Brief definition of the society around us.
First is the term Postmodernism. We’re looking at a society that is engulfed in, at least philosophically, in what is being called Postmodernism. What that means is the commitment to the fact that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Modernism was basically defined as the search for truth. The scientific world, the pursuit of natural law, to try to understand the truth, the discerned truth, the discovered truth, the fine truth. The postmodern society says, well, we’ve been looking a long time; we haven’t found it, so it isn’t there. There’s no such thing as absolute truth. Everything is relative and everything that we can seek for in life is little more than an existential experience of one’s own determination and definition. So, Postmodernism says there’s no truth. So, we’re dealing with a society that is being sold the philosophy that there is no absolute truth.
Secondly, our today could be characterized by the term Moral Relativism. Moral Relativism. There is not only no truth, there is no authority. That is to say, there is no standard. There is no inviolable law. There is no one against whom we are being measured. There is no one who has dropped the plumb line and established the authority to which we must all answer. There is no standard. There is no authority. Every individual is his own personal authority and determiner of what is right or wrong for him.
Thirdly, we could characterize our society as caught up in dominating Personal Freedom. Personal freedom. And we can say that simply means no rules. Postmodernism says no truth. Moral Relativism says no authority. And Personal Freedom says no rules. And that is a very popular concept. It’s even the logo for a chain of restaurant who markets themselves as the No Rules restaurant. I don’t know what that has to do with food, but it may be a subtle modern approach to the personally freed society we live in to attract them to their restaurant. Personal Freedom says there are no rules; it doesn’t matter. Nothing really mattes. There are no guidelines except those which you yourself choose to adopt for your own life.
And the fourth characterizing term we could use to define our society is Humanistic Atheism, which means there is no judge. There is no judge. There is no truth, no authority, no rules and no judge. And that is the pervasive philosophy that is being sold to our society. We could technically address it as Post Modern Moral Relativism, Personal Freedom and Humanistic Atheism. Simply said, no truth, no authority, no rules and no judge. Bottom line: you have nothing to which you are accountable. There are no consequences for your behavior except those that are built into it, and you can choose to do whatever you want. You’re in charge. This is the “Generation Me” – “I like to be the center of attention” – “I am special” – “Look at me” narcissistic Society.
Now, on the other hand, we need to tell this society this: there is truth, there is an authority, there are rules, there is a judge, and every single one of you will answer to him. That’s reality. And the Christian message is directly in contradiction to the reigning philosophy of today. Now, as we approach this world in which we live that is caught in this postmodern morally relativistic pursuit of freedom with a concurrent Atheism that dismisses the idea of God and, therefore, the idea of accountability or judgment, how are we to address them? How are we to approach them? The church today, the contemporary church, is convinced that we need to tell them that Jesus will fix their life and fix their marriage and make them successful and make them feel better, and we need to kind of warm up to them and bump up their self esteem and elevate their comfort and make them like us and talk about nice things.
That’s not what the Scripture advocates. The Scripture advocates that we must convince men and women, in every culture, in every society, that there is truth, there is authority, there are rules and there is a judge. And they must understand, to put it this way simply, law before they’ll ever understand what? Grace. If ever there was a time for the proclamation of law and sin and the need for repentance and forgiveness, it is in this society. Sadly, it is at this very juncture in society when the church is largely abandoning that emphasis.
“Christian discipleship … strikes a death blow to the self-centered false gospels that are so popular in contemporary Christianity. It leaves no room for the gospel of getting, in which God is considered a type of utilitarian genie who jumps to provide a believer’s every whim. It closes the door to the gospel of health and wealth, which asserts that if a believer is not healthy and prosperous he has simply not exercised his divine rights or else does not have enough faith to claim his blessings. It undermines the gospel of self-esteem, self-love, and high self-image, which appeals to man’s natural narcissism and prostitutes the spirit of humble brokenness and repentance that marks the gospel of the cross.”
