by C. Parker Thomas

“And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them. If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that beheld it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:25-33.

It is significant that our Lord Jesus Christ never deceived would-be followers about the price they would have to pay if they followed him. They were plainly warned of the cross they must bear if they came after him. Never once did he suggest they could receive him as Savior and not Lord.

What stronger language could be used in saying, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life, he cannot be my disciple”? Luke 14:26. This simply means that Christ must be first in our life.

We have a so-called gospel today that does not require men to count the cost before they make a decision for Christ. By philosophy and vain deceit, the modern preacher and purveyor of this so-called gospel is presenting, at best, half truths that have caught multitudes in their nets who can never inherit the kingdom.

There are two sides to the cross that we must show men if we are to be faithful to their souls. One is the gory side and the other is the glory side. The gory side is crucifixion and death. The glory side is resurrection and life. The two go together — you cannot have one without the other. It is impossible to bring men into resurrection life (Christ) apart from death to self.

To be crucified with Christ means to so completely identify yourself with him until the world hates you as it did him. You bear his shame and reproach in becoming a literal outcast to society and the world. It means turning your back on those things the natural, unregenerate man holds dear. It is judgment and condemnation of self as you renounce all rights and claims in unconditional surrender of your life to Jesus Christ. All of your ambitions, hopes, aims and interests which constitute your conscious being are laid upon the altar of sacrifice. You surrender your life and die as surely as Jesus Christ surrendered his life in going to the despised and cruel Roman cross. This is what it means to be crucified with him. This is also what must happen to every soul that experiences resurrection life. Only the dead can experience resurrection.

This is the part of the cross that the natural man hates. The fallen Adamic man is outside of God, outside of Christ and banished from the garden containing the tree of life (Christ). The only life he has is soulish and corrupt. Adam did not have resurrection life. He was a living soul only. He had never partaken of the tree of life in the garden. Gen. 2:7 says, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

The maintenance of this soul life was conditional upon perfect obedience. The penalty for disobedience was death. After partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, man’s soul life became corrupt and he died. And lest he eat of the tree of life and live forever in his sinful, corrupt condition, man was driven from the garden and Cherubims with flaming sword were assigned the job of keeping the way of the tree of life. From that day until Calvary all of Adam’s race has faced this flaming sword and been turned away from the garden and the tree of life.

Under the influence of his new master (Satan) Adam fled the awesome sight of this flaming sword and became a vagabond in the earth. The Adam man, by nature, still flees from this flaming sword. In his sin-blinded condition, he is only concerned about his soulish life and can’t see the life of God beyond this flaming sword.

The flaming sword symbolizes the perfect holiness of God as expressed in his law. It is the sword of the Spirit that first slays all members of Adam’s race before they are allowed to partake of the tree of life (Christ).

The flaming sword is the Word wielded by the Holy Ghost that brings us to repentance. By this sword, we are stripped of every vestige of self-righteousness, hope and strength. The citadel of rebellion is invaded by this flaming sword and that old serpent, the dragon, is slain in our life. Our stubborn wills are crushed and broken, preparing the way for the new master (Christ) to ascend the throne of our heart.

This and this only is the way to the tree of life. This is exactly what John the Baptist was proclaiming when he cried, “— Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Matt. 3:3. Only when the valleys are exalted, every mountain made low, crooked ways are made straight and rough places plain will the glory of the Lord be revealed. Isaiah 40:3-5.

Through the cross, our Lord was the first to suffer the vengeance of the flaming sword. With no sins of his own, he was slain in our place with our guilt and sin placed upon him. As a result of his obedience and suffering, he has been exalted above every name that is named and is absolute Lord over this fallen creation. All power in heaven and earth is given unto him. He holds the keys of death, hell and grave. He is the way, the truth and the life and no man cometh unto the Father but by him. He is the resurrection and the life. He is not only the flaming sword which guards the way, but he is also the tree of life. His holy nature, character and lordship as expressed in the Word is the flaming sword that the sinner must bow to before he can enter into life. This, of course, is the gory side of the cross that means death to the Adam man.

