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Chapter 5. Taking Up Your Cross

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"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" (Luke 9:23).

A joint effort

Ahhhhhh. Conviction, repentance, a new nature, and everything you need are just handed to you on a golden platter. How easy! Problem solved. You can quit reading now.

On second thought, maybe there is a bit more to this. Will all these things happen if you just sit on a log all day? If all of this is up to God, then why isn't everyone transformed by now? Perhaps there is some part each individual has to play in this process. Yes, and by the sound of the following Bible verses, it doesn't sound like something anyone would want to do.

"And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever 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; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it" (Mark 8:34-35).

"I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily" (1 Corinthians 15:31).

You might be thinking that dying every day is a bit extreme. But, just think about what we've already studied in previous chapters. The selfish nature is what dies. Selfishness was cut out when your heart was circumcised and your old selfish nature died when you received a new heart. When you chose to give yourself to Christ for remolding, you agreed to put His will above your own. Dying daily means you are renewing or remaining committed to living that choice. The intense struggle of that first time you agree to "die" is monumental and yes, it is painful. But that pain turns to joy as your new life is born, growing stronger and stronger every day.

"The work of gaining salvation is one of copartnership, a joint operation. There is to be co-operation between God and the repentant sinner. This is necessary for the formation of right principles in the character. Man is to make earnest efforts to overcome that which hinders him from attaining to perfection. But he is wholly dependent upon God for success. Human effort of itself is not sufficient. Without the aid of divine power it avails nothing. God works and man works. Resistance of temptation must come from man, who must draw his power from God. On the one side there is infinite wisdom, compassion, and power; on the other, weakness, sinfulness, absolute helplessness" (The Acts of the Apostles 482.2).

"Divine power is to cooperate with human effort to break the spell of worldly enchantment that the enemy has cast upon souls" (God's Amazing Grace 37.4).

"Will man take hold of divine power, and with determination and perseverance resist Satan, as Christ has given him example in His conflict with the foe in the wilderness of temptation? God cannot save man against his will from the power of Satan's artifices. Man must work with his human power, aided by the divine power of Christ, to resist and to conquer at any cost to himself. In short, man must overcome as Christ overcame. And then, through the victory that it is his privilege to gain by the all-powerful name of Jesus, he may become an heir of God and joint heir with Jesus Christ. This could not be the case if Christ alone did all the overcoming. Man must do his part; he must be victor on his own account, through the strength and grace that Christ gives him. Man must be a co-worker with Christ in the labor of overcoming. {AG 254.2}

Make a choice

Remember that your freedom of choice is 100% respected in this process. God presents you with truth and knowledge of the availability of His gifts. But you have to accept the gifts and make the choice, in order for God to help you change your character and habits. Your free will is choosing to put God's will above your own. This is submission.

"Let no man present the idea that man has little or nothing to do in the great work of overcoming; for God does nothing for man without his cooperation. Neither say that after you have done all you can on your part, Jesus will help you. Christ has said, "Without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5). From first to last man is to be a laborer together with God. Unless the Holy Spirit works upon the human heart, at every step we shall stumble and fall. Man's efforts alone are nothing but worthlessness; but cooperation with Christ means a victory. Of ourselves we have no power to repent of sin. Unless we accept divine aid we cannot take the first step toward the Saviour. He says, "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end" (Rev. 21:6) in the salvation of every soul. {1SM 381.2}"

Making a choice sounds simple, but it can be enormously difficult. Why? The bottom line is that you aren't willing to give something up. It appears too life-changing, too monumental or too difficult to go without that something. But, think about the alternative. Holding onto selfish desires will in itself result in death. "Dying" to those selfish desires will allow you to live eternally.

"Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it." Selfishness is death. No organ of the body could live should it confine its service to itself. The heart, failing to send its lifeblood to the hand and the head, would quickly lose its power. As our lifeblood, so is the love of Christ diffused through every part of His mystical body. We are members one of another, and the soul that refuses to impart will perish. And "what is a man profited," said Jesus, "if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Desire of Ages 417.2).

Cooperate Intensely

Making the initial choice to accept Christ and His gifts, is just one choice of many. You are embarking upon a difficult battle against your deeply ingrained selfish habits. Your focus will be on making firm decisions, being willing to let the habits go and cooperating in developing new, healthy habits. Christ provides the power to enable this transformational work in you. When you make a decision, have faith in Christ's power to enable you to implement the decision. It sounds easy, but, oh how difficult letting go can be!

"Bad habits, when opposed, will offer the most vigorous resistance; but if the warfare is kept up with energy and perseverance, they may be conquered" (Testimonies for the Church Volume Four, 655).

