Take Up Our Crosses, Yes,
But Not to Be Born Again
By Bob Wilkin
In the multi-author book edited by Marshall Shelley, Growing Your Church Through Training and Motivation, Wayne Jacobsen makes a fascinating comment that directly challenges the Free Grace position:
The phone shatters the Monday morning quiet. "Pastor, I'm sorry to bother you on your day off, but I won't be teaching my children's class anymore. I know it's only been a month, but it just hasn't been as much fun as I thought. It's a lot of work, and I'm sure God has something better for me."
Once again, ministry succumbs to cost.
How often has this happened not only in service but in discipleship as well? I actually had a young lady try to convince me there was no contradiction between her claim to be a Christian and her promiscuous lifestyle. "With all the sexual temptations of our day, God certainly can't expect a single person to be celibate."
Who is teaching this crossless gospel—full of fun and glitter but devoid of personal cost? Not the one who said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23).
Jacobsen then adds:
Pointed words, no doubt, if time has not worn them into mere poetic abstraction. God has given us great and glorious promises, but we possess them only as we follow him in the face of self-denial, not as we frolic in self-satisfaction.
That's the dilemma for pastors—we who must motivate human beings. How do we get people to embrace what costs so much, especially in an age where personal enjoyment is king?1
It is a bit shocking to hear our view called "this crossless gospel—full of fun and glitter but devoid of personal cost." While it is true that we teach what the Lord Jesus taught us that all who believe in Him have everlasting life as an absolutely free gift, we do teach that believers should deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Christ. We call people to count the cost of discipleship, though not, of course, of everlasting life, since that is free.
Warren Wiersbe said something similar, but it doesn't appear that he is calling into question the eternal destiny of believers who are not denying themselves and taking up their crosses:
A comfortable church does not want a cross that stabs and kills, and yet that is exactly what the cross does to those who understand and apply its message. We want Christ to die for us, but we do not want to die with Christ. We linger in Romans 5 and neglect Romans 6 and 7. We rejoice at the message of substitution, but we rebel at the truth of identification.
A crossless Gospel is a powerless Gospel (Rom. 1:16); and a crossless Christian is a powerless Christian. Paul gloried in the cross (Gal. 6:14), while believers today rejoice because they have escaped the cross! ("The Preaching of the Cross").2
The famed A. W. Tozer many decades ago said:
In the Book of Acts faith was for each believer a beginning, not an end; it was a journey, not a bed in which to lie while waiting for the day of our Lord's triumph. Believing was not a once-done act; it was more than an act, it was an attitude of heart and mind which inspired and enabled the believer to take up his cross and follow the Lamb whithersoever He went (Born After Midnight, 16).
Similarly he said, "We must do something about the cross, and one of two things only we can do—flee it or die upon it" (The Root of the Righteous, 63).
Believing was not a once-done act? That directly contradicts what the Lord said to the woman at the well in John 4:10-14. He said that the one who believes in Him will never thirst (John 6:35). If "believing is an attitude of heart and mind which inspires and enables the believer to take up his cross and follow Christ," then believing is not persuasion, but commitment that inevitably results in a life of selfless obedience.
We must die on the cross in order to be born again? That sure seems to be what Tozer was saying. But it was Jesus dying on the cross, not us, that took away our sins and made it possible for us to have everlasting life. And we get that life not by dying on the cross, but simply by believing in the Lord Jesus.
Tozer is much beloved for his calls to serve Christ wholeheartedly. While we can rejoice in such calls, we cannot rejoice when these calls are mixed with the invitation to believe in Jesus for everlasting life.
Contrary to what some have written, the Free Grace position does not promote loose living. We promote godly living, self-denial, and taking up our crosses. But we do not compromise the message of everlasting life in order to call believers to discipleship. Everlasting life is a free gift received by faith alone, apart from commitment or works. Discipleship is costly and requires ongoing commitment and surrender and perseverance. While the free gift of everlasting life makes it possible to abuse grace and still get into the Kingdom, it is not an invitation to do so.
The believer who fails to take up his own cross and to follow Christ is hurting himself both now and in the life to come (though he is eternally secure, he will miss out on much in the coming Kingdom if he fails to follow Christ). He is hurting his spouse and kids and coworkers and neighbors. The godly person blesses himself and those around him. The ungodly person is a curse to himself and those closest to him.
Take up our crosses? Absolutely! But not so that we can gain everlasting life. That
cannot be bought. If we think that we are gaining everlasting life by self-denial and cross
bearing, then we aren't even believing the promise of life that Jesus gave us. May we have zeal
for God that is according to knowledge (Rom 10:2).
1Marshall Shelley, vol. 4, Growing Your Church Through Training and Motivation: 30 Strategies to Transform Your Ministry, Library of Leadership Development (Minneapolis, MN.: Bethany House, 1997), 205-06.