It is a fact that I do not share often that I grew up in Orange County, California. The OC. The beach, the multinational corporations, the malls. According to fictional media, the center of wealth and decedent lifestyles. Mind you, me and my friends teenage lives didn’t look much like the lives of the kids on the TV show or the movie named after my home county, but there is no doubt that I grew up privileged and a bit spoiled. Heck, I didn’t know any better, and as I became a Christian, I saw that wealth was a proper result of living a right life in Jesus. Every man and woman I knew who lived in Christ lived successful, beautiful, powerful existences. That was just to be expected if one lived in Jesus and was responsible and worked hard.
That was before I went to India. I went there to go to a mission school, and what a schooling I received. I spent six months in Calcutta and Bangladesh. Calcutta, at the time I lived there, had a population of 12 million people with a million of them living on the street, washing themselves under pumps in the street, picking through garbage heaps, holding half-dead infants. Bangladesh is considered the largest, poorest country in the world, having a mostly rural population half the size of the U.S. in a country the size of Wisconsin. I saw people in poverty, but learned from my caretakers not to give, not to even look at beggars, or else I would be taken advantage of.
I returned to Orange County on Christmas Day—a religious holiday covered in a veneer of materialism and decadence. I spent many nights awake at night, wondering how God could allow Orange County and Calcutta to both exist. It seems so unbelievably unjust when held side by side. And my own response in the midst of poverty was disgusting—selfishness, not “wanting to be taken advantage of” when poverty and death surrounded me. But what is to be my response to poverty? How should I respond to suffering and poverty, given that I have so many resources, so much?
I could have responded in guilt, and much of the time I did. I could have responded with apathy, and treat the poor as if their poverty is their own fault, or the fault of their nations. I could have responded to this contradiction in the earth by becoming an activist, to make the world a more just place. But as I looked to Jesus for my answers, I realized that what Jesus was actually asking me to do is to live the life of the cross.
We look to Jesus for our salvation and trust in God that through Jesus we will be delivered from sin, Satan and death. Praise God for the deliverance we have through his death on the cross! May the cross be proclaimed from the lowest parts of the earth to the highest point in heaven!
But in our proclamation of the salvation to be found in the cross of Jesus, we have forgotten the teaching of Jesus about the cross. The cross is not just something that we look at, believe in and admire from a distance. Rather, the cross is something for us to carry. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)
The gospel is not a “feel good” religion. The source of the gospel is Jesus himself, and he himself determines what the gospel consists of. And Jesus himself declared the gospel to be the accepting of suffering and poverty—not only for himself, but for everyone who wishes to receive his salvation.
If we desire to partake in the salvation of Jesus, the cross is not just an option—it is a requirement. To lose our lives, to deny ourselves is not just something for the super-powerful saint, but for the everyday disciple of Jesus. If we do not follow him, we do not have salvation.
Poverty is not just an option.
The cross of Jesus is to accept a lifestyle of what many call “inadequate living” or poverty. Poverty is not just an option. Rather, it is an essential requirement of the gospel. To accept the gospel, one must renounce ones own riches and possessions for the sake of the kingdom of God, for the sake of the needy.
What does Jesus say?
The poor of this world will receive God’s kingdom.
“Blessed are you disciples who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.” Luke 6:20
“God chose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him.” James 2:5
No one can be a disciple unless he renounces all of his possessions.
“Let’s say that a king is going to meet another king in battle. The lesser king has ten thousand men and the greater king has twenty thousand. Wouldn’t the lesser king send a delegation to the greater king for terms of surrender—giving up out of his storehouse what he has? Even so, no one can be my disciple unless he renounces all of his possessions.” Luke 14:31-33.
If you give what you have to the poor, you will have treasure in heaven.
“Do not treasure up treasure on earth, but treasure up treasure in heaven.” Matthew 6:19-20
“Sell your possessions and give to the poor and so make for yourselves a treasure in heaven.” Luke 12:33
One will gain the kingdom of heaven only by selling what he has and giving it away.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. A man found it and hid it again. Then he sold everything he had in order to buy that field in order to gain joy.” Matthew 13:44
He who renounces a normal life for the sake of Jesus will gain more than what he left and eternal life.