"Those who would overcome must put to the tax every power of their being. They must agonize on their knees before God for divine power. . . . Men may have a power to resist evil--a power that neither earth, nor death, nor hell can master; a power that will place them where they may overcome as Christ overcame. Divinity and humanity may be combined in them" (That I May Know Him 32.5).

"Character cannot be bought; it must be formed by stern efforts to resist temptation" (Fundamentals of Christian Education 87.2).

Overcoming these harmful habits that have been nurtured all your life or that are hereditary is very difficult. You will struggle intensely with yourself. You will desperately try to find routes of escape, trying to avoid the reality of giving up something cherished forever. Conviction will press upon you, not releasing you from its healthy grips. You know what God is asking you to do, but you search for reasons to delay or to diminish the importance of the issue. You go back and forth in your mind. Will you give in?

Although extremely difficult, this process is a necessary aspect of character development. And it does get easier. In fact, the first fight is the most difficult. Each subsequent battle is tilted more and more in your favor because your habits change and your will becomes stronger. When Paul referred to dying daily, there was no requirement that your old selfish nature must rise again every day or that you would fall into sin every day. Just allow God to keep your old nature dead or subdued all the time. This makes life as a new creature much easier.

Taking Up Your Cross Daily: Reconfirming your choice, everyday, to let Christ's nature live in place of your old selfish nature. This means you continually let Him work to transform you, being willing to let go of selfish habits, cooperate with and trust God on a daily basis.

The battles come on many fronts and while everyone has different problem areas, you may expect to overcome bad habits and selfishness in the same imperative areas that affect all people.

The Battlefront
Expect to overcome bad habits in the areas like the following:
  • Conversation (gossip, criticism, argumentative)
  • Competitveness (sports, work)
  • Entertainment (music, movies, games, books)
  • Sexual (fornication, addictions)
  • Appetite (diet, gluttony, smoking, drugs)
  • Appearance (fashion, cleanliness)
  • Financial (money management, tithes, offerings)
  • Time (service to others, patience, job performance, hobbies)
  • Personal (whatever you place above God)

As you confess and overcome each harmful habit through His imparted power, He will reveal another, helping you each step of the way. Being repentant must become a state of mind. You must be willing to be molded, corrected and displined. Gird yourself and fight, what often is called, the battle of faith! God will achieve these things for you! Your job is to choose Him, surrender yourself to His work, seek His will, stand firmly in your decisions, cooperate and believe that He is working in you.

"A noble character is earned by individual effort through the merits and grace of Christ. God gives the talents, the powers of the mind; we form the character. It is formed by hard, stern battles with self. Conflict after conflict must be waged against hereditary tendencies. We shall have to criticize ourselves closely, and allow not one unfavorable trait to remain uncorrected. Let no one say, I cannot remedy my defects of character. If you come to this decision, you will certainly fail of obtaining everlasting life. The impossibility lies in your own will. If you will not, then you can not overcome. The real difficulty arises from the corruption of an unsanctified heart, and an unwillingness to submit to the control of God" (Christ's Object Lessons 331.1-2).

"Man is allotted a part in this great struggle for everlasting life; he must respond to the working of the Holy Spirit. It will require a struggle to break through the powers of darkness, and the Spirit works in him to accomplish this. But man is no passive being, to be saved in indolence. He is called upon to strain every muscle and exercise every faculty in the struggle for immortality; yet it is God that supplies the efficiency" (Testimonies to the Church Volume 8 65.1).

"The arduous struggle for conquest over self, for holiness and heaven, is a lifelong struggle. There is no release in this war; the effort must be continuous and persevering. Christian integrity must be sought with resistless energy and maintained with a resolute fixedness of purpose" (The Publishing Ministry 76.2).

"It is our work, each for himself, to cherish in the heart the precious graces of the Holy Spirit" (Testimonies for the Church Volume Five 102.2).

"The perfection of Christian character depends wholly upon the grace and strength found alone in God. Without the power of grace upon the heart, assisting our efforts and sanctifying our labors, we shall fail of saving our own souls and of saving the souls of others" (Testimonies for the Church Volume Three 188.1).

"Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able" (Luke 13:24).

Key Thought:
It is important to keep a balanced view of the efforts put forth by all parties on your behalf. Success will not occur without God, but neither will it occur without your efforts. This is a joint operation with your full involvement and focused efforts. All the power belongs to God, but He asks you to put it to use. Remember that He only does things with your consent and cooperation, thankfully.

