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By way of introduction to my message this morning I’m going to read not from the gospels as is customary. We’ve already heard the gospel record presented beautifully by the choir in song. I’m going to read from Romans 6 which is the application in our lives of the truth that he died, was buried, and rose again. That is going to be my theme this morning. I have been dealing with a scripture in Galatians 3:1, an unusual starting point where Paul says:
“O foolish Galatians, who bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was evidently set forth, crucified among you?”
And from that text I have deduced that there is a sinister force at work in the church, and Paul calls it witchcraft whether you like his terminology or not, which blinds God’s people to the works of the cross. Once God’s people are blinded to the cross, they are a prey to Satan. That’s his reason for trying to blind the people of God to the reality and the power and the effect of what was accomplished by Jesus through his sacrifice on the cross.
The two previous nights I dealt with two areas. The first was what Jesus obtained for us through his death on the cross, and I pointed out that every provision and blessing of God that can ever come in our lives comes on the sole sufficient basis of the cross. There is no other basis. All that Jesus obtained for us through his death on the cross the Bible calls salvation. That’s not just being forgiven, it’s not just receiving eternal life—wonderful though that is, but it’s every provision of God for every part of our being for time and for eternity. It’s salvation and it was all obtained through the one all sufficient sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
Last night I dealt with the second aspect of the cross which is that it’s the only basis of righteousness acceptable to God. God will not accept any righteousness that’s based on our own efforts or on our own religious deeds. He has completely and finally set that aside through the death of Jesus. Romans 10:4 says:
“Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes.”
If you believe in Jesus, his death and resurrection, that is the end of all law as a means of achieving righteousness with God. That’s very little understood in the church today. Most Christians are still trying somehow to earn righteousness by what they do. Paul says very succinctly, “If righteousness come by the law, Christ died in vain.” There was no need for him to die. And when we go back to seeking to achieve righteousness by keeping laws, we’re telling Jesus in a fact, “You didn’t really need to die, we’d have done without you.” It’s a terrible condition to be in.
This morning I’m going to speak about the cross as it is applied to the life of the believer. I want to point out to you that God is totally just and what happened on the cross was total justice. It was not injustice, it was the due punishment of a criminal. The only unusual fact was that the innocent was receiving the punishment justly due to the guilty. Who are the guilty? We are.
By the death of Jesus on the cross, God finally and forever demonstrated his estimate of human flesh. There’s nothing good in it. Let’s look for a moment in Romans 6:6–11. It starts in the middle of a sentence, don’t let that worry you.
My observation is that the majority of Christians don’t know it. It’s there but they don’t know it. I lived in that condition as a Christian quite a number of years. I didn’t know this. When I came to know this it made the most profound change in my whole life.
“Knowing this, that our old man...”
That means our old Adamic nature. It’s also called our flesh. And when Paul in that context talks about our flesh, he doesn’t mean our physical body but he means the nature that we received by inheritance through our physical body. And that nature is summed up on one word which is rebel. Within every descendant of Adam there is a rebel. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are all rebels by nature and by act. That is the basic problem of the human race. If you’ve never discovered it, you may come face to face with this fact here this morning.
“Knowing this, that our old man [the rebel] was crucified with him [Jesus]...”
Notice that’s a historical fact. I prefer that tense “was crucified” rather than the alternative translation “has been crucified” because “was crucified” means that it is an actual historical fact. More than 19 centuries ago when Jesus died on the cross, our old man, the rebel in you and me, was put to death. That’s true whether we know it, whether we believe it or not. But knowing and believing it is going to make a lot of difference in each of us.
“...that the body of sin...”
That’s another way of saying the fleshly nature.
“...might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.”
Until we come face to face with this fact, we are slaves of sin. See, in lots of churches they teach that our sins can be forgiven. That’s wonderful but it doesn’t solve all our problems. I know this from experience. I grew up in the Anglican church, which is the Episcopal church, in Britain. I attended it, I had to, I had no options, it was compulsory for many years. I became totally familiar with its prayers and its forms—which are very, very beautiful, I’m not making fun of them in any way. I knew every Sunday morning at around about 11:15 we would all be saying, “Pardon us miserable offenders.” And being a critical teenager, after a while I said to myself if all religion can do is make me an offender, I can be an offender without religion and not nearly so miserable! That was my decision when I had the option. I parted company with the church for about ten years.
