Luke 9:23–24:

And he said to all, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.’ ”

Jesus makes two references to future events: his death and resurrrection (v. 22) and his cross (v. 23). These words must have seemed mysterious and unbelievable to the disciples—not only because they referred to events that had not happened yet but also because they bleakly pointed to their loss of a dear friend and teacher.

How difficult it must have been for them to stay with Christ after hearing such dire news. A faithless, unbelieving person could have easily walked away at this point, dismissing Christ’s words as those of a raving madman who was no longer worthy of their time. But these men (with the exception of Judas Iscariot) showed their faith by continuing to walk with Christ in spite of these bleak prospects and their lack of understanding (see v. 45). This is a sure sign of faith: perseverance in the face of severe difficulty, even when we don’t fully grasp what is going on. Understanding is never a prerequisite to faith and obedience; on the contrary, “By faith we understand … ” (Heb. 11:3).

Gaining is losing, and losing is gaining

It is not surprising, then, that Jesus follows this bleak prediction with his exhortation to follow him in true discipleship. It is as if he was saying to them, “Even though I have just told you dire news about what awaits me, stay the course and follow after me. Don’t turn away, no matter how bleak things may look, for if you do, your loss will be great.” When the road ahead looks grim, and our faith is rocked about by storms of the worst kind, of all times that is when we should be the most willing to shoulder the cross and keep our eyes on Christ ahead of us. There will be rewards, but it is impossible to obtain them without loss. This is what Christ urged upon his disciples.

True discipleship is about personal loss. To not lose one’s life is to not be a disciple. Refusal to deny oneself is an undeniable refusal to be a disciple. In case anyone thinks this writer is being too harsh, I must point out that the Lord himself presents this as a clear either/or dichotomy: Either we deny ourselves to follow him, or we shrink from self-denial to follow our own will and desire instead. The two choices lie before us: self or Christ, and there is no middle ground. The great irony here—and this has sobering implications for eternity—is that when we gain this world, we lose the only thing that is really worth keeping in the end: our souls. Even the entire world, with all its money, pleasures, power, and fleeting benefits, is nothing in comparison to our souls. As the Lord asks in a parallel passage, “Or what shall a man give in return for his life?” (Mt. 16:26).

This is at once the great challenge of discipleship but also its inestimable reward. The cost is nothing less than complete self-denial. A partial self-denial, occurring as a spasm here and there and as it suits us, is the mark of one who is not embracing genuine discipleship. Anyone who things that such a half-hearted discipleship of convenience is acceptable is not familiar with, or is outright denying, the clear exhortation of Scripture:

Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:5–8)

This clear exhortation banishes any idea that a discipleship of convenience is an option worth considering even for a moment. If the Son of God himself, the second Person of the Godhead, “emptied himself” and set aside his privileges of divinity even to the point of death, and for the sake of love, how dare we, sinful mortals, shrink away from such a path for ourselves? The disciple is never above his master.

I can almost hear some saying, “This exhortation is only for those who have reached a certain stage of spiritual maturity.” Make no mistake: This exhortation is addressed to all people; Christ made that clear by inviting all to take up their cross: “If any man would come after me, …” This is meant for all those who wish to follow Christ, regardless of when they were baptized.

The primary reason for Christ’s exhortation in our passage is the prospect of persecution, since he makes direct reference to his own eventual death and the prospect of being ashamed of him and his words. However, the application to us today reaches beyond this. We may never be persecuted for our faith, but it is possible that we might be ashamed of Christ and his words in front of our family, friends, coworkers, or others. What is the solution to this, and how shall we avoid this pitfall? Christ’s answer to us is just as clear today as it was to his disciples long ago: “let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

This, then, is the great key to living the Christian life. Do you struggle with a particular, besetting sin? Resist it, take up your cross, and follow Christ. Has someone wronged you to the point where you feel you could never forgive them? Deny your urge to maintain a grudge, and follow Christ. Are your life circumstances not what you desire, and there seems to be no way out? Endure it with patience, take up your cross, and follow your Lord. This is the divinely ordained battle plan for victory, the weapon we have been issued, and the solution for the struggles we face in our spiritual journey: not to struggle out of the struggle but to continue through it, bearing our cross with patience and perseverance and keeping our eyes on our great forerunner, Christ, and on Golgotha in the distance.

