After revealing that He will build His church in Matt. 16, the Lord Jesus continued by exposing the gates of Hades and by giving us the keys to lock these gates: to deny the self, to take up and bear the cross, and to lose the soul life (Matt. 16:24).
In digging deeper into God’s word and applying it to my experience, I was very much enlightened to realize how big, monstrous, and terrible the self is; the self is the soul declaring independence from God, and the self is the enemy of the Body.
But what exactly is the self, where can we see it in the Bible, and how can we deal with it? The self is expressed through ambition for position, pride of one’s achievements, and self-exaltation. The self likes to boast of what he achieved, is proud, and desires to be exalted and appreciated.
The self is expressed in self-righteousness, self-justification, while at the same time exposing, criticizing, and condemning others. The self thinks he’s always right, he always justifies himself and what he does, and toward others the self has a critical and condemning attitude.
With the self there’s introspection and self-despising; if one’s self is not proud and self-righteous, then he tends to introspect and self-analyze, with the result of self-despising. When we are in the self, we are offended by the saints, our family members, our workmates, the church, and the leading ones; when we live in the self, it is easy to get offended.
With the self there’s disappointment and discouragement; when we exercise our spirit we do not lose heart but we are encouraged, but in the self we are discouraged and disappointed. When we live in the self, we love ourselves, we want to preserve ourselves, we seek our own interest, and we have much pity on ourselves.
When we are in the self, we have murmurings and reasonings. When we live in the self in the church life, we have a natural affection (a preferential friendship) based on our natural taste and preference. When we live in the self, we have a lot to say about everything – we are opinionated, and this leads to dissenting.
When we are in the self, we love being by ourselves – we are individualistic, and if we do something, we would rather do it alone and not together with others – we are independent. May the Lord shine on us, expose the expressions of the self in us, and strengthen us to deny the self by exercising our spirit!
When we deny the self, we do not get offended at anyone. When we exercise our spirit to lock the gate of Hades by denying the self, the church will be built up.
Learning to Exercise the Key of Taking up and Bearing the Cross, the Will of God
The second key for us to lock the gates of Hades and release the building up of the church is taking up the cross (Matt. 16:24). Many believers think that the cross equals suffering, so whenever they suffer they bitterly admit that they are “bearing the cross”.
The intention of the cross is not to make us suffer but to terminate us. In order for us to follow the Lord, we need to deny ourselves and take up the cross. Denying the self is the negative side, and taking up the cross is the positive side.
Crucifixion was a method used by the Roman government to execute criminals; they forced the criminals on the cross and crucified them.
However, the Lord’s crucifixion is different: He wasn’t forced to be crucified but He chose to be crucified, because going to the cross was God’s will. He prayed to the Father that, if possible, this cup would pass away from Him – but then He added, Yet not as I will, but as You will (Matt. 26:39), and, Your will be done (v. 42).
God’s will for the Lord Jesus was for Him to go to the cross; the Lord was willing to take up the cross, go to the cross, and remain on the cross until God’s will had been fulfilled. This is the principle of the cross.
First of all, we are not “forced to bear the cross”; rather, we should willingly take up the cross. The Lord Jesus was not forced to go to the cross like a criminal; He was willing to go because the cross was God’s will.
The Lord Jesus was willing to be crucified so that, through His death, His life might be released to produce and build up the church (see John 12:24). When He was crucified, there were two other criminals crucified with Him, who were forced to die; however, the Lord went to the cross willingly.
He laid down His life for us willingly. Every genuine cross bearer is a happy cross bearer. If we grit our teeth and tell everyone how much we suffer when we bear the cross, we don’t bear the cross in reality but we crucify ourselves like a criminal, being disciplined.
Every genuine experience of the cross involves a willingness. The cross was a great suffering to the Lord, but He didn’t care for the suffering but for the fulfillment of God’s purpose (see Heb. 12:2; Col. 1:24). He saw the joy set before Him, and for this He endured the shame and bore the cross.
Bearing the cross is not a suffering: it is a termination, and we need to be willing, even joyful, to take up the cross and follow the Lord. May our mind be renewed in the matter of taking the cross and bearing the cross, and may we learn to exercise the key of taking up and bearing the cross, the will of God!