But you see, my problem was, even in those days I had an analytical mind. I said to myself, okay, suppose God has pardoned me. I know full well when I get out of this church I’m going to go on committing the very things I asked him to pardon. I asked myself does it please God or does it provoke God that I ask him to forgive things I know I’m going to go on doing? You see? Forgiveness of past sins is wonderful but it’s not the total solution. Because our sins may be forgiven but the rebel may still be alive in us. And as long as he lives in us we are going to go on doing rebellious things.
So God’s solution is not merely forgiveness of past sins but it’s execution of the rebel. God has no program for the old man, no religious program. He doesn’t send him to church or Sunday School, or teach him to memorize scripture. He only has one solution, it’s execution. God is such a realist. He knows you can do no more and no better for the old man than execute him. That’s God’s solution. The mercy of God is the execution took place when Jesus died on the cross. I want you to understand it was perfectly just. All that happened to Jesus was absolutely what our old man deserves. That may shock you.
“For he who has died has been justified from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: knowing that Christ having been raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death that he died, he died to sin once [for all], but the life that he lives, he lives to God. Likewise, you also reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Notice there’s two things. We’ve got to know out of scripture. Second, we’ve got to reckon. We’ve got to believe it’s true in me. Because of the fact that our old man was executed in Jesus we’ve got to reckon that old man, that rebel, dead indeed to sin. That’s a very striking phrase. Reckon yourself to be dead indeed, that means in reality, not just in religious nomenclature but in reality to be dead to sin.
What does that mean? I have in my foundation series of books which was spoken about, I have a little illustration. We have this terribly bad man. By religious standards he’s awful. He watches pornography on the television, he drinks whiskey, he smokes a cigar, he curses his wife, he’s unkind to his family. He is bad. Okay? But his wife is a believer and she takes the children to the gospel chapel some Sunday evenings. They sneak out quietly one Sunday evening knowing that they’ll be cursed if the man is aware of what they’re doing. They leave him sitting in is armchair watching the television, smoking a cigar and drinking whiskey. They have a wonderful time in the gospel chapel, the Spirit of God falls and they get so happy they come back singing choruses. Suddenly they realize if he hears them he’s going to curse them. They put a hand over their mouths in silence. They tiptoe into the living room and they see him sitting in the chair, the smoke of the cigar is curling up but he’s not smoking it. The whiskey is on the table beside him but he’s not drinking it. There’s a scene on the television screen but he’s not watching it. You know what happened? Can you guess? He had a heart attack, he’s dead. He’s dead to sin. Sin has no more attraction for him, sin has no more power over him, sin produces no more reaction from him.
Likewise, reckon you yourselves to be dead indeed to sin. That’s the message. It’s totally another phase from having your past sins forgiven. Until you’re dead to sin, you’re a slave of sin.
I’d like to illustrate that a little bit from my own experience many years ago in the early l950s. I was pastoring a small congregation in central London in England. Three times every week we went to a place called Speaker’s Corner Marble Arch, which is a very notorious place, and I conducted a street meeting. I did that every week three times a week for eight years. We would gather sometimes quite large crowds, 200 people, and some would listen and some would heckle and some would actually be violent but we stuck it out and we saw quite a large number of people come to the Lord through those meetings.
But one day during that period I had a very vivid dream. And in this dream I saw a typical street meeting with a circle of people gathered around and a man in the middle preaching. I listened to his preaching and I said he’s preaching a good message. There was real power in his preaching. But as I looked at the man I didn’t like what I saw. He was kind of hunchbacked, he had a club foot, his body was all crooked. I thought to myself his body isn’t really in line with his preaching. Well, I woke up, thought that was strange but I didn’t think any more about it.