Then and then only does man become a quickened or life giving spirit. This is what I Cor. 15:45-47 means. “And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven.”

Every human being that is vitally joined to Christ has traversed this gory side of the cross. The glory of the resurrection follows the agony of crucifixion. All saved people are crucified, all saved people are dead and all saved people have received resurrection life. They are no longer in Adam, but in Christ. They have been raised to die no more. Though their bodies are dead because of sin, their souls have been cleansed by the blood and quickened by the Spirit of the living God. The body is the tabernacle or house of the soul. Though the body awaits its literal death and resurrection, the soul has already experienced death and resurrection. Though our souls have been made righteous through the life of Christ, we are still burdened with this body of sin and death that awaits its change.

“For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” II Cor. 5:1-8.

What we call death is simply the dissolving of these bodies as they go back to the dust from which they were made in the beginning. The soul which has been quickened by resurrection life does not, nor can, die anymore. It has partaken of the tree of life and will live forever. The soul joined to Christ can no more die than Christ can die. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” Col. 3:1-4.

Truly it means something to be in Christ. We are legally and judicially dead, having gone to the cross in him. In Christ we have already paid the penalty for our sins. We are fully justified from all things. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Gal. 2:20. We are not only dead but our life is hid with Christ in God. Col. 3:3.

To be in Christ means we have been raised from the dead and now have Christ living in us. We have partaken of the tree of life to die no more. Our life is Christ’s life. It is also his faith by which we live and not ours. The life which we now live in the flesh we live by the faith of the Son of God. Nor our faith, but his. Nor our life, but his. Nor our holiness, but his. Not our steadfastness, but his. If he makes it to glory, we will.

In fact, he that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit. By this union with our risen and glorified head, we are seated with him in heavenly places. This is a tremendous truth if we can receive it. “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” Eph. 2:4-7.

We have been delivered from the darkness and translated into the kingdom of his dear Son. Col. 1:13.

Death is experienced by men when their wills are challenged at their strongest points and crossed out by the will of God. The supreme penalty is paid when the will of man is crushed in unconditional surrender and the will of God takes over. This usually takes place when our wills are challenged and exposed by the Word. Death means surrender to the Word, not just the Word that promises life, peace and glory, but the Word that slays us in the destruction of our stubborn, rebellious wills. This is one battle we must lose in death. Our wills have to be conquered and put to death in this battle of all ages.

This truth is beautifully illustrated in the life of Christ as he faced the cross in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is where the will of Jesus of Nazareth, the son of man, died in surrendering his will to the will of the Father. Note the account in Matt. 26:36-39. “Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”

Notice carefully that Jesus said, “— my soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: —.” Though the agonizing physical death of crucifixion awaited him at Calvary, Gethsemane is where the soul (the will) of Jesus died. From that point on, there was no turning back. Physical death on the cross and resurrection were the subsequent inevitable results of the Garden surrender. This is where the battle was fought and the human will of our Lord Jesus Christ conquered by the Father.

Though he had come into the world for this purpose and knew beforehand that he must lay down his life, Gethsemane is the place where he literally met the challenge and surrendered his will to the Father. The surrender of his will meant he must drink the bitter dregs of the wrath of God as a sin offering on the cruel cross of Calvary. In all other things, our Lord had already suffered and surrendered. The surrender of his body to die the agonizing death of the cross was the supreme challenge of his will. This was his last and most prized earthly possession.

In a similar manner, every soul that makes peace with God must have his will challenged and conquered at its strongest point. When the strongholds of our wills are invaded and conquered by the mighty Christ, the war is over except for the usual mopping up operation that follows. This is the meaning of I John 4:4 and 5:4-5 which says, “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?”

The Holy Ghost alone knows where the stronghold of Satan is in our life. This is the point that must be attacked and conquered by Christ through the Word. This stronghold is always our dearest and most prized possession. Our life and affections are entwined about it. Adam will hold on and defend it to the death. It represents our life. In fact, it is our soul life, the life that was corrupted in Adam.

