When Jesus said, take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow me, he was not inviting us to a life of misery. He was calling us out of ourselves to the most extraordinary life possible: knowing God. There is no greater glory and no greater joy, but we must root our life in his truth, not ourselves or the pleasure of this world. If we aim at anything less than God himself, we have settled for lesser things and will end up with nothing.
There is a commonplace religion that invites its followers to do the exact opposite of what Jesus taught. It is a religion of self-help, and it likes to go to church. We see it in many popular manifestations of cultural “Christianity.” It has a thin veneer of truth but lacks substance. It gives lip service to following Jesus, but its heart is chasing the American dream.
In many cases, it is thankful that Jesus has provided forgiveness, but now that is out of the way, it can get on with more important things. It has rejected the word of God as its authority and has replaced it with self. Putting self on the throne appeals to many because they believe it is how they will find the fulfillment they seek, but instead of nourishing their souls, it only deadens them further.
It does not take much for the man or woman rooted in scripture to see through the façade. It thinks it can find what it wants by being the master of its destiny, so it replaces biblical truth with personal growth tactics. It is looking for happiness, so it replaces preaching with pop psychology. It is looking for glory, so it turns pastors into celebrities and worship leaders into headliners.
It loves to be the hero in every bible story. It is David defeating the giant. It is Joseph overcoming betrayal to see his brothers bow down to him. It is Moses leading the people out of slavery. It is Nehemiah using all of the correct business principles to build the wall and protect Jerusalem. It also loves to sing about itself. It revels in songs about overcoming, victory, and being more than conquerors. It shouts, “I can do all things through Christ,” and “No weapon formed against me shall prosper,” but it replaces the spiritual and eschatological reality of those truths and applies them to worldly success and other earthly longings.
The problem is its followers will never find the satisfaction they seek because it tells them to look for it in themselves and the things of this world. Instead of waiting on the Lord to bring the holy city, adorned like a bride, down to us, it attempts to build its own city with a tower up to heaven. It will never work.