About two weeks later I had precisely the same dream. That time I said to myself God must be trying to say something to me. So I began to talk to the Lord and I said, “Lord, what about this dream, what about the man in the middle? His preaching was all right but there was something very unattractive about him. Who was that man?” You can probably guess, the Lord answered me like Nathan answered David, “Thou art the man.” I thought, I am?
About the same time Easter was coming on and I had in my mind a mental picture of the three crosses on Golgotha and the middle cross was taller than the other two. They were all empty. The Holy Spirit said to me, “Now tell me, for whom was the middle cross made?” Then he said, “Be careful before you answer.” So I knew there was a kind of trap in the question so I thought for a little while and I said it was made for Barabbas. He said that’s right. If you reason it out, it was. It was there for Barabbas. Then he said, “But Jesus took Barabbas’ place.” I said that’s right. Then he said, “I thought Jesus took your place?” I said yes. He said, “Well then, you must be Barabbas.”
I never argue with people about that. At that point I saw I was the criminal for whom the cross was made. It was perfect justice for me. It was exactly what I deserved, it was made to my measure. Our old man was crucified with him. And that changed my life significantly at that point and progressively ever since. I realized the nature of the rebel within me. I realized the only remedy is execution. I had to believe that he had been executed when Jesus died.
Now, believing, in a sense, is progressive. It became more and more real for me over the years and I still have to reach out for more faith but I know that is the divine solution and I know there is no other solution.
What I want to point out to you this morning is you look at the cross and you get God’s estimate of our carnal nature. It is incapable of pleasing God. There is nothing it can do that will please God or earn God’s favor. That is totally unfamiliar to the majority of Christians. They have not seen that they personally are Barabbas.
I want to go into this truth and relate it to the reality of witchcraft. See, that’s a very surprising statement that the Christians in Galatia had been bewitched. I pointed out the first night they knew Jesus Christ, they’d received the Holy Spirit, they’d seen miracles in their midst. Very few of you here have anything in experience beyond what they had. Yet, they were bewitched. See the logical conclusion, it could happen that people like us are bewitched, too.
What would be the result of being bewitched? We would have lost the vision of the cross. I want to turn to 1Samuel 15:23. These are words that were spoken by Samuel to King Saul after he had disobeyed God’s commission. I don’t want to go into them because we’ll never get out again, I just want to read the words. Verse 22–23.
“Then Samuel said, Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed [or hearken] than the fat of rams.”
When our girls were growing up in our home in London just about that period, that was one scripture they all knew. To obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.
“For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.”
I don’t want to read any further but you see there rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. In other words, wherever there’s rebellion you are always exposed to witchcraft. They are two forces that operate together.
Let me also point out another statement there that stubbornness is idolatry. You see, we won’t accept in our churches people who bow down and worship wooden idols. I mean, I think we haven’t come to the stage even with the declension of the church that we would accept such people. Maybe there are very advanced churches that do accept them. But generally speaking, people like us would say idolatry is out of place in a Christian church. But you see, the Bible says stubbornness is the same as idolatry.
Why? Because a stubborn person makes an idol of his own opinions: doctrinal opinions, political opinions, personal opinions. I want to tell you, the church is full of idolaters. It’s full of people who are too stubborn to bow to the authority of God’s word and God’s spirit. They hold on to their own opinions whether they agree with the Bible or not. They’re like the person who says, “Don’t confuse me with facts, my mind is made up.” That’s stubbornness. And the Bible says it’s idolatry because you are making an idol out of your own concepts and opinions and standards. We won’t go into that but I just point that out by way of passing.
Let’s look then at the relationship between witchcraft and rebellion. Rebellion means setting aside God’s appointed authority, the authority of God and those whom God delegates. That’s rebellion. But you can’t exist without some kind of authority so rebellion replaces divine authority by illegitimate authority. Then it supports that illegitimate authority by the power of witchcraft. Witchcraft is the power that enforces illegitimate authority. When you think of witchcraft, you can think of three words. Manipulate, intimidate, dominate. I would have to tell you wherever you encounter those forces at work, somewhere behind them there is witchcraft.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time taking examples but in the Bible God has given authority to parents over their children. I know that’s disputed, you can’t change the fact, God did it. Nevertheless, a little child no older than four years can often manipulate its parents. What is it doing? It’s getting its own way. What is its own way? It’s self-will. What is self-will? It’s rebellion. And what’s the power behind that? Maybe witchcraft.