Out of Christ, the center of our affections is simply our misdirected soul life that is occupied with things other than God. There must be a change of direction from earthly, sensual and selfish interests to Christ and the kingdom of God. This, of course, means a surrender of these interests. These selfish interests vary from person to person.

With one, it might be a profession that his life is entwined about. With another, it might be some hobby or entertainment. With another, it might be more seemingly honorable and noble things such as a home and children. Some people live only for their children and their life revolves around them. Strange as it may seem, some people’s religion (not always Christ) is their main interest in life. With others, it’s a life of sin and pleasure without moral principle or restraint. Last, but not least, multitudes are ruled over by the almighty dollar.

Jesus said in Matt. 6:21 and 24, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

Whatever our heart is centered upon is our God. Whatever is in our heart will also be our chief conversation and interest in life, “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” Matt. 12:34.

When the Lord ministered to people, he went to the heart of their trouble. He didn’t bother with trivial insignificant things. He knew where their rebellion was centered and made that the issue.

The case of the rich young ruler is an example of how moral and religious one can be and still not have life because Christ is not Lord. Matt. 19:16-30, Mark 10:17-22 and Luke 18:18-30. Truly this was a commendable man who had religiously observed the ten commandments from his youth. He was even humble enough to come running and kneel before Christ in spite of his wealth, religious and social standing among men. Morally and religiously he would put the average church member of today to shame. In fact, the church world today would receive such a person with open arms and consider it a great honor that such a fine Christian had chosen to join them. They would immediately make him an elder, deacon, steward, teacher or superintendent of the Sunday School.

But the sad truth is, they would only make him two-fold more the child of hell than themselves. Matt. 23:15. Only and until the Lordship of Christ is established over a human being can he hope to enter into life. The Lord Jesus proved quickly that this young man had another master that he was not willing to forsake. Satan’s lordship over him, through material possessions, was his downfall.

Christ knew this and told him it was the one thing he must give up if he inherited eternal life. The young man’s soul life was entwined about his earthly riches. Even though the Lord promised him heavenly riches in exchange for his earthly wealth, he would not give it up. It was a price he was not willing to pay. It meant death to his earthly plans, hopes and ambitions. This represented his life and he was not willing to surrender it.

With another person, the issue might be an altogether different thing that would have to be challenged and dealt with. “For where your treasure is (thing we love most), there will your heart be also.” Matt. 6:21.

With the woman of Samaria, John 4, the issue was not one of riches but sensuality — especially sex. Though she had never been legally married, she was now living with the sixth man. In her quest for gratification of the flesh, she went from man to man seeking satisfaction without a legal head (authority of husband) over her life. The only way she could receive life was to give up this life of sin. This was the controlling sin principle in her life. This thing had to be challenged and its power broken before Christ would reveal himself to her.

With another the issue might be the tie of nature effected through human relationships such as father, mother, wife, sister and brother. No doubt, this is what Jesus meant when he said, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26.

This is what it means to forsake all and follow Christ. This is what it means to lose our life if we would save it. This is what it means to sell all we possess and buy that field with the hidden treasure. This is what it means to take up our cross and follow him. This is what it means to be crucified with him. This is what it means to be dead and have our life hid with Christ in God.

The approach to the tree of life is still guarded by the flaming sword, the Word of God. We cannot bypass the Word. What is written cannot be changed but must stand for eternity. This is our only approach to the tree of life (Christ). Bypass the Word and we bypass Christ who is the Word.

These plain and simple teachings that establish his Lordship over every “would be” seeker must be zealously proclaimed if men are to enter into life.

Jesus said, “Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock; and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.” Luke 6:47-49.

To try to enter into life apart from obedience to the Word is to ignore him who is the door by which men must enter. “Verily, verily I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.” John 10:1.

No wonder the Lord said, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Matt. 7:13-14.

May God help us to recognize the spirit of the false prophet that tells men they can get to the tree of life without coming through the flaming sword. It is most significant that the Lord warned us about the false prophet after talking about the two ways. Matt. 7:15.

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