We will always be plagued with the temptation to drop the cross and walk the easy path away from Golgotha, rather than bear the full burden all the way to the Place of the Skull. The benefits of dropping the cross may seem good, but they are fleeting, while the costs of doing so are dire and eternal.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1–2)

Father, grant us the fortitude, courage, and strength to carry our cross always, refusing to drop it on our way to Golgotha but persisting on that path no matter the difficulty, so that we may bear fruit for your glory and live lives worthy of the Gospel. We ask this in the name of our great forerunner who bore the cross on our behalf, your Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Luke 6:9–11

And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?”And he looked around on them all, and said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

This account could be divided into two events: 1) the pharisees’ attempt to catch Jesus allegedly breaking the law and 2) Jesus’ response: words and actions.

1. The pharisees’ mischief: They saw this as an opportunity to catch Jesus violating the law, thus having a reason to accuse him. Technically, from their perspective, their plan worked, for Jesus did exactly what they wanted him to do: heal on the Sabbath. However, contrary to their interpretation of the law, Jesus did not violate the Sabbath; rather, he violated only their incorrect interpretation and application of the divine law—a misinterpration that kept them from seeing the need for mercy. To them, all that mattered was the keeping of the law, while the merciful act of making an afflicted human being whole paled by comparison. Their only interest in seeing a man healed on this day was so that they could accuse Jesus, not for the charity of liberating the man from his misery. And so here, early in this account we see how far from righteousness they truly are.

2. Jesus’ response: words and actions. Jesus responds directly to both these flaws: i) He corrects their misinterpretation of the law by asking whether it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. ii) He addresses their lack of mercy by showing mercy—healing the man.

Jesus did not ignore them or brush them off. He could have simply healed the man without saying a word to his enemies, but he chose to reason with them. And we should also note that his words toward them are gentle, put in the form of a question, rather than a harsh diatribe. And of course we see Jesus’ actions: healing the man in front of them all. Not only does he show mercy but also he does so in the open, right there for them to see plainly. He could have taken the man to a distant location and healed him there, or arranged with the man to meet him at some future time and place, but he made no attempt to hide his charity, in keeping with his own words: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 5:16).

Earlier it was said that the pharisees were far from righteousness, and we see this again in their response to the Lord’s act of mercy. The text tells us that they were “filled with fury” (v. 11). It is truly a fearful condition to be in when one passionately wishes the harm of someone who does a righteous deed of charity. Note that they did not simply want to punish Christ; they were also furious at him, so hot and burning was their zeal for the law.

We should learn a lesson from the pharisees’ response. Are we ever like them, even perhaps in imperceptible ways? Does our concern with rules and regulations deplete any charity within us? Are we hard-hearted and coldly indifferent toward the plight and suffering of others for the sake of adhering strictly to the letter of the law? This does not mean that we should be lawless, nor, as many do today, cloak lawlessness with the guise of charity. But we must always bear in mind that we will be judged on the basis of our love (see Mt. 25:31–46).

Both words and actions make up a powerful—even necessary—response to those who oppose our spiritual life, in whatever way that happens. There may come a time when we will be opposed for living out our faith. It may even be a determined effort to do us harm. How will we respond? Will we ignore it and brush it off, or rather confront it, as Jesus did, with gentle reasoning and acts of mercy? Will we hide our lamp under a bushel and refrain from doing what we know we should, or will we let our light so shine before men, that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven? (Mt. 5:15–16). Will we let the fear of man shackle us from doing the right thing and speaking out, or will we fear God more than men?

Father, give us courage and fortitude to always do and say what is right, no matter what opposition we face, and to always do so in love and mercy rather than bitterness and retaliation.

    1 Jn. 4:7–16

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Love is defined here as being initiated by God, not by us. In this way, the apostle points us to God’s love as the paragon to teach us what genuine love is: In addition to being a sacrifice (because God sent His only Son to save us, giving Him up without reservation), it acts first. Love does not wait to be asked before it acts; rather, it lavishes good on the one loved without being requested.