“There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age. He will receive houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms— along with persecutions. And in the age to come he will receive eternal life.” Mark 10:29-30
The one who renounces their possessions for the sake of the gospel will have their provisions met by God.
“Do not worry about your life— what you will eat or what you will drink. Do not worry about your body—what you will put on. Look at the birds of the air, that they do not farm, nor harvest nor store up food, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” Matthew 6:25-26
If we are to follow Jesus, we must renounce our riches and possessions and surrender them to those who have needs. If we do not do so, we do not have the salvation of Jesus. This is a result of our faith, not just a nice thing to do. This is fulfilling the word of Jesus.
Suffering is not just an option.
The New Testament is clear about the place of suffering in the Christian life. If one is not suffering persecutions, tribulations, testings or opposition because they are following Jesus, then that one is not truly following Jesus. The one who does not suffer does not receive the kingdom of God.
What do Jesus and the apostles say?
Those who are persecuted will gain God’s kingdom.
“Blessed are you when men hate you and insult you and slander you and separate themselves from you for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for your reward will be great in heaven.” Luke 6:22-23
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10
“But woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers treat the false prophets.” Luke 6:26
If we are followers of Jesus, we will receive the sufferings he suffered
“A disciple is not greater than his teacher, nor is a slave greater than his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher. If they have called the head of the household “Satan,” then how much more will they slander those who live in the house!” Matthew 10:24-25
“If you patiently endure suffering for doing what is right, you have favor with God. For the purpose of suffering like this you have been called, since Christ also suffered for you, and thus he left an example for you to follow in his steps.” I Peter 2:20-21
It was Jesus’ purpose that his followers suffer opposition
“Do not think that I came to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace to you, but a sword will be held against you. I came 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 man's enemies will be the members of his household.” Matthew 10:34-36
The one who hates his life and suffers for Jesus will gain eternal life.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. John 12:24-25
We will not gain the benefits of the salvation of Jesus without suffering.“We will not enter the kingdom of heaven except through many trials.” Acts 14 22
“Everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” II Timothy 3:12
“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” Romans 8:16-17
Suffering is not an option. If we do not suffer for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, then it shows that we are not true followers of Jesus. If we do not truly follow Jesus, then we will not gain the kingdom of heaven or be called children of God.
In the parable of the sower, Jesus indicates two areas that we will fall away from the gospel of God: If we do not endure under suffering, and if we focus on the things and worries of this world (Mark 4:14-20). These are the two areas that have also captured the church of the United States. We want to do everything we can to avoid suffering—even if it means that we must compromise the gospel. “God will forgive me” we say, and than we move on spending our lives focused on vanquishing pain instead of loving one another. We desire comforts and pleasures, at almost any cost. If others around us do not have their needs met, that doesn’t matter. What is more important is that we have our entertainments, comforts and securities.
We have forsaken the gospel for the things of this world. How can we think that we will gain the kingdom of God? How can we think that Jesus is pleased with our lives devoid of sacrifice or love?
What kind of poverty and suffering?
Not every kind of poverty or suffering will be blessed by God. Not everyone who is poor will be welcomed into the kingdom. Nor does every poor man represent Jesus. Those who are poor because of their own laziness are not blessed. Those who are poor because of drug use or mental illness are not blessed. Not even all of those who surrender their possessions to the poor will be saved. Only certain kinds of renouncing and poverty will be blessed.
Not all of those who suffer will gain God’s kingdom. Not everyone who is sick will gain the blessing of God. Not everyone suffering from war, famine or hate crimes will gain God’s favor. Those who suffer because they are taking vengeance are suffering rightly, and gain no blessing from God. Those who suffer because they have done wrong are not to be praised. Those who suffer because they are teaching that which is apart from the teaching of Jesus gain no favor from God.
So what kind of poverty and suffering do gain favor with God?