See, Paul says two things about witchcraft in Galatians 5 in the list of the works of the flesh he says witchcraft is a work of the flesh. It’s one of the ways that fallen human nature expresses itself. I want my way and I’m going to get it even if it’s by illegitimate means.
But witchcraft is more than that. It’s also a sinister spiritual force that infiltrates the church.
So we have this little child that wants more candy and mother says no. The child throws itself on the floor, kicks its legs in the air and screams. And ultimately, just to get peace the mother says all right, one more candy. She doesn’t realize she’s dealing with witchcraft. You see, you can have a very small child with a very strong spirit in him.
We once lived next to neighbors who used to do their grocery shopping on Saturday night in England in those days. They had a little girl of about three and a half, and when they took her out grocery shopping she was as happy as could be. Next morning when they wanted to dress her for church she threw herself on the floor and screamed. She didn’t reason it but there was a person in her that didn’t mind grocery shopping but objected to going to church. Do you see that? I tell you, she ruled that house. Three and a half years old. She got her way.
Listen, if you are one of those people who is determined to get your way, you’re being manipulated by an evil power.
Another area of authority—and I hope that I don’t sound chauvinistic. You heard the story about the apostle Paul—this is apocryphal—when he arrived in Corinth for meetings. The women’s lib were out there to meet him carrying large banners which said “Paul is a male chauvinist pig.” Paul said, “I see you got my letter!”
Well, to return to our point the Bible has, in certain areas and with certain restrictions, given a husband authority over his wife. That’s just the way it is. Nobody can change it. They can refuse it but they can’t change it. I think—I hope you’re going to love me after this—I think in America today it is almost normal for wives to manipulate their husbands to get what they want. I think lots of little girls have grown up in a family where that’s the only way they’ve ever seen mother treat father.
There are endless different ways of manipulating people. You just pout and act sulky and spoil the food. He gets the message. You know what? There are very, very few men who are strong enough to stand up to witchcraft. Very few.
All sorts of ways. I’ll give you another example from my experience. We knew a really godly family way, way back—and I have to be careful I don’t identify the country. Father, mother and five children. He was a minister, they were all saved, they all knew the Lord. Mother had a background in the occult and a little bit of it still clung to her. She got terrible migraines and whenever the family decided on any course that mother didn’t approve of, she got a migraine. She would lie in bed for two days and the family would tiptoe around, “Shh, Mother’s got a headache. Don’t make a noise.” And nobody dared to go against her. She didn’t reason that out but the thing that was in her knew that migraine was a way to get her will. See? See what I’m saying?
I’m going to talk to you about the safeguards. I’m going to talk to you now for a little while about the nature of our flesh. Remember, I’m not talking about the physical body, I’m talking about the person that was born in us. There’s one key word which describes the flesh and it’s in Ephesians 4:22. I’m not going to go any further although it’s the middle of a sentence.
“...that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man [that’s one of the phrases] which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.”
The key word is corrupt. Because of the fall, man is born with a corrupt nature. He’s corrupt in every area: spiritually, morally, and physically.
I want to point out to you an interesting fact you may never have considered. That corruption is irreversible. There is no way to turn it back. You can delay it but you cannot stop it or turn it back. That’s a vital factor in our whole understanding of the human race and of the forces at work in our world today because we see the forces of corruption gaining tremendous power in many areas of our society. We can delay corruption, it’s the business of the church to do that, we’re the salt of the earth, the salt that delays the corruption of the meat; but we cannot reverse it.
Take an example of a beautiful peach such as grows in this part of the world. It looks so beautiful, it’s got such a wonderful texture to its skin but you leave that peach a week and it begins to shrivel, dry up, become unattractive.
What you can do is put it in the refrigerator. That’ll keep it a whole lot longer but it will not change the fact of corruption and its progression.