This is the example of genuine charity that is before us. We are not to withhold love and grant it only when others have fulfilled some conditions we have made; rather, we are to take the initiative to show love to others—especially to those who have sinned against us, even if they have not apologized to us. Do we have that kind of charity, or do we wallow in anger and hold a grudge, stubbornly withholding forgiveness until they make amends in some way? If we do the latter, we are in violation of God’s command and actually do more harm to ourselves than our debtors have inflicted on us. Remember the unmerciful servant! His king reversed his earlier debt forgiveness on account of the servant’s stubborn refusal to forgive one of his own debtors (Matthew 18:21–35). And let’s not forget that important sentence in the Lord’s Prayer:

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors (Mt. 6:12)

Notice the connection between divine forgiveness and our forgiveness of others. The two cannot be separated. Divine forgiveness of our sins is dependent on our forgiveness of others. Our forgiveness of others is the condition for being forgiven ourselves, as the Lord made clear just after He taught the Lord’s Prayer to His disciples:

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Mt. 6:14–15)

It is not surprising, then, that the apostle John in our passage tells us that “we also ought to love one another.” We are not permitted to delay forgiveness or to withhold it completely; those options are not open to us. We must take the initiative by loving the offender first, just as God first loved us, and doing so in a self-sacrificial manner—not just giving a friendly greeting (though that is commendable, as our Lord taught us in Mt. 5:47) but even more. Perhaps we could pray for the offending individual the same way we pray for our loved ones and friends, asking God to be longsuffering to them; not to hold their sins against them; to bless them with grace, salvation, prosperity, spiritual and physical health; and more. Doing this puts us in a forgiving frame of mind, and as long as we have that mind-set of love and compassion for that person, those cruel tyrants, hatred and bitterness, are overthrown and cannot control us, for it is impossible for love and hatred toward a person to exist together at the same time.

Lord Jesus, thank you for loving us even when we did not deserve it and were not even looking for your love. We thank you and praise you for lavishing on us “such a great salvation” (Heb. 2:3). Help us to put that same kind of love into action toward all people. We ask this in your name, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

The biggest challenge for Protestants when discussing Catholic doctrine is not whether asking for the saints’ intercession is right, or whether transubstantiation is true, or whether Mary was really immaculately conceived, and so on. Those are important teachings in their own right and worthy of discussion; however, far surpassing them in importance is the question of authority, because the authority one chooses to follow and obey is really the primary driving force behind what one believes.

Therefore, before discussing issues like transubstantiation, the Immaculate Conception, asking saints for their intercession, Purgatory, and other doctrines, the issue of authority must be honestly confronted.

For Protestants, the only infallible authority is the Bible. That view of authority is known as sola scriptura (scripture alone). However, sola scriptura is a self-refuting doctrine, since one cannot prove the doctrine of Scripture alone using Scripture alone. This should be a huge, gargantuan red flag for Protestants: Just exactly what, then, is their authority?

This is a crucial question that all Protestants should face boldly and answer honestly.

The doctrine of sola scriptura is the belief that the Bible is the only infallible authority for the Christian faith. Just to be clear on that definition, let’s emphasize those two words: only and infallible. The doctrine of sola scriptura does not say that Scripture is the only authority; rather, it says that Scripture is the only infallible authority.

This belief is passionately maintained among Protestants and preached with full conviction. What is not maintained—indeed, it is probably not even realized—is that no Protestant really believes it. They believe it in theory, but in practice they deny it.

How do they deny it in practice? They do so by treating their interpretations and theological traditions as though they were infallible, and if you have an infallible authority in addition to the Bible, then the Bible is no longer the only infallible authority. Of course, no Protestant will actually admit that they do this; but the reality is that it does indeed happen. Whenever a Protestant treats their doctrine as though it is above question and incapable of being wrong, they are effectively declaring (though not in so many words) that it is an infallible teaching. They don’t believe their doctrine is possibly right, or mostly right, but that it is above question.

A primary example of this is their view of their canon of Scripture, that is, their official list of books that belong in the Bible. No Protestant would ever dare to suggest that the Epistle to the Hebrews, for example, is not inspired. It’s simply unthinkable. Why is that? They are treating the tradition of the canon as infallible, yet where does the Bible—which they declare is the only infallible authority—say that the Epistle to the Hebrews is inspired? The reality is that the Bible does not make any such claim, so it must be that they accept it as an inspired (infallible) tradition that has its source somewhere outside the Bible.