There are three kinds of poverty or suffering that follow the way of Jesus;
1. The renouncing of all that we have for the sake of Jesus, the kingdom of God and the gospel.
If we are to follow Jesus, the Lord requires that we place everything that we have at his disposal for his use. Jesus does not just require a tithe of our income. Nor does he seek out the occasional love offering. Rather, what he wants is total surrender. Jesus wants everything we have to be put at his disposal—every relationship, every bit of our time, every possession we have, every bit of our knowledge, every authority we have, all of our money, all of our energies. All of these are to be surrendered to Jesus for use in the kingdom of God. Some of these things are to be of no use for him—some of our relationships will have to be severed, some of our possessions will have to be sold, some of our ambitions will have to be laid aside, some of us will have to quit our jobs. There is nothing left for the world. There is nothing left for sin. Other things can be transferred to his use: our money can be used for his kingdom, our goals can be for building up his people, our energies can be used for obeying him. But whatever we have, whatever we are, all goes to Jesus. Nothing left for selfish ambition. Nothing left for our pleasures. All for Jesus. In this way, we are poor. In this way, we truly suffer. For there is nothing left for ourselves.
This is the way of salvation. This is the way of the cross.
2. The consequences of loving others.
Jesus did not come to earth for himself, but to surrender himself for the sake of others. Even so, we are commanded to do the same (Mark 10: 43-45). We live not for ourselves, but for the sake of others. This self-giving love has consequences. For the sake of love, Jesus lost his privacy, Jesus had to run away to pray. Jesus was ostracized and slandered because he wanted to seek those who were lost. And finally, he suffered shame and loss of his life for the sake of his love for the world. We are to act as Jesus did. We are to surrender our possessions and money for the needy. We are to lower ourselves and make as nothing our worldly ambitions so we can life others up. We are to attach ourselves to the undesirables of the world in order to draw them to Jesus. We are to not do harm to anyone, not even to those who harm us. The result of love is suffering. The result of giving for the sake of love is having nothing left.
This is the way of salvation. This is the way of the cross.
3. Opposition because of holding to the gospel of Jesus.
When we understand what the gospel really says and teach that gospel to others, there will be opposition. Few want to hear that Jesus is the only way. Few want to hear that their sin leads to death. Few can abide the way of the cross. The way of the gospel is narrow—few there are that can follow it. And those who chose not to follow the whole gospel will be opposed to those who proclaim it as the only way of salvation. In some cases, the advocates of the gospel will be hated by those who reject the gospel. Sometimes they will be called heretics or servants of Satan. Sometimes they will be sued or have their possessions taken from them. Sometimes they will have violence done against them. Nevertheless, the follower of Jesus will boldly proclaim the gospel, neglecting their own care or well-being for the sake of the kingdom of God. The result of proclaiming the gospel is suffering. The result of living for Jesus is the stripping away of all that we have.
This is the way of salvation. This is the way of the cross.
How do we enter into Jesus’ salvation?
We must be practical and realistic. The salvation of Jesus is not just something to think about, something to debate. It is something one lives—fully and completely or not at all. Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to debate the merits of the gospel or to argue on the finer points of it. He told them, “follow me.” He told them, “Deny yourself and take up your cross.” This is not just in the mind, in the attitude—it is lived or it is nothing. Here are some steps to help you live out the way of Jesus as a lifestyle of salvation:
1. Confess Jesus as your Lord and example
Romans 10:9-10; Matthew 10:24-25,32-34
Publicly confess Jesus as your Lord. As Lord, you will do all you can to obey him and he will be your Teacher, Master and Model. In all ways give him priority in your life.
2. Ask for the Spirit to assist you in the way of the cross.
Luke 11:11-13; Mark 14:38; Romans 8:26
We cannot accept the cross on our own. Rather, our desires reject the idea of the cross; our lives find the path of poverty and salvation repugnant. Seek the Lord for the Spirit of God, who will help us in our weaknesses. If we ask persistantly for the Spirit, God will give him to us, who desires only to give us that which is good.
3. Place God’s kingdom and righteousness first in your life
Jesus’ priority is to have more people following his gospel and living out his righteousness. Dedicate yourself to desiring what Jesus desires and to dedicate yourself to living out the gospel of Jesus.
4. Renounce anything that is blocking you doing God’s will.
If there is anything you have control of that is obviously standing in the way of you obeying Jesus, be rid of it as quickly as possible. It could be a person, it could be an item, it could be a habit you have. Whatever it is—be rid of it as soon as possible. Allow Jesus to rule you completely. Let nothing in that will interrupt your devotion to him.
