What, Christians denying Christ? Isn’t that a sort of an oxymoron? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms? Are not Christians supposed to always affirm, obey and submit to Christ? How can you claim to be a Christian and deny Christ? Good questions – let me seek to answer them.
It is actually quite easy for Christians to deny Christ, and sadly it happens all the time. One need not say that Christ does not exist, or that he is not God, or that he is just one of many ways to God, to deny Christ. We can do it in much more subtle ways.
For example, we can simply not take seriously the things that he said. We can read his words, allow them to go into one ear, and then let them go straight out the other. We can read the gospel accounts, and yet still not actually believe and do the things he commanded.
So even though we might consider ourselves to be great Christians, and go to church every week, and call ourselves dedicated followers of Christ, we can still in effect deny him. We can do this by letting the world, and not the Word, determine how we understand what Jesus said and what he expects of us.
Take just one thing he said over and over again: if any person wants to come after Christ, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow him. You will find this in all the gospels, eg.: Matthew 16:24-28; Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23-27; and John 12:24-26.
And just what does it mean to take up your cross? It means one thing: death. It means dying to self. The cross was an instrument of death. Whoever took up his cross was not coming back again. When the Romans made a condemned man carry his cross, it meant he was taking it to the place where he would be crucified. It meant taking it to the place where he would die.
Now, was Jesus using this phrase metaphorically? Yes, but the reality behind the metaphor is just as serious. No, we do not take poison or put a loaded gun to our head when we start to follow Christ. But we are to do that spiritually speaking. We are to say no to self and yes to God.
We are to die to self in every way. He alone becomes everything, while we become nothing, That in part entails what it means to take up our cross and die to self. Yet how many Christians actually live this way? How many have said a loud and final NO to themselves, their desires, their wishes, and their plans and said an absolute YES to Christ?
Very few I suspect. In that sense we are denying Christ. We are not doing what he commanded us to do. And yes I am guilty of this as well. There is far too much of self left in me, too much I hold on to, too much I will not freely and fully surrender to Christ.
So in that sense I am denying him. Thankfully God is patient with me and gracious. If I were God I would have given someone like me the flick long ago. But God is merciful, and I am so thankful for that. But his commands to die to self still stand.
Those marching orders have never been revoked nor rescinded. But it is never too late to start obeying. To help us in this, let me bring another voice into the discussion here. I have been reading the new book by Francis Chan, Letters to the Church (David C. Cook, 2018).
He is the California pastor who left his mega-church and is now involved in much-more low-key house churches. He felt he was not being the follower of Christ he was meant to be, so he basically gave it all away, and started again from scratch in an effort to be a real Christ-follower, and not deny him.
Chapter 7 of this book is entitled “Crucified”. Let me quote from it here. He starts by saying that most folks enjoy watching people compete in a gruelling and demanding ironman triathlon, but very few want to actually compete in one. In the same way, there are
millions of people in our country who call themselves Christians because they believe the Christian life is about admiring Christ’s example, not realizing it is a call to follow it. If they really understood this, the numbers would drop drastically. The New Testament could not be clearer: we are not just to believe in His crucifixion; we are to be crucified with Christ. If you listened only to the voice of Jesus, read only the words that came out of His mouth, you would have a very clear understanding of what He requires of His followers. If you listened only to modern preachers and writers, you would have a completely different understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. Could there be a more catastrophic problem than that?
There are millions of men and women who have been taught that they can become Christians and it will cost them nothing. And they believe it! There are even some who have the audacity to teach that life will get better once people pray a prayer and ask Jesus into their hearts. Jesus taught the exact opposite!
Forget what you have been told about praying a prayer and asking Jesus to be your personal Savior. Read what Jesus demanded and ask yourself whether you still want to follow Him. There was no misinterpreting what Jesus was calling for. This is why He had so few disciples. The call to follow Jesus was a call to die. The price tag was front and center. Jesus laid it out from the start and told people to count the cost before they got themselves into something they weren’t ready to commit to. . . . Becoming a Christian is a complete and total surrender of your own desires and flesh to the higher purpose of serving God’s glory. It means you die to yourself and put on Christ. That is what you’re signing up for.
And all of this WILL entail suffering. Everywhere in the New Testament we find this truth spelled out: a true follower of Christ will suffer. That is a given, not an optional extra. Yet Western Christianity is primarily about one thing: being happy and self-fulfilled at all costs, and running from suffering instead of embracing it.
Chan not only offers plenty of passages on this truth, but he tells moving stories about Christians he has met elsewhere who live and breathe suffering, and even rejoice in it. Rejoice in suffering? Um yes, exactly what the Apostle Paul said in Romans 5:3-5 and elsewhere. For example, he speaks about believers in Iran who tell those who want to join the church that they
have to sign a written statement agreeing to lose property, be thrown in jail, and be martyred for their faith. Many Christians are arrested in Iran and either executed or imprisoned for years. Fellowship looks a lot different when the church consists of those who have a biblical understanding of Christianity. Interestingly, some research shows that Iran has the fastest-growing evangelical population in the world!
He also looks at the suffering church in China and how believers there are rejoicing in all their persecution:
And in their prayers, they were screaming out to God to take them to the most dangerous places. “I want to suffer for You. I don’t want to go to a safe place. I don’t. Please! I want to be counted worthy to die in Your name.” That’s the way they prayed. If you have a group like that, how are you going to stop them? That’s the way the church is supposed to be – an unstoppable force – ready to take a hit and go right back into battle.
Only a devout believer who knows he is not of this world can think and live like that. But worldly Christians are far more interested in pleasing men than in pleasing God. They dare not offend anyone, but do not really care if they are offending God in the process. Says Chan:
In an effort to be sensitive to others, we often lose sight of truth. When we do this, we no longer help people but damn them. True compassion takes into account what he or she will feel on judgment day. What some do in the name of being open-minded and compassionate is actually done out of self-love and cowardice. We want to be accepted, so we listen and coddle but refuse to rebuke. If that is love, then the prophets, apostles, and Jesus were the most unloving people to ever walk the planet.
Plenty more could be offered from this chapter, as well as the whole book. I urge you to get a copy and read it prayerfully. The simple truth is this: we do indeed have millions of people in the West who think they are Christians but they are actually denying him daily.
They have simply refused to listen to what he said. Sure, they have picked up on all the neat bits about blessings and the abundant life, but they have shut their ears to all the stuff about being hated and persecuted by the world, and the need to die daily to self and all our desires.
That sort of selected hearing is what we expect of fake Christians, but not genuine followers of Christ.
(This book is available in Australia at Koorong: www.koorong.com/search/product/letters-to-the-church-francis-chan/9780830776580.jhtml )