“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Mark 8:35
Poor Simon Peter. One moment he is basking in the glory of having identified the true identity of his master Jesus (“You are the Christ!”), and the next moment he is being rebuked for rejecting the Cross of the Messiah (“Get behind me, Satan!”). Nevertheless, we could possibly thank Peter. For what follows Peter’s rebuke is the most majestic and powerful teaching about the meaning of the Cross in the Christian life from the lips of Jesus himself.
Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The Christian life is no walk in the park. It’s not a pleasant stroll “in the Garden,” as the old hymn has it. One day, yes, we will walk again with the Lord in “the cool of the day,” unburdened with the sin that weighs us down, our vision unclouded by the dust of sin. But the path to the Garden leads us by way of Golgotha. Whoever would come up after Jesus to the Father’s house must first shed the old self that is enthralled to sin, in bondage to Self.
No half measures will do. An outward show may impress the world, but God sees the heart. He sees who we really are and concludes: death to self is the only way.
But isn’t this too hard? Isn’t Jesus’ yoke easy, his burden light? C.S. Lewis explains in that masterpiece Mere Christianity:
The Christian way is different: harder, and easier [than that of the world]. Christ says “Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think are innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”
Ah yes, this is hard, but what we get in return for our own selves is God’s own self—his life, his power and his presence working within us. This, I think, is what Jesus meant when he said that his yoke is easy, his burden light.
What would you give to gain God? I think I’d give my very life. God promises I’ll get it back. But I’ve got a hunch that I won’t miss it much. I’ll be too busy enjoying the love of God without the dust of sin clouding my eyes.