Salvation is a Two-Edged Sword
Apr 4, 2010 1981
Salvation is a Two-Edged Sword
Salvation is a two-edged sword—a sword that not only slew Christ on the cross; it’s a sword that must also slay us. Jesus said, ‘Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me’ (Matt. 10:38). When someone takes his cross it is because he is going to the place of crucifixion. Jesus says we are only worthy of him if we follow him to the place of crucifixion bearing our own crosses.
What did Jesus mean when he said we have to take our cross and follow him? When Jesus took his cross and went to the place of crucifixion, it was so he could die for everything that came between God and us. He died to remove the barrier of our sins. Likewise, we must crucify everything that comes between Christ and us, so that his free gift of eternal life is not blocked from reaching us.
In Jesus’ day there was great respect for parents. Children were taught to obey their parents even when they didn’t want to. Jesus said, however, ‘Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me’ (Matt. 10:37a). If a man’s parents forbade him from following Christ, then their will came between Christ and their son. If the son wished to be saved, he had to crucify his strong cultural proclivity to put his parents’ will ahead of Christ’s will. It is far better to have a division between you and your earthly parents than between you and your heavenly Parent; the former division is only temporal; the latter is eternal. There can be no compromise here because Jesus demands nothing less than radical discipleship of his followers.
In Jesus’ day a man’s children were his future security. A man with no children had no one to care and provide for him in old age. No parent, therefore, wished to create a division between himself and his children. What should a parent do then if their child demanded that they give up their faith in Jesus? Jesus said, ‘Anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me’ (Matt. 10:37b). If the parents wished to be saved, they had to crucify their desire to put their child’s will ahead of Christ’s will. It is far better to have a division between you and your child than between you and Christ. Your child may care for you in this life, but the Lord will care for you through all eternity. Put your faith in Christ rather than in your offspring. There can be no compromise here, because Jesus demands nothing less than radical discipleship of his followers.
Do not underestimate the depth of Christ’s words in Matthew 10:37. ‘Father or mother’ in this verse covers every authority-figure in your life: Your school teacher, your employer, your government, your religious instructor—everyone to whom you give authority over your faith and actions, and everyone who assumes authority over your faith and actions. If they require you to take a stand contrary to Christ and his will, then your choice will determine your ultimate destiny. Even clergyman, through the ages, had to choose whether or not they would stand for the Church or for Christ. No one is exempt. Anything and everything that comes between Christ and you has to be crucified. Jesus died on the cross to remove the barrier of our sins between God and us and he expects his followers to do likewise.
When Jesus said, ‘Anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me’ (Matt. 10:37b), his words cover everything we are relying on that will keep us from him. It could be the opportunities opened to us or to our children by an antichristian government, or by a university that demands we teach or support concepts that are antichristian. It could be wages paid by a denomination that upholds teachings that are contrary to Christ and the gospel. It could be our rejection of Christ in order to be included in the will of a wealthy relative. Whatever we uphold in the place of Christ has to be crucified if we are to receive eternal life.
While we cannot earn salvation, we can block it. The conduit of God’s free grace, flowing from the cross, can be plugged with things that we consider to be more important than salvation, e.g. the refusal to forgive someone (Matt. 6:14-15), or the refusal to break off an immoral relationship (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Unless we destroy these impediments to eternal life by crucifying them, salvation will not reach us.
THE PERFECT CANDIDATE
One day a man ran to Jesus and asked what he needed to do in order to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17). This man was young (Matt. 19:22), he was a ruler (Luke 18:18), ‘he was a man of great wealth’ (Luke 18:23), he was committed to his faith (Luke 18:21), and he was keen to know how he could improve his relationship with the Lord (Matt. 19:20). Furthermore, the Scriptures reveal that Jesus loved him (Mark 10:21).
How many pastors today, would delight to have their baptismal classes full of such people—young, very wealthy, community leaders and hungry for the truth? They are dream candidates for church membership; the answer to many a prayer. Churches eagerly accept such people as members, oblivious to the fact that they worship something else more than they worship Christ.
Jesus loved the rich young ruler, and saw in him great potential for the kingdom of Heaven. What a blessing such a talented person would be to the early Church! Jesus, however, saw something that would have escaped our gaze in our enthusiasm to get this man baptised. He saw that this young man had a significant barrier between himself and the Lord, a barrier that no one else, except this man, could remove. That barrier was the young man’s great wealth; he trusted it more than he trusted the Lord; it was his prime security. Jesus told him to get rid of that barrier to his salvation (to crucify it), then to come and follow him. ‘When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth’ (Matt. 19:21-22).
‘Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this they were greatly astonished …’ (Matt. 19:23-25).
The Jews believed that wealth was an indication of God’s blessing on a person’s life. And it was! Wealth, however, was not an indication that person was in a correct relationship with God. God sends his blessings on the just and the unjust, but different people treat these blessings in different ways. The rich young ruler made the fatal mistake of putting his faith in the blessing, rather than in the God who gave it to him. Jesus told him to remove the barrier between him and God—to crucify his faith in his wealth—and to come and follow him. The man declined Jesus’ offer and walked away.
‘He went away sad’ (Matt. 19:22), and it was sad that he went away, because a few years later, when Rome came against Israel with its destroying legions, that young man with so much potential for good would have lost everything, and ended up with nothing, perhaps not even his life.
Crucifixion was the most barbaric means of execution ever invented. Going to the dentist in the days before water-cooled turbo-drills and the use of anesthetics was terrifying, but crucifixion was much more terrifying. Imagine, if you dare, the pain of having great steel spikes pounded through your wrists and feet, and then being hung up from them to die by degrees, tortured by the sun, thirst, flies and every movement. It would be excruciating to say the least.
When Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow him, he is not asking us to do something easy, or something he wasn’t prepared to do himself. When Jesus was crucified he gave up eternal life so we could have it. All he asks us to do is give up our trust in things that offer us temporal life in exchange for the eternal life he provided at such great cost. We are to crucify anything that is dearer to us than Jesus; anything that comes between him and us.
The free gift of salvation is ours when we do.