“To come to Jesus Christ is to receive and to keep on receiving forever. But Jesus, through His direct instruction during His earthly ministry and through His apostles in the rest of the New Testament, repeatedly makes clear that there must be a cross before the crown, suffering before glory, sacrifice before reward. The heart of Christian discipleship is giving before gaining, losing before winning.” —John MacArthur
Much of contemporary Christianity and church life is bent on self-centered, self-circumferenced consumption. There are many people who wish to identify themselves with Jesus Christ. They wish to call themselves Christians and they’re whole perspective toward it is that they are in it for what they can get out of it. Christianity has somehow been redefined as “get.” And Jesus has been turned into a utilitarian genie, who must jump at our ever whim when we rub the magic lamp.
There are some among the charismatics, for example, who say that Jesus is here to make you healthy, wealthy and happy. And they tell us Jesus wants you well. Or, Jesus wants you rich. And if you aren’t all those things, then you’re not demanding your rights or you don’t have enough faith to appropriate what’s yours because Christianity is designed for you to get everything you need and want.
And even the fundamentalists and evangelicals through the years have been guilty of propagating a Jesus who is offered to men as a panacea for everything. Wouldn’t you like to be happy? Wouldn’t you like to have abundant life? Wouldn’t you like to know peace? Wouldn’t you like all your problems solved? It will make you a better salesman and a better athlete, etc., etc. And we advertise the “get” without the “give,” the “gain” without the “pain.”
And then there are the self-esteem cultists and the self- image cultists who tell us that Jesus came to boost our self- esteem and our self-image. They have fallen victim to the Narcissism, the self-love of our contemporary society.
But I submit to you that to view coming to Jesus Christ as simply to get is to prostitute the divine intention. To come to Jesus Christ, yes, is to receive and keep on receiving forever and ever. But there’s pain before the gain and there is a cross before the crown and there is suffering before the glory. And there is sacrifice before the reward. And I believe that’s what our Lord is teaching us in this critical passage.
We are called to win by losing. That’s the heart of discipleship. We are called to give up before we gain.
Now, how do you come to Christ? How is a person…what is a person’s attitude to be? In the saving transaction as a person comes to Christ, with what attitude must they come? Here it is, three things: self-denial, cross bearing and loyal obedience. Matthew 16 Verse 24, look at the first, self-denial, “Let him deny himself…let him deny himself.”
Now that’s where it all starts. Now the word “deny” means to disown, let him disown himself. It could be translated, “Let him refuse any association or companionship with himself.” Now you say, “That’s hard, it’s hard to refuse companionship with me because I’m always around when I’m around.” And I understand that. Now He’s not just talking about your self-conscious self. What He’s talking about is self as equal to the flesh.
In other words, you have to come to the point where you deny that you have the capacity to save yourself, or you as on your own have the capacity to be what God wants you to be. Or, frankly, you have in yourself the ability to be anything good at all. You’ve got to deny that. In order to come to Jesus Christ, you must affirm that there is in your flesh, Romans 7:18, dwelling no good thing. You can’t please God in the flesh. You can’t redeem yourself in the flesh. You can’t be anything to speak of before God in the flesh. It is a selfless perspective that says I am nothing, I can contribute nothing to my worth. I can continue nothing to my redemption. And the self-esteem cult that goes around saying we’ve got to build up people’s self- esteem is taking them the opposite way that the message of the Bible does because the more you love yourself, the less likely you are to need a Savior.
As Peter, who denied Jesus Christ, said, “I know not the man,” so must you say regarding yourself. I disown myself completely. That’s the first essential in the Christian life. That’s the way you come to Christ and that’s the way we live. We go on denying our humanness, denying the expression of the flesh. You see, the heart must see itself in sin. The heart must see itself in damnation. The heart must see itself judged and condemned to hell and knowing that in itself it can do nothing to change that. In desperation, it reaches out and seeks a rescuer outside itself. And that rescuer is Jesus Christ. Self is cast away and Christ enters. “And so I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but…what?…Christ lives in me.” It is subjecting oneself to the resources, subjecting oneself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in an utter rejection of self- sufficiency.