Extreme Righteousness

No Other Message

Paul said it. Many have tried to follow his example. “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”

Usually, I’ve heard that applied by someone saying that was all they were going to preach. Or, a salvation message would be worked into every sermon they preached. I think that’s a narrow view of what Paul meant. In fact, that’s somewhat what this blog is about.

I went to Africa with Jimmy Hodges Ministries (now called Reaching Souls International). We preached a clear evangelistic message in market places and villages for two weeks. Nearly 30,000 responded to the Gospel message.

Is that what Paul meant by knowing nothing else, but Jesus Christ and Him crucified? Paul’s own description of his ministry among the Corinthians suggests a broader application. And his other letters do also. Jesus said it best: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”

The daily cross is not a salvation message per se. (I am convinced, however, that if Christians would take up their cross daily and live the “crucified life,” lost people would be less confused about both how to become a Christian and how to live as one. But, that’s a whole ‘nother post.) The daily cross is about denying self. It’s about dying to self. It’s a difficult message to teach for several reasons.

  • Most people don’t really want to hear it. We’re selfish. That’s why we need the message. That’s why we don’t want it.
  • We’re scared. It means change. And most of us don’t like change, at least not when it means changing us. We’ll rearrange the furniture. We’ll change jobs. We’ll change lots of things in our lives. Just don’t ask us to change anything at a more fundamental “me” level.
  • We’re scared because of what it represents, too. Death. Suffering. Loss. Not too pleasant a picture. And you want me to live that way? Daily?
  • We don’t understand it. How does it apply in our day to day living? How do you die to self?

I put that question to one of my mentors. Dr. Jack Gray was a missions professor at Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Ft. Worth. He was saved in his youth and entered the ministry at the age of 17. He was one of the godliest men I ever knew. He just had a heart for God. He loved God. He was 75 years old when I asked him if he could give me a better way to describe the crucified life when someone asked. He thought a moment and replied, “I’m not sure I can come up with a succinct answer, because I do not have a completed experience.”

Books have been written about it. Among the best in my opinion:

  • The Christians Secret to a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith
  • The Centrality of the Cross, The Climax of the Risen Life, Life Out of Death, and The Cross – the Touchstone of Faith – all by Jessie Penn-Lewis
  • You’ll find it in many of Andrew Murray’s works – Abide in Christ, Like Christ, and The Blood of the Cross
  • Key to Triumphant Living by Jack Taylor
  • The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee
  • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis (I’ve had this book a long time, started reading it a couple of times over the years. Just finished reading it all the way through – I highly recommend it.)

For that matter, a strong case could be made that this very subject is what the Bible is all about. The Old Covenant points us to the law as a standard that is beyond our capability to live. The New Covenant points us to God’s provision. He took on humanity to bring righteousness into the pool of human experience. He died and then rose again to become executor of His own will. And He puts that will in our hearts and gives us His own support, help, companionship and ability to live it.

There really is no other message. If you want to teach people how to be good, it takes Jesus and the message of the cross. If you want people to live holy lives, it takes Jesus and the message of the cross.

It’s really not so scary if you open yourself to it. As Lewis put it: “The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of ‘little Christs,’ all different, will still be too few to express Him fully…. It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.”

What does “death to self” or “denying yourself” mean to you? Is it easy? Is it hard? Is it in someways both? What books would you add to the list above?