Lord Jesus, we want to take up our cross and follow You not by gritting our teeth and complaining but by being willing and even joyful. Oh Lord, You were willing to be crucified, thus taking the will of God, so that Your life might be released and the church may be produced. Make us also willing to take up our cross, the will of God, so that the church may be built up. Lord, we want to follow You and close the gates of Hades by exercising the key of taking up our cross!
Being Willing to Take up and Bear the Cross, Realizing that it is the Will of God
What is the cross? The cross is the will of God; for us to take up the cross is for us to take the will of God. Our husband, our wife, our children, the saints in the church, and the church are all the will of God for us; to bear the cross is to bear the church, all the saints, and our family members and those whom the Lord put around us.
The church is God’s will, and every brother and sister in the church is God’s will; we need to bear all the saints so that we would have the genuine oneness (see John 17:21-23; Eph. 4:3, 13; 1 Cor. 1:10; Phil. 2:2). All those around us, our spouse, our children, the saints, our workmates, everyone is part of God’s will; they may be bothersome and irritating at times, but they are God’s will.
The church is the will of God for us, and in the church there is no room for our preference and choice. We need to willingly take up our cross and bear it, realizing that the cross is the will of God, so that oneness may be preserved and maintained.
We need to not only take up our cross but also carry our cross, bear the cross; we need to remain on the cross, keeping our old man under the termination of the cross day by day (see Luke 14:27; Rom. 6:6; Gal. 2:20; Phil. 3:10; 1 Cor. 15:31).
We don’t just take up the cross once in a while, when needed, but we need to daily bear the cross, living in the death of Christ, in the reality of Christ’s termination. The death of Christ should be a continual reality to us, not an activity we pick up when we encounter certain situations.
We need to be willing to pick up the cross and bear the cross, being conformed to the mold of Christ’s death by the power of His resurrection. We have received the divine life through the Lord’s crucifixion, and now for us to be built up in this life, we need to willingly and happily take up the cross.
We shouldn’t care for our taste, our feeling, or our consciousness, but rather care only for God’s will, which is that we would have the genuine oneness.
This is a testimony for God in front of all men and in the whole universe: we do not “suffer like criminals on the cross” but we are happy cross-bearers, for we are willingly taking up the cross (the will of God) and we bear it by being conformed to the death of Christ and live by the power of His resurrection (Col. 3:10).
May we be those who have such a testimony that we are willing to take up the cross so that we may keep the oneness and build up the Body of Christ.
In ourselves we can’t bear the cross but rather complain and suffer, but when we turn to our spirit, we experience the power of Christ’s resurrection and can be conformed to the mold of His death.
Lord Jesus, cause us to realize that the cross is the will of God. We want to be those who take up our cross and carry our cross, following You. Keep us turning to our spirit to enjoy and experience the power of Your resurrection and be conformed to Your death in our daily living. Save us from escaping or evading the cross. Save us from trying to bear the cross in ourselves. Keep us turning to You, Lord, and make us willing to take Your will and bear the cross in our daily life. Oh Lord, we love You and we love the will of God!
References and Hymns on this Topic
- Inspiration: the Word of God, my enjoyment in the ministry, the message by brother James L. for this week, and portions from, Collected Works of Witness Lee, 1978, vol. 1, “The Exercise of the Kingdom for the Building of the Church,” ch. 4, as quoted in the Holy Word for Morning Revival on, The Direction of the Lord’s Move (2016 Thanksgiving Conference), msg. 6 (week 6), To Bring In the Kingdom of God (2) – The Exercise of the Kingdom for the Building Up of the Church.
- Hymns on this topic:
# May I be willing, Lord, to bear / Daily my cross for Thee; / Even Thy cup of grief to share, / Thou hast borne all for me. (Hymns #160)
# The cross’s final goal, that God’s will be fulfilled; / His will’s arch enemy is but the self of man. / If self be done away and all the soul-life killed, / God’s will shall then prevail and prospered be His plan. (Hymns #622)
# ’Tis not hard to die with Christ / When His risen life we know; / ’Tis not hard to share His suff’rings / When our hearts with joy o’erflow. / In His resurrection power / He has come to dwell in me, / And my heart is gladly going / All the way to Calvary. (Hymns #481 by A. B. Simpson)