Joe is an average guy. He works hard, has a family that he loves, and likes football. He is not a Christian, but he is a good person. He's never killed anyone or stolen anything, and he pays his taxes. He doesn't think about what happens when he dies, but he assumes there must be some sort of god out there who will look after him when he does, because he's had a good life. Or maybe there's nothing? Either way, he tries to find happiness - whether through family holidays or gadgets or a pint down the pub. He's all right, basically.
But one day he goes to church with Bob, a friend of his, only because he's been asking him to go for a while and he's run out of excuses. Something happens that Joe wasn't expecting - he has an encounter with the Holy Spirit and suddenly realises that he needs God in his life.
Joe becomes born again and chooses to live his life for God from now on. It's no longer Joe as boss, it's Jesus. His life doesn't look that different - he still goes to work, loves his family and watches football, but something has changed radically. He has surrendered his life to God.
So what's the big deal? Well, Joe is now a new person. His old life was leading one way only - death. Why? Because he was a sinner. He may have thought of himself as a good person, but in reality, he was living with himself as god, and this meant that he was rebelling against God his creator's plan. He was heading for hell. Why? Because he had chosen to reject God. And God can't force anyone to accept him, therefore wouldn't force anyone to live with him forever in Heaven when they die. Hell is such a terrible place because God and his goodness aren't there.
But when Joe was born again, he was washed free of sin. He said sorry to God for his old sinful ways and put his faith in Jesus, who died on a cross to set him free of sin and death. He didn't have to do anything scary to receive the eternal life that God intended for him. He just had to apologise, believe that Jesus died for him, and choose to put God first in his life.
Now that Joe is saved, will his life be perfect and problem-free? Nope. Jesus never promised that. In fact, he said that you have to die to your old ways, and choose to follow God every day.
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.
Losing your old selfish life involves pain, sacrifice and submission. It's not a crutch, or for the weak. It can be really hard, and it's a constant battle between your old sinful nature ('I will do whatever I like.') and your new Spirit-filled self ('I will do whatever God wants.')
That's why Jesus calls it a cross. He obeyed his Father and died on the cross, and we have to die to our old ways if we want a loving relationship with our Father God, both in this life and the next.
Now that Joe is a Christian, God may ask him to give some money to his local church; or move to a different country; or befriend someone who he wouldn't usually touch with a bargepole. He might put Joe in a difficult situation to see if he really trusts him. Joe might find this hard, but he would hopefully trust God, that his plan for Joe's life is so much better and bigger than he would ever have expected.
When you are born again, you give your life to God. That means giving up your old life where you were god and did whatever you wanted to, and putting God in control of your life and doing what he wants for you. This is no easy task. We are born selfish- in our society this includes wanting to be as wealthy as possible; only having friends that are like us and won't be a burden; and getting our own way.
Yet God wants something radically different for us. He wants us to submit our lives to him- to surrender our selfish ambitions. Why? Well, because he knows that this is best for us, that we are made to worship him, and will ultimately be happiest following him.
If we don't get everything in life that we feel we deserve, we feel sorry for ourselves. If you've ever said 'why me?' when something unplanned happened, you know what I mean. I have said 'why me?' about lots of things. We are taught that we are entitled to health, wealth, and easy life, but this is a lie. Every day that we live is a gift from God, and we certainly didn't do anything to deserve it.
The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.
Submission to God is so counter-cultural that you are probably offended by it. I would be if I didn't understand that this is the best choice that I can make, because it's what I was made for. Anything else would be second-best, and would lead to death.
He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’
Even Jesus, the son of God, submitted his life to God's plan. He begged God to take away the responsibility of dying on a cross from him. Yet still he obeyed and trusted God . He is in a human body, and felt pain and fear just like we do. Of course he could have refused to die, and not followed God's will, but he loved us so much that he put himself through the torture. Have you ever said that you would do anything for your kids, even die for them? That's exactly what Jesus did for us. He died in the most excruciating way that humans have devised, mocked as a criminal and a liar.
If submitting to God's will is good enough for Jesus, then it's good enough for me. That doesn't mean that it's easy, but it will be so worth it in the end.