Bear the cross of obedience

A fascinating story has survived from ancient times concerning an incident which involved Alexander the Great. The story goes that one day a soldier in the army of the conqueror was brought before Alexander to be punished because of his bad behaviour. Tradition relates that after the emperor had listened to the details of his conduct he turned to the man and asked him his name. “Alexander” the soldier replied. The emperor repeated the question and a second time the man replied “Alexander”. With a cry of rage the emperor roared “I asked what your name is?” When the man answered for a third time “Alexander” the emperor said “You say your name is Alexander. You must either change your conduct or change your name because no man may bear the name of Alexander, my name and do the things you do.”

There is a very powerful spiritual lesson in this story. Many individuals are quick to look upon themselves as being “Christian” and give themselves that title. Unfortunately, just like the badly behaved soldier they are not worthy of such a name or title because their conduct and attitude is anything but Christian.

And this is by no means a new phenomenon. In the days of the Early Church many people also thought themselves to be “Christian” but sadly as St Paul explained, they were no such thing and were but deceiving themselves. In Titus Ch1v16 he lamented “They claim to know God but in works they deny Him, being abominable and disobedient.” And in Philippians Ch3v17-19 he further wrote “Follow my example of behaviour…because many walk of whom I have told you often and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the Cross of Christ …who have set their hearts on earthly things.”

Jesus has given a very simple test to reveal who is worthy to bear the description of being a Christian. He said “He who has My commandments and obeys them; he is the one who loves Me.” (John Ch14v21). This test is expanded upon in 1st John Ch2vs3-5 where it states, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says ‘I know Him’ but does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.”

The story is told that on one occasion, Stanley saw the silhouette of the great missionary David Livingstone on his knees with his head slumped over his bed. Stanley rushed into the tent to see if the old man had collapsed. David simply looked up at him and said “I am reading through my Bible one last time to check that there is nothing I need to change before I go to meet the Lord.”

Like Livingstone, all those who claim to follow Christ need to regularly, earnestly, anxiously, carefully and humbly, study God’s Word so as to make certain they are really obeying His will and following Him properly. Is there anything they need to change? Is there something they are omitting to do? It is our duty to constantly check that we are worthy to bear the title of Christian.

There is a very old story told of a devout monk who prayed time and again to be given the marks of Jesus upon his hands and feet known as “stigmata”. The monk earnestly wanted to be worthy of being a Christian and felt that having these marks would show that he really loved the Lord. The story relates that he prayed for these marks for many months but to no avail. Suddenly one day, he sensed the Lord saying to him that there was a far more important mark on the Lord’s Body which the world had forgotten. It was the mark on His shoulder from carrying the Cross. In Matthew Ch16v24 Jesus stated “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” It instantly dawned on the monk that to be a real follower of Jesus one had to bear the cross of obedience and loyalty, no matter what the cost. This is what it means to be a Christian. Many people think they are Christians but they do not bear the cross of obedience and so make themselves unworthy of the title.

So what does all this mean in practice? In Philippians Ch2v12 it exhorts “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” If we really want to belong to Christ and take up the cross of obedience then we need to do a regular “spiritual workout”. Many people do physical workouts at the gym but a spiritual workout is quite different, being far more profound and infinitely more beneficial.  The following spiritual workout was written by Brownlow North, the grandson of a former Bishop of Winchester. Written over one hundred years ago it was originally entitled “Six Rules for Young Christians” but today it could equally be called “Six Rules for Faithful Christians.”

1.    “Never neglect daily private prayer; and when you pray remember that God is present and that He hears your prayers. (Hebrews Ch11v6).”

2.    “Never neglect daily private Bible reading; and when you read, remember that God is speaking to you, and that you are to believe and act upon what He says. (John Ch5v39). I believe all backsliding begins with the neglect of these two rules.”

3.    “Never let a day pass without trying to do something for Jesus. Every night reflect on what Jesus has done for you and then ask yourself ‘What can I do for Him?’”

4.    “If ever you are in doubt as to a thing being right or wrong, go to your room, and kneel down and ask God’s blessing upon it. (Colossians Ch3v17). If you cannot do this, it is wrong. (Romans Ch6v23).”

5.    “Never take your Christianity from other Christians or assume that just because they behave in a certain way, therefore you may. (2nd Corinthians Ch10v12).”

6.    “Never believe what you feel if it contradicts the plain Word of God. Ask yourself ‘Can what I feel be true, if God’s Word is true?’ If both cannot be true, then believe God.”
Many years ago a young lad was standing beside his father’s horse. A man came up to admire the animal and asked the lad, “Does your father’s horse run fast?” The lad replied “no he can’t, but he does stand fast.” To be worthy of the title “Christian” we must truly stand fast in the Lord and in His will, no matter what the cost. Regularly and obediently going through this spiritual workout will help us to stand fast in Him and ensure that we really are worthy to be called a Christian.