I sometimes think that the church is like the refrigerator. We put people in the refrigerator and the corruption is much slower but it’s still there. There’s only one remedy, what is it? Execution, that’s right. Nothing else, no other remedy. Matthew 7:17–18, Jesus is speaking.
“Even so every good tree bears good fruit; but a corrupt tree bears corrupt fruit. A corrupt tree cannot bear good fruit; and a good tree cannot bear corrupt fruit.”
The old nature is a corrupt tree. It is incapable of producing good fruit. This is the fact that really, I’d have to say, religion is somewhat like the refrigerator. It slows down corruption to the point where we don’t recognize it’s there. But it does not change it.
Paul said in Romans 7, “I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good thing.” Okay? The difference between you and Paul is that maybe you don’t know it. But it’s the only difference. Understand? God has pronounced his sentence on human flesh. He’s carried out the execution. Look at the cross and you’ll see God’s estimate of our carnal nature. No matter how talented we are, no matter how educated we are, how sophisticated, how refined; we’re still corrupt.
Here’s the relationship between self will or rebellion and witchcraft. Satan can manipulate the uncrucified flesh, do you understand? Our only protection against the influence of Satan is the cross. If we are not covered by the cross we are exposed to his influence. It’s a strange thing that I’m preaching this message here because in my opinion, as I see it, this is the great basic problem of the Christian church, particularly in America. Not exclusively in America. We have not allowed the cross to be applied to our lives.
Consequently, we don’t know what is pure and what is not pure spiritually. You see, as long as I am serving God out of self will with personal ambition and a desire to get things for myself, I’m exposed to witchcraft. Not only will I be manipulated but I’ll probably manipulate others. There is a tremendous amount of manipulation that goes on under the guise of preaching. Because, as long as a person wants his own will, he’s not safe. Self will is a twin to witchcraft. See that? Only that which has been purified by the cross can not be manipulated by Satan. That’s the only way to eradicate corruption.
Last Sunday I was preaching in a Episcopal church. I always like being in an Episcopal church, especially on those occasions because it reminds me of my boyhood which I have now come to remember with gratitude. Ruth and I were reading, it was Palm Sunday, so Ruth and I were reading the account of Jesus riding into Jerusalem and how the people were welcoming him and spreading their garments on the road and on the donkey and cutting down the branches of the trees. As we were praying, Ruth said something like this, “I trust we will not be those who merely lay down our garments and do not lay down our lives.” You see, five days later many of the same people who were saying “Hosanna to the son of David” were saying “Crucify him.” Why? Because it was the flesh. They had not laid down their lives. Jesus was not deterred, he went to the cross because only on the other side of the cross are we immune from Satan’s influence. That which has not been submitted to the cross is always in danger of Satanic influence.
I’d like to read Galatians 6:14.
“But God forbid that I should glory [or boast] except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
See, there is one way to separate the world from the church. It’s the cross. There is no other way. At the present time, the world and the church are almost indistinguishable. You really don’t know who is where and what is what.
Interestingly, I read a totally secular survey by a marketing firm who conducted research on how to market to the born again Christian section of America—which they estimate is 40 or 50 million people. It’s a major section of the market. And this survey was conducted solely for secular reasons to determine how to make as much money as possible out of born again Christians. It was very well done, it was carefully researched. The conclusion was very simple. There isn’t any difference, they’re just the same. Their tastes are the same, their motives are the same, you can reach them with the same type of gimmicks. You don’t need to change. What does that tell us? The world and the church are not separated.
Somebody said years ago “A ship in the sea is all right. The sea in the ship is all wrong.” The church in the world is all right. The world in the church is all wrong. What will happen? The church will sink.
What’s the dividing line? I prayed about this and considered this for a long while because I’ve seen it so clearly. Only just recently have I seen the cross is the only protection. When you can say I am crucified to the world and the world is crucified to me, the world has no more influence over you. I do not bow to its standards, I do not accept its values, I am not motivated by the things that motivate it, I don’t care what it says about me, I don’t care whether I’m popular or unpopular. That’s not the point. The point is as I pleasing the Lord? The world’s opinions are dead to me. They can like me or dislike me, it doesn’t make a shade of difference. That’s what it means when you say I’m crucified to the world and the world is crucified to me. Between the world and me there is that cross and on that cross is God’s estimate of the opinions of the world.