It is not just with the canon that this happens. Confessional Protestants, such as Lutherans and Reformed, will sometimes rely on the authority of their confessional statements just as much as they rely on the authority of Scripture. Lutherans do this when they subscribe to the “quia” view of the Book of Concord. The Latin word quia means “because,” so the quia view is the belief that the Lutheran confessions are to be subscribed to because they are faithful to the Scriptures. It is very important to note that the quia view does not say that the Lutheran confessions are accepted if they accurately convey what the Bible says; it claims the Lutheran confessions are accepted because they accurately do so. Thus, the Lutheran confessions are assumed to be a completely correct explanation of Biblical truth, without any conditions. What else is that but to treat them as infallible? And when they are regarded that way, they are elevated to the same level as Scripture itself!

Another example of this is the doctrine of Limited Atonement, the idea that Christ died only for the elect and no others, held by Calvinist and Reformed Christians. I mention this particular doctrine because 1) there is no explicit, clear teaching of it in Scripture, and 2) in spite of that, those who hold to it do so unwaveringly, doggedly, and dogmatically. In my experience, some adherents of this doctrine (and I used to be one!) end up falling back on a logical syllogism to defend it rather than citing and exegeting passages of Scripture. Even when Scripture is brought forth in the attempt to substantiate the view, the attempt is inadequate at best. Nevertheless, as I said, the doctrine is embraced doggedly and dogmatically in spite of the lack of Biblical support. Now if an interpretation of Scripture is embraced doggedly and without question, in spite of the scanty Biblical support, isn’t it clear what the real authority is for those who do that? At the end of the day, it is really not sola scriptura that is followed but rather sola interpretatio.

Thus, the claim of sola scriptura that Scripture is the only infallible authority ends up being hollow, for it really isn’t followed consistently. The doctrine is proclaimed, but in practice it is denied.

So in the end, Protestants have their share of theological traditions—whether in the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Book of Concord, or other official statements of faith—that they really do see as being equal in authority to Scripture. Of course, this is denied, but the stark reality is that it truly does happen in practice. And if the adherents of sola scriptura go against it so frequently, one has to wonder if the doctrine is really believed at all.

One of the common arguments against the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is the fact that Christ spoke figuratively in many places throughout the Gospels. As the argument goes, if He referred to Himself as “the Door” and “the Vine,” which are clearly figurative terms, then surely He was using figurative language when He referred to the bread and wine as His body and blood, respectively.

This is highly improbable, however, since Jesus Himself made a sharp distinction between the manner in which He taught the general populace and the manner in which He spoke to His disciples privately:

And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that

they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven. …

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything. (Mark 4:10–12, 33–34, ESV)

The indication here is that when Jesus spoke metaphorically, it was to the general populace—those who were “outside”—but when He was alone with His disciples, He did not speak in such a way, because His purpose with them was entirely different. Thus, when He was alone with those men during the Last Supper, He was not speaking in a parable when He said, “This is my body” and “this is my blood,” and His purpose at that time was not to speak in figurative language “so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven.” Such people were not His audience and company at the Last Supper.

Even if He did speak to them figuratively when He was alone with them, He would have explained the meaning, according to the Gospel account. In our records of the Last Supper, however, He does not provide any explanation for His use of the words body and blood. Why not? Could it be that no explanation was needed, since they were not meant figuratively at all? Therefore, it’s more than reasonable to conclude that He meant those terms literally.

If you have spent any time in theological discussions on the Internet or elsewhere, you have probably noticed that people have a tendency to pit one verse in the Bible against another when defending their theological system of choice. They lavish great attention on those passages that support their view while talking around or glossing over biblical texts that go against the doctrinal grain of their system.

That is the reality. However, it raises an important question: Why is this such a common occurrence? That question would not even be necessary if the unbalanced treatment of holy writ were done by people who regard the Bible as only a literary work of men and nothing more. Yes, if those individuals did such a thing, it would not be surprising. What we so often encounter, however, is the opposite: people who hold to the inspiration of all of Scripture—not just parts of it—but who, in spite of that belief, treat some parts of the corpus of holy writ with less attention, devotion, and acceptance than other parts.

