Friday, December 28, 2018

Am I a Solider of the Cross?

The Christian religion ought never to be accused of being boring. And yet, some well-meaning Christians, in an effort to give comfort to those who struggle and doubt, make the Christian religion easy and passive: God loves you and saves you, the end. Now, I strongly affirm that we are saved by God's grace alone and that we are justified in God's sight through faith alone in Christ alone. And Jesus is a gracious shepherd, saving and bearing up through who struggle. Jesus did say, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28). Yet, Jesus also warned His followers to count the cost, saying "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 16:24–25).

When you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, you are enlisting on one side of a conflict that has raged for millennia. You are entering into a covenant with God, a pledge of mutual loyalty. As one hymn put it, "Jesus paid it all / All to Him I owe." Jesus' gracious salvation, covering all our sins, does not end in passivity. Rather, it establishes a relationship that demands our all. Jesus had many enemies on earth, and He continues to have many enemies today. While evil exists in this creation, unrelenting war will be waged, and Jesus' followers will not be spared. The fallen world, our own sinful nature, and the evil one himself, conspire against us. And yet, they are on the defensive. Jesus is advancing against them, and He calls His followers to advance with Him into the fray, fighting with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17). The Christian religion is not one where we sit back and soak it all in. It is an active thing, a passionate thing, a way of life that tests our loyalty and love. We may fall in battle, but by God's grace we get up to carry on the fight. The only end is death and glory.

"Am I A Solider of the Cross," a hymn by Isaac Watts, is a fitting rebuke to those who preach and practice an easy and passive Christianity. Below is a video of it being sung by my friend Andy, using the folk tune used for it in The Sacred Harp. The hymn tune "Marlow" (1718) and Doris Johnson's version using an Irish folk tune are also good settings of this hymn. The images in the video are of monuments to the Scottish Covenanters who were martyred in the 17th century, a sample of the many Christians who have faced opposition and even literal death due to their loyalty to Christ. This battle has been carried on by generations of Christians past - and like them, our loyalty will be tested in many ways. May we remain steadfast, finding grace and help from our King and Defender.

"Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. 
Fight the good fight of the faith." 
1 Timothy 6:11–12

Am I a Solider of the Cross 
Isaac Watts, 1724

Am I a soldier of the cross,
a foll'wer of the Lamb?
And shall I fear to own His cause
or blush to speak His Name?

Must I be carried to the skies
on flow'ry beds of ease,
while others fought to win the prize
and sailed through bloody seas?

Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace
to help me on to God?

Sure I must fight, if I would reign;
increase my courage, Lord;
I'll bear the toil, endure the pain,
supported by Thy Word.

Thy saints in all this glorious war
shall conquer, though they die;
they see the triumph from afar
by faith's discerning eye.

When that illustrious day shall rise,
and all Thine armies shine
in robes of vict'ry through the skies,
the glory shall be Thine.

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