I’d just like to say one more thing. Paul said you can produce two kinds of material in your Christian service. 1Corinthians 3. You can produce gold, silver and precious stones or you can produce wood, hay and straw. I’ll tell you this, the flesh produces wood, hay and straw. And you can produce vast quantities of it. But, Paul said, there’s a day coming when it’s going to be tried by fire. And if it can be burned, it’ll be burned up in an instant. The servant of the Lord who has produced wood, hay and straw will be saved like a naked soul escaping through the flames. That’s the translation of the NIV. Why spend all that time and trouble laboring for something which will vanish in a minute?
Normally we don’t amass vast quantities of gold, silver or precious stones, do we? If quantity is our standard, we’re much more likely to be producing wood, hay and straw than we are gold, silver and precious stones. If we’re dictated to by the world standards, that’s what we’ll produce. If we aim to succeed in the world’s eyes, that’s what we’ll produce. If we aim to impress the world, that’s what we’ll produce.
Let me ask you a question. Which do you think has had more influence on the other? The church on Hollywood or Hollywood on the church? Honestly answer me. I mean, there’s no doubt Hollywood has influenced the church to a point where there’s hardly any way to distinguish between the two. I don’t think the church has had any influence on Hollywood. As long as the sea is in the ship the ship can’t do much sailing. It can just about stay afloat.
How do we apply this? I’d like to turn to Matthew 16. While we’re turning there I’d like to make a comment. I have consistently taught for years, even before what’s called the faith movement came into being, that it’s the will of God for us to prosper. I still believe that. But I’ll tell you this, brothers and sisters, when we teach that it’s God’s will for us to prosper out of scripture, we need to have a scriptural definition of what prosperity is. It’s not the world’s definition. That’s the problem. Paul prayed in Romans 1 that he might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to Rome. The same word is used—exactly the same Greek word in 3John 2 where John says:
“Beloved, I pray above all things that thou may prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospers.”
The same word. Have a prosperous journey, or have a prosperous journey through life. Now, I believe God answered Paul’s prayer. He gave him a prosperous journey to Rome. But have you ever stopped to consider the nature of his journey? He did not travel first class. He was a prisoner, manacled. They had a totally unnatural storm which lasted for 14 days and nights in which they saw neither the sun, moon or stars. They all thought they were going to drown. They were shipwrecked on an island and the first thing that happened to Paul was when he was gathering sticks, a viper fastened on his hand. Is that our definition of prosperity? Yet he had a prosperous journey.
Why? Because he successfully accomplished the purpose of God for that journey. Why was there a storm of 14 days? Well, there are things we can’t explain. I think if Joe Blow Christian had been going to Rome there would have been no storm. I think the devil didn’t want Paul to get to Rome because he could cause a lot of trouble for the devil. I think the men and women of God who can impact the world and trouble Satan meet storms that just don’t come the way of people who travel first class on cruises. See what I’m saying? All those in Asia turned away from him, he was awaiting execution. Was that success? He said, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved the present world.”
One of the unforgettable sermons I heard was by an old servant of the Lord who said, “I’ll give you four reasons why Demas forsook Paul. First of all, he was a failure. He left Trophemus sick, he couldn’t even pray for his fellow worker to be healed. Second, he didn’t have enough money.” He went through the list. By the standards of the world Demas did the sensible thing. How many of us would be like Demas? If we’re influenced by the world’s standards, brothers and sisters, when it comes to the crunch, that’s what we’ll do. Don’t say to yourself I know I’m living a self indulgent life but when the test comes, I really will be faithful to the Lord. You won’t. If you’re not faithful now you won’t be faithful when the test comes. I have a feeling the test is pretty close at hand.