The answer to that question is readily available if we recognize the lure of total, all-encompassing comprehension. I for one am convinced that the above mentioned unbalanced, dishonest handling of Scripture is the direct result of our natural need to fully comprehend all mysteries. We are not satisfied with mystery and paradox; our reason bucks and kicks at such things with the stubbornness of a mule. Consequently, we latch onto one theological system with all our might, a set of doctrines that seem to tie up all the loose ends, eliminate all mysteries, and ward off that dreaded monster, Paradox. We long for something that is neatly tied up, something we feel answers all the questions, solves all the riddles, and completely covers the sheer vastness of Holy Scripture. Viewing our theological system as the pinnacle of truth and the perfect sum of theological knowledge provides deep, incredible comfort, because then we can feel that our doctrinal search is over and we have finally tied up all those pesky loose ends.

That can provide a good deal of peace, but I think that more often than not, it’s a false peace. The problem is that any theological system is ultimately man-made. It is a fallible human attempt to understand Scripture thoroughly, and as with any man-made system, it has blind spots; that is, it is severely limited by its inability to lasso the many different teachings of Scripture into the confines of its doctrinal corral. It’s like trying to wrap our arms around one of the giant redwood trees in California: Embracing the full circumference of that arboreal giant is a vain hope. Likewise, trying to capture all of Scripture within the confines of a man-made system is equally hopeless. It’s the finite trying to wrap its mental arms around the infinite. Consequently, it is unable to cover the sheer vastness and depth of revelation, and so it cannot deal adequately with those scripture passages that go against it.

What then must we do? We must embrace both sides of a theological issue as mystery and paradox rather than be out of balance and embrace one side to the exclusion of the other. When we are able to do that, then we are the greatest of theologians, because it is only then that we will treat all parts of Scripture with the respect and attention they deserve.

I thought I’d share something that has been on my mind in recent months: whether we should save our money (store it up) or give it up for God’s kingdom, sharing it with the poor, etc. One passage that speaks strongly for this is Jesus’ statement in Matthew 6:19-21:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NASB)

Like Jesus’ commands to take up our cross and follow Him, and to cut off our hand if it causes us to sin, this is a radical command and one that most–if not all–of us fall dreadfully short of. Admittedly, since I am single, it is easier for me to follow this command. Those who are married and have children would understandably feel the need to store up money as a contingency plan for future problems, such as job loss, financial reversal, etc. It’s only right to think of one’s family and to plan ahead for their welfare.

Even so, I wonder if even married couples with families are really sacrificing enough for the needy out of their treasure trove. I see lots of luxury around me every day: large, gas-guzzling SUVs with only one occupant (quite a common sight, actually); enormous homes; etc. But that’s really not for me to judge; it’s between them and God. The burning question for all of us, married and single alike, is this: After we spend our money on our bare necessities (“If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content”–1 Tim. 6:8), are we using the excess wisely and in accordance with what Christ commanded?

This video doesn’t go in-depth, but the Lutheran pastor in it does a great job explaining some important differences between Lutheranism and Calvinism. His explanations reminded me why I love Lutheranism. Enjoy.

You can find some great gems when reading the old church fathers. I came across this one while reading one of John Chrysostom’s homilies on Matthew. In it, he is talking about the parable of the sower and the seed and is warning us of the need to fight against all the different pitfalls described there: cares of this world, riches, carelessness about hearing the Word, etc.

“Hearing therefore these things, let us fortify ourselves on all sides, regarding His instructions, and striking our roots deep, and cleansing ourselves from all worldly things. But if we do the one, neglecting the other, we shall be nothing bettered; for though we perish not in one way, yet shall we in some other. For what signifies our not being ruined by riches, if we are [ruined] by indolence: or not [ruined] by indolence, if we are [ruined] by softness. For so the husbandman, whether this way or that way he lose his crop, equally bewails himself. Let us not then soothe ourselves upon our not perishing in all these ways, but let it be our grief, whichever way we are perishing.” (Homily XLIV on the Gospel of Matthew)

In other words: Don’t be satisfied when you have victory over one area of sin and weakness, but fight against all areas of sin.

No wonder Christ said, “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt. 26:41)

About the Author

The author of this blog, Jeremy (Jehanne), is a Catholic who strives to think God's thoughts after Him and obey Christ's exhortation to take up the cross daily and follow Him on the way to Golgotha. He likes reading theology, evangelizing, and, of course, writing.