Against the contemporary concept of non-sacrificial Christianity comes the harsh and most often times difficult to embrace words of our Lord from Matthew's tenth chapter, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
These words are spoken from the very authority of very God, and carry with them powerful consequences to becoming a follower of Christ. Following Christ could very well land one in the most despairing situation of broken relationships with family and close friends. Christ must take preeminence over all earthly relationships to such an extreme that earthly relationships must be forsaken for the cause of His Lordship and Kingdom if necessary. Whoever loves his Father or Mother more than Christ is not worthy of Him! This in no wise makes null and void all the Biblical texts speaking to the responsibility we have within the family unit. Christ is stressing the reality of the high cost of being his disciple.
Contained at the closing of the quote comes an even more powerful statement, this one pertaining not to our relationships with others. This statement from our Lord strikes directly against the hardened heart of hedonism that resides within all fallen mankind, "Whoever does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me." Self-crucifixion. Death to self. The giving up of one's life, for the cause and purpose of the Kingdom of our Redeemer.
This self-sacrificial, high cost life that Christ is speaking of must be taken in a couple different perspectives. First, the cost of following Christ might truly lead to literally death. Oh how many have fallen due to the sword of opposition to the Kingdom. For preservation of truth, and loyalty to our Triune God, many have made their stand and tasted the martyrs death. Yet with so great an entrance into our Father's Kingdom were they ushered! What a blessing indeed to have suffered together with Christ, and what great a reward to sit down in the Abode of heavenly bliss.
Most often it is our experience in our Western Culture that literal death by martyr's sword is not the closing chapter of this temporal life. We rarely hear of persecution unto death. We scarcely are faced with any form of threatening because we are followers of Jesus. We do however carry a responsibility of self-crucifixion. Our responsibility insists upon a daily sacrifice of self. Not of literal self-sacrifice to the taking of this mortal life, but a purging and putting away of the deeds of the flesh. Those vile things which have brought enmity between God and man. A mortification of those things which separate us from living and walking by faith. Paul captures these thoughts with the following words, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" Notice this powerful statement of Paul's to the Church at Rome, "For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." These words command our putting away the deeds of the flesh, dying daily in Christ, crucifying self so that Christ may live through us, and living our life by faith in the Son of God.
You could sum up the sacrificial Christian life by appealing to the doctrine of sanctification. To be "sanctified" in it's simplest understanding is to be set apart unto God. The very moment we enter salvation we have been set apart unto God, a vessel now prepared for his glory. This is called most often "immediate sanctification." Yet, this is not the only Biblical understanding of sanctification. It is also a continuing process by which the Person of the Holy Spirit works within us that the deeds of the flesh might be put to death, and thus the fruit of the Holy Spirit is manifest in our lives. This is called "progressive sanctification." Scripture is abundantly clear in it's assertion that those who have been justified will enter the process of progressive sanctification. There will never be any argument from me, or any other orthodox theologian about the validity of the doctrine of universal progressive sanctification.
Now, with that being said, I must at this point return the reader's thoughts to the very doctrine that I originally set forth to discuss... Justification. Let me now urge the reader to carefully consider the following statement: Justification is not Sanctification. Let me repeat, justification is not sanctification. Once more, justification is not sanctification!
Justification is by faith alone in the Person and work of Jesus Christ alone, and justification is not contingent upon any act or action that follows converting faith. It is the most grave error of any individual to appeal to progressive sanctification as the means of declaring one just. This is why the thief on the cross remains the scripture's most beautiful example of justification by faith alone. The thief was indeed sanctified and set apart unto the Lord, and he did indeed confess our Lord, but as far as a long life experiencing the battle between flesh and spirit, he never experienced it. He did however believe on Christ and his faith was counted as righteousness.
James makes it clear that genuine faith will be accompanied by progressive sanctification as our life in Christ is "worked out." No one should ever argue against this point. Yet, it must be fervently argued with every bit of our being that justification is by faith alone! For this very cause I can state today with great authority that everyone believing on the Lord Jesus Christ will have eternal life (John 3:16).
The Christian life is capsuled in the concept of self-sacrifice. The Christian life includes good deeds that God before ordained that we should walk in them. The Christian life includes progressive sanctification. Any genuine Christian life will include these attributes as it is lived out. However, the Christian life is not entered into by these things! It is entered into by regeneration which produces faith which is counted as righteousness. Should another moment of this temporal life never be granted after that moment of faith by which we are alone justified, we will forever be with our Lord in eternity. Justification is by faith alone.
Again, let me reiterate that last statement: Should another moment of this temporal life never be granted after that moment of faith by which we are alone justified, we will forever be with our Lord in eternity.