God said to Jeremiah, “If you couldn’t keep up with the footmen, how are you ever going to run with the horsemen?” He that is faithful in little will be faithful in much. And he that is unfaithful in the little will be unfaithful in the much. If you are not faithful now in the simple basic duties of Christianity in your present situation, when the test comes you will be unfaithful. There is no option.
I’ve learned this to my own cost. I worked with a young man who was tremendously gifted, produced some of the greatest results I’ve seen in ministry. But I never could count on him in the small things. He was never punctual, he would promise to do a little job and not do it. I said after all, he’s got talent, he’s got a powerful ministry. Brothers and sisters, he has no ministry at all today. He’s a wreck and he nearly wrecked me with him. Why? Because anyone who is unfaithful in the little will be unfaithful in the much. That’s a law. It’s just as much a law as the law of gravity. Don’t step out of a fourth floor window and say it won’t work for me because it will.
We don’t break God’s laws. If we go against them they break us.
Let’s turn to Matthew 16:24–25.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, If any one desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it: and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
So if you desire to follow Jesus, there are two preliminary steps. You must take up your cross and you must deny yourself. Then you can follow him. Without those two steps you cannot follow him. You can sit in the church, you can sing hymns; but in the things that really matter, you cannot follow Jesus. You have to deny yourself, take up your cross. Do you know what to deny is? It’s to say no. What is to deny yourself? Self says I want, you say no. Self says I think, you say you’re wrong. Self says I feel, you say your feelings don’t matter. That’s to deny yourself.
Then you take up your cross. I’ve heard two statements about the cross, both of them illuminating. Number one, the cross is where your will and God’s will cross. Whose will is going to prevail? The second, the cross is the place where you die. God won’t impose the cross on you, you have to take it up. It’s optional.
But, if you save your life, you’ll lose it. But if you lose your life, you’ll find it. You have a life to find and a life to lose. Jesus said if a grain of wheat remains alone, it brings forth no fruit. But if it falls into the ground and dies, it will bring forth much fruit. Your life is a little grain in your hand. You’ve got two options. You can hold onto it and say it’s mine, nobody takes it from me, I do what I want, nobody tells me what to do, I don’t believe in that fanaticism. You’ll hold it but you know what? You’ll remain alone.
Do you know what this great nation of ours, with its big cities? It is full of lonely people. Why are they lonely? Because they’re holding on to the grain.
Or you’ve got the option. You can drop it, you can let it go. It’ll go down into the dark soil beneath the surface. People may even walk over it. Are you prepared to be walked over? But somewhere down in the soil something will happen. That hard shell of your egotism will begin to rot away. And when that’s rotted away, out of that seed will come a totally new life. What’s that? That’s resurrection.
Listen, in Romans 6, which I didn’t read, Paul said, “If we died with him, we shall also live with him.” Notice the “if.” Before resurrection there has to be death. I went through this process more than once in my life. I’m thinking of one particular situation. Actually, it was when I was planning to marry Ruth. I don’t need to go into the details. For reasons which I don’t need to go into, God required me to lay that desire down which was perhaps the most painful thing I’ve ever done. I went through the dealings of God. I cried out to God one day and I said, “God, why is it that anything you bless has to die and then be resurrected?” I understood God gave me this answer. “Because when I resurrect a thing, I resurrect it not the way it was but the way I want it to be.”
There is no other way into life in the sense of the New Testament but death. If we died with him we shall also live with him. If we hold on to our life, we hold on to the grain, we can hold it. But we stay alone, fruitless. If we lose our life, let the grain drop, we’ve lost our life. But when it’s really good and dead, a little green shoot starts to come up. Think of the strength of that shoot. It can force its way almost through anything. Even through stones and rock. That’s resurrection life. It’s unconquerable life. It’s undefeatable life. It’s eternal life. It’s full life. It’s fruitful life. That’s God’s offer.
I just want to read some words of Paul that have so gripped me. Dear Lord, forgive Paul for all the things he said. I mean, he said some very uncomfortable things. Thank you for him. With this I’m going to close. These words have challenged me personally, that’s why I’ll read it to you. 2Corinthians 12:7–10.
“Lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.”