Trust always

Because of your new nature, you want to do right. However, in some cases, after becoming convicted of a sin and confessing it, you may still feel a pull to that sin. This does not mean that you haven't been given a new nature or that you cannot have complete victory over the action and the thought. Notice that you know it is wrong and abhor that you still have a weakness for it (you don't want to want it). That weakness or pull can be the result of physical addition, such as in the case of tobacco use, or because of a habit being so deeply ingrained that time is required to reroute thought patterns. God gives you the power to resist the sin while you cooperate with Him to change your thought patterns and cleanse your physical system. Sometimes, He does immediately remove the desire for a particular sin from you, and sometimes the desire is lessened over a period of time. In either case, He gives you power to immediately obey, and provides complete victory, from the action AND the thought/desire.

"'The prince of this world cometh,' saith Jesus, 'and hath nothing in Me.' There was in Him nothing that responded to Satan's sophistry. He did not consent to sin. Not even by a thought did He yield to temptation. So it may be with us. Christ's humanity was united with divinity; He was fitted for the conflict by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And He came to make us partakers of the divine nature. So long as we are united to Him by faith, sin has no more dominion over us. God reaches for the hand of faith in us to direct it to lay fast hold upon the divinity of Christ, that we may attain to perfection of character" (Counsels on Diet and Foods 152.4).

Trust in God's promises. Never settle. Never believe that the pull of a confessed sin has to be endured. Participate in God's solution and be completely free of that sin.

Freedom of choice

These things that are required of you (make a choice, cooperate, trust), all revolve around a most fundamental aspect of God's kingdom... freedom of choice. This is a good thing. The struggle to relinquish selfish desires can be looked upon as a privilege. You are not forced to relinquish your desires, it is up to you. The struggle to choose and make that choice endure, is what develops your character.

As you choose to hand over your self to God, remember that He will be the one to accomplish the actual subduing of your selfish nature. You cannot crucify yourself on the cross. Think of how difficult it would be for you to hold the nail and hammer, and pound the nail into your own hand at the same time. Likewise, in the case of heart surgery, you cannot perform surgery on yourself. But, you can willingly lay yourself out on the surgery table and trust your life into the hands of the surgeon. You can surrender, or submit yourself to be crucified, trusting Christ to subdue your selfishness and then raise you up with new desires, leaving the former overwhelming pull of selfishness on the cross. This power he gives to you, in the form of a new heart, is what enables you to overcome sin.

Once you choose to die to self the first time, you can always change your mind later (this is a good thing, too). Dying daily, means that you confirm your choice on an ongoing basis. You choose to stay under the influence of the Holy Spirit and have your own desires stay subdued on that cross. If you drift away from renewing this resoluteness, victory over sin can be lost.

"The struggle for conquest over self, for holiness and heaven, is a lifelong struggle... It is by unceasing endeavor that we maintain the victory over the temptations of Satan. Christian integrity must be sought with resistless energy, and maintained with a resolute fixedness of purpose" (In Heavenly Places 26.3).

"Paul's sanctification was a constant conflict with self. Said he, "I die daily." 1 Cor. 15:31. His will and his desires every day conflicted with duty and the will of God. Instead of following inclination, he did the will of God, however unpleasant and crucifying to his nature" (Life Sketches 237.1).

"When the Spirit of God takes possession of the heart, it transforms the life. Sinful thoughts are put away, evil deeds are renounced; love, humility, and peace take the place of anger, envy, and strife. Joy takes the place of sadness, and the countenance reflects the light of heaven. No one sees the hand that lifts the burden, or beholds the light descend from the courts above. The blessing comes when by faith the soul surrenders itself to God. Then that power which no human eye can see creates a new being in the image of God" (Desire of Ages 173.1).

"The mighty cleaver of truth has taken you out of the quarry of the world. You were rough stones with jagged edges, bruising and marring whoever you came in contact with; there is a work to be done to smooth off the rough edges. If you appreciated the value of the work that is to be done in the workshop of God, you would welcome the blows of the ax and the hammer. Your self-esteem will be hurt, your high opinion of yourself will be cut away by the ax and the hammer, and the roughness of your character will be smoothed off; and when self and carnal propensities are worked away, then the stone will assume proper proportions for the heavenly building, and then the polishing, refining, subduing, burnishing processes will begin, and you will be molded after the model of Christ's character. His own image is to be reflected in the polished character of His human agent, and the stone is to be fitted for the heavenly building" (Sons and Daughters of God 319.3).

"Blessed be the experience, however severe, that gives new value to the stone, enabling it to shine with living brightness!" (The Upward Look 372.5).

Victory is gained by a life-long battle to surrender to Jesus every day. This requires engaging in the conflict with purposeful and unwavering effort.

Next Bible Term: Being Born Again
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