An essential part of becoming born-again in the Spirit is not only acknowledging Jesus Christ as Savior, but also restoring Him to His rightful position as Lord in our lives.
In the motion picture Ben Hur, staring Charlton Heston, toward the end of the movie Judah Ben Hur, his future wife Esther, and his mother and sister are sitting on the side of a long stairway as the condemned prisoner Jesus is ascending the steps carrying his cross.
Judah Ben Hur’s mother Miriam, and his sister, Tersa, both have contracted leprosy. Esther had thought to bring the two women to hear Jesus preach, and thus give them the hope that there was a life after death, free of leprosy. But instead of being able to listen to the teaching of Jesus as they had hoped, all four were surprised to find that Jesus had been tried, condemned, and sentenced to death by crucifixion.
As Jesus approached them carrying his cross, Esther asked in amazed astonishment “how can this be?’ How could the religious rulers in Jerusalem and the Roman authorities have condemned Jesus, a teacher of righteousness and the healer of so many people, to something as unthinkable as execution by Roman crucifixion?
At the cross…is where the stark contrast between the vulgarities of human sin…crashes up against the divine love of God. Mankind at that moment was unwittingly displaying its own worst condition.
In open view, for all to see, was the futility of man’s wisdom and works when they exist apart from God, as mankind was performing the most embarrassing indignity possible in putting to death its own Creator. Nothing remotely imaginable could be more wrong than this.
To God’s everlasting credit, this very same misguided and inexcusable action by the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, and Roman rulers, was providing the means for salvation and eternal life to mankind through a divine atonement for man’s sins.
At that moment in history, the two opposing viewpoints and lifestyles available to all human beings through the freedom of choice…self-autonomy apart from God leading to sin, and fellowship with God leading to holiness…violently collide with deadly impact at the cross of Christ.
If ever there was a persuasive and clearly demonstrated argument for the wrongness of man going his own way apart from God, the cross is that argument. Man’s actions on that day condemned not Jesus, who had done nothing wrong, but the practice of a religion that conspires with a “civilized” Roman judicial system that can both be so far off-the-mark that they end up killing the God and Creator of the universe.
If ever there was a well-stated, practically demonstrated argument for trusting and relying upon a capable and loving God to show us the correct approach to life, the cross is that argument. Salvation, redemption, and a new resurrected life of love and peace is made possible by God through this enormous blunder by mankind in putting to death the Creator of life itself on a cross fashioned crudely out of two large, heavy pieces of wood and some metal spikes.
That God is intelligent and well-intentioned enough to take the worst action in all of human history, in all of eternity, and turn it right-side up into the very means to provide forgiveness, cleansing from sin, and re-birth into a new spiritual life of joy and peace…is something so sublimely powerful it may take a lifetime in heaven to comprehend and appreciate.
On one side of the cross was the enormous tally of all of history’s offenses, misdeeds, sorrows, injustices, and shortcomings that are a result of fallen mankind going its own way apart from God. On the other side was the contrasting approach of Jesus using surrender, faith, dependence, and reliance upon the Father’s uniquely ingenious plan to cancel out the weight of this massive debt of human sin.
No wonder Jesus sweated great drops of blood when finally confronted with the insurmountable task of nullifying this great mass of self-centered rebellion, using only His own spotless and blemish-free life, and a lamb-like surrender and reliance upon the will of the Father. No wonder Jesus had to return moments later to the same spot in the Garden of Gethsemane to pray a second time “more earnestly” (Lk. 22:44).
At the cross is where Christians must take their cue to strike out on the path of faith and trust in God, to match the stories of the lives of people of faith as patterned in the Bible.
Self-autonomy, self-reliance, and self-direction are on the wrong side of the cross, in the territory of man-made religion, in the camp of the spiritually blind religious leaders and the worldly-minded Roman authorities who crucified Jesus.
C.S. Lewis said that we are not just imperfect people who need growth…but we are rebels who need to lay down our arms.
Laying down our arms occurs when we repent of our sins, recognize our need for God, and accept Jesus into our lives.
But this is not a one-time event at our Christian conversion. The Christian life as a disciple involves a desire, a bend-of-the-heart toward daily surrender and yielding to God. It involves placing Jesus Christ at the top of our priority list. That is why Jesus said we have to pick up our cross daily (Lk. 9:23).
For the Christian disciple, the attitude of “I want to do things my way,” has to be crucified on the cross.
The calling of God for our lives, which displaces our own self-in-charge nature, establishes a Godly context, a clear set of goals, and a very specific arrangement of situations and circumstances, which fashions a path of faith within the course of our lives where the old rebel in us has increasingly more difficulty expressing itself.
A genuine walk of faith set-up by Jesus Christ creates constructive and positive things to do that lead to personal growth and ministry to others, absent the rebellion of self-sovereignty.
When Moses received his calling at the burning bush, and obediently set off toward Egypt to deliver the Israelites, he began living in the non-rebel mode.
After Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, it was the action of following Jesus within this new context of being the missionary evangelist to the gentile world, which enabled Paul to now live as a non-rebel.
When Jesus said to Peter in Luke 22:32, “And when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren,” it is within the actual context of strengthening the newly born Christian church in Jerusalem that Peter is fulfilling his calling…in living as a non-rebel.
This is why the genuine gospel message of repentance, salvation, faith, trust, and transformation into a new person “in Christ” is so important. The “truth that will set us free” is the life following Jesus in non-rebellion to His leading.
This is why we follow a crucified Son of God. The will and way of Jesus was crucified to the will of God the Father, in the Garden of Gethsemane and at Calvary, for the benefit of all of mankind.
Jesus went before us in this regard. The fact that Jesus Himself was without sin, tells us that the way of the cross is perfect.
This is one of the key character attributes which qualifies Jesus to be our leader. We learn daily how to “lay down our arms” and become a non-rebel, in terms of our relationship with God…by following the sinless, perfect non-rebel in this regard…Jesus Christ.
Every born-again Christian can examine themselves as to who is in charge in their lives…self or Jesus Christ.
Every Christian can enter into their personal “prayer closet”, get on their knees, lift their arms up to God, and ask God to assume a greater role in their lives.
Every Christian can ask God in prayer to open up their spiritual eyes, and unclog their spiritual ears, so that they can see and hear God better in the specific ways that God would like to lead them.
If it is possible for God to weep in heaven, this is the type of sincere request from His saints that will probably bring tears of heartfelt joy to God’s eyes.
Our walk of faith…our purchase of the knowledge of good and evil through a God-composed journey of faith life-script…means that much to God.
Jesus died and rose again that we might have an abundant life through this living journey of faith…now and forever.