Paul’s language surprises me. He says God gave me an angel of Satan. He didn’t say God imposed on me an angel of Satan. It was a gift from God. To buffet me, to beat me. Personally, my understanding of that text is that’s why there was a riot in every city that Paul went. It was unnatural. You couldn’t explain it by natural terms. But there was a Satanic angel that stirred up everybody when Paul arrived. The tumult subsided when he left. It’s uncanny. There must have been more than a natural explanation.
So when Paul arrived in Corinth or Philippi or Thessalonica, behind the visible he saw this dark Satanic angel stirring up the magistrates, stirring up the Jews, stirring up the wealthy women, “Make trouble for Paul.” Quite irrational. Paul said, “Why was this given to me? To keep me humble. Thank you Lord.” He said, “Three times I asked the Lord to take it away.” You know, everybody knows, God answers apostle’s prayers. Three times God said no.
I get people who come to me and say God doesn’t answer my prayers. I say maybe you’ve forgotten that no is also an answer. Let’s go on reading.
“Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times, that it might depart from me. He said to me, My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
That’s a key. God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. God doesn’t release his strength except through weakness.
Now, this is Paul’s comment.
“Therefore, most gladly will I rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
When I read that 10th verse some years back I said, “Ruth, you know, there’s some things Paul said, I’m not sure I can honestly say them.” I take pleasure, take pleasure in infirmities, distresses, persecutions. Whether God heard my comment or not, I don’t know. But we were in the midst of intensive ministry and the next day I came out with an inexplicable rash all over my body except for the places that showed. My hands and my face were perfectly clear. I went to see a doctor, it was in Northern California. When I took my shirt off he threw up his arms and ran for his partner because he’d never seen anything like it. They discussed whether it might be Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever but they concluded it wasn’t. They didn’t have a diagnosis.
Now, Ruth and I were in intensive ministry the rest of that month. We prayed twice a week for the sick in meetings that lasted five and six hours. All this time I had this rash. The hotter I got, the more unpleasant it became. I don’t know why I had the rash but I think God just wanted to check out and see whether I would take pleasure in infirmities. All right? That the power of Christ may rest upon me. I have to say to the glory of God the power of Christ did rest on me. We saw many people miraculously healed. And here am I with this rash! I couldn’t tell anybody about the rash except the Lord and Ruth.
God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. If you want to find your life, you’ve got to lose it. You’ve got to accept the fact that your old man was executed more than 19 centuries ago. But the execution only becomes effective in your life when you voluntarily accept your death and lay down your life. That’s the doorway to resurrection. It’s the key to the fullness of God.
I finished my message but some good many years ago the Lord said, “I didn’t call you to deliver religious lectures. If you ever preach on anything that’s practical, I want you always to give the people an opportunity to respond to the practical in what you said.” So I’m going to do that here today. I dare say that some of what I’ve said has been somewhat new to many of you, and somewhat shocking. I have no desire to shock people, I just am convinced that what I’ve said is the objective truth. Whether we like it or not, it remains true. We won’t change it by disliking it or reacting against it. But there are some of you here this morning who really want the fullness of life. You’re somewhat frustrated with the fact that you seem to be somewhat ineffective and you only get so far and you rise to a certain level and nothing ever happens beyond that. I want to suggest to you you’ve never lost your life. You’ve never dropped that little grain. It’s a decision, it’s not an emotion.
If you want to make that decision here as in the sight of God, and remember, you’ll be answerable to God for your decision, I want to give you an opportunity. It’s very simple. If that’s your decision, “Lord Jesus, this Easter Sunday morning, in response for all you’ve done and all we’re celebrating at Easter, I want to lay my life down before you and before your people, to be a servant. Lord Jesus Christ, I thank you that on the cross you died for me, you endured my execution. What was due to me, to my old fleshly nature, came upon you. My old man was crucified with you on the cross. I reckon myself dead on that basis and Lord Jesus, now I lay my life down before you and before the people of God. I renounce my own will, my own ways, my own wishes. I embrace your purpose, whatever it may be, wherever I need to go, whatever you have for me to do. Lord, I embrace it. I make your will my will. In Jesus’ name, amen.”