5. Consider others’ and their needs as more important than yourself
Philippians 2:3-4; Matthew 7:12
Jesus said that to fulfill his commands, you need to place yourself at other’s disposal. If someone is in need, look to see if you can meet that need. Their need might just be to have someone to listen to, it might be to guide them to Jesus, or it might be to give them some food or clothing. Be open to the opportunities circumstances allow you to be loving to others, To give to their needs.
6. Make of list of all of your resources and surrender them to your Lord, Jesus.
Jesus warned us that we ought to recognize what the cost of following him would be if we were to follow him. Let us literally “count the cost”—make a list of everything you have, including relationships, time, income, possessions, etc. For some of us this might take some time. Then, for every item on the list, surrender it to your Lord, Jesus and ask him what he would have you do with that resource.
7. Listen to the Spirit to determine what to do with each item on the list.
John 14:26; Matthew 6:33
The Spirit will remind you of the teaching of Jesus and give you help in applying it to your life in every case. Allow the Lord to guide you to use your resources in accordance with placing the kingdom of God first.
8. Be bold in proclaiming the full gospel of Jesus
Mark 8:38; Acts 4:29-31
Do not be ashamed of God’s true gospel as taught and lived by Jesus. Pray that the Lord might give you boldness to speak of Jesus alone—with no one else beside him. Pray that you may stand with Paul to proclaim the foolishness of the cross—both the cross that Jesus bore himself and the cross that we need to bear for his sake.
What are the benefits of suffering in the way of Jesus?
Approval of God
We will be allowed in God’s presence, like the prophets of old who had approval of God. Our prayers will be heard and we will be God’s children. (Luke 6:22-23; Romans 8:16-17)
To suffer is not only profit for us, but it builds up godly character in us, if we accept it as a positive thing from God, in faith, and we will gain more future reward. (James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-4; Hebrews 10:32-12:11)
Kingdom of God
God will give us rulership in the coming kingdom, he will give us his Spirit, he will give us authority, he will give us the whole earth. (Matthew 5:3, 5-6, 11-12; Luke 11:13)
Deliverance by God
God only gives deliverance to those who need it—this is the secret of the cross. If we suffer, we need deliverance by God, and he will deliver us personally. (Luke 18:1-8; Mark 8:34-36; Mark 13:13)
Ministry of God
The true teachers of God have suffered and sacrificed and will deliver the people of God. The false teachers are in it for themselves, for the money, for what they can get out of it. (Matthew 10; I Timothy 6:3-5; II Timothy 3:1-12; Colossians 1:14)
Riches in God
The ones who sacrifice everything for Jesus will receive everything they need in this world, and in the next they will have great wealth. (Mark 10:20-30; Luke 12:22-34; Proverbs 28:27; 19:17)
Even as Jesus died for the joy he would receive, everyone who suffers or mourns in Jesus will laugh and have great joy, both now and in the next life. (Hebrews 12:2-11; Luke 6:21-23; Matthew 5:4)
In the end, Jesus’ way of defeating poverty and suffering is to suffer and be poor. If we do so, then God will grant us the benefits of the righteous who are poor. In this way, the world will change. Only through incarnational suffering and poverty will God cause the world to be a different place. But we must accept this on ourselves. We must accept the suffering of the unjust, give our prized possessions to the poor—even if they don’t deserve it, or are taking advantage of us. If we live out poverty in Jesus, we can show Jesus to the poor. If we live out suffering in Jesus, we can show the world what Jesus’ suffering is like. We must surrender our lives and take on the sacrifice of Jesus. In this way, justice will be done by the only One who can create justice.
“Take, Lord, all my liberty. Receive my memory, my understanding and my whole will. Whatever I have and possess, you have given to me; to you I will restore it wholly and to your will I surrender it for my direction. Give me the love of you only, with your grace am I rich enough, nor do I ask for anything beside. Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve thee as thou deservest: to give and not count the cost; to struggle and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek reward save that of knowing that I do thy will, O God." -Ignatius Loyola