-control there is no defense, and are food for our adversary, the devil, who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8b).

The Fruit of the Spirit #8 – Faithfulness

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:16-25)

There is something strange with the word “faithfulness” in this Scripture. The Greek word used here is “pistis” and means “faith” (not faithfulness, which is “pistos”). Every other instance of this Greek word in the New Testament (like Hebrews 11:1, Romans 10:17, 1 Corinthians 13:13, Ephesians 2:8, and 2 Timothy 2:22) is in the context of faith (not faithfulness). All the translations use the word “faithfulness”, expect the King James Version (as it is the most literal translation, regardless of context). And yet the context here is “faithfulness”. It implies an action.

I was listening to a teaching by dr. John Piper a while ago, called “How I Distinguish Between the Gospel and False Gospels” and in one section he explained the difference between faith and faithfulness, and the importance thereof. He said: “The accomplishment of the cross is offered freely to be received by faith alone apart from works of the law, meaning, any work of the heart or hand at all, anything other than faith. The … way ‘faith alone’ is being obscured is that faith itself is pressed as a virtue in and of itself, and is virtually synonymous with ‘faithfulness’ and thus is and includes other virtuous acts of the soul. So the reception of the offer of the gospel happens not by faith alone in the traditional sense but by faithfulness, or by the virtue of faith and its expression in life of obedience. …Whatever holiness there is in [faith], it is not this, but the obedience of Christ, that constitutes our justifying righteousness. Whatever other properties the magnet may possess, it is as pointing invariably to the north that it guides the mariner; and whatever other properties faith may possess, it is as receiving Christ, and bringing us into union with him, that it justifies. …Thus it is that justification is ascribed to faith, because it is by faith that we receive Christ; and thus it is by faith only, and not by any other grace. Faith is peculiarly a receiving grace which none other is. Were we said to be justified by repentance, by love, or by any other grace, it would convey to us the idea of something good in us being the consideration on which the blessing was bestowed; but justification by faith conveys no such idea. On the contrary, it leads the mind directly to Christ…”

Our God is a faithful God. He is “The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He” (Deuteronomy 32:4). “For the word of the LORD is upright, and all His work is done in faithfulness” (Psalm 33:4). “The LORD’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). And even “if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). These are all very reassuring verses, and if we understand how much it hurts God is we are unfaithful to Him (read about the prophet Hosea for instance) then we can and should only respond by being faithful to Him. It’s an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit, a form of love, to be faithful (not only towards God but also towards others). And like all other aspects of the fruit of the Spirit, it’s not achieved by working, but it birthed by abiding in Him. And so there is an interaction: He is always faithful to us (covenant), but the more we are faithful to Him, the more we abide in Him, the more we are faithful to Him…

And such gifts are the results of our responds of faithfulness! “A faithful man will abound with blessings, but he who makes haste to be rich will not go unpunished” (Proverbs 28:20). And “trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness” (Psalm 37:3), which is a reference to when the Israelites returned from exile. A great reminder! And lastly, “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master’” (Matthew 25:21).

And so, are you the good and faithful slave, who can be trusted with much? Do you want to be? I know I want to be! I want to enter into the joy of my master. I want to abound with blessings. Then I need to cultivate faithfulness, abide in Him. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1). “How lovely are Your dwelling places, o LORD of hosts! My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God” (Psalm 84:1-2)