Then Jesus said to the disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me.“ – Vs 24 (NLT)
Deny yourself. Take up your cross. THEN follow Jesus. Being a Christ-follower is about more than just expressing belief in Him. It is a about willingly dying to my own, selfish, self-focused way of living. It is about giving up my way for His. In the Greek the phrase, “must deny himself” is an imperative. It means “to affirm that one has no acquaintance or connection with someone.” In other words, you are willing to say that you are no longer acquainted with your old self. It can also mean “to forget one’s self, lose sight of one’s self and one’s own interests.” That is what Jesus is calling us to. But for many of us, our decision to follow Christ was not accompanied by a determination to deny self. We gladly took our interests and our love-affair with self right along with us. And so we still spend countless hours trying to keep self pleased, while at the same time we’re trying to follow Christ. But Jesus said we had to deny ourselves. We had to put away selfish ambition. We have to give up our self-seeking agenda for His. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus blasted Peter for just a few seconds before He made this statement? Jesus had been telling the disciples that “He would suffer at the hands of the leaders and the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, and he would be raised on the third day” (Vs 21 – NLT). And Peter’s response was to pull Jesus aside and rebuke Him. His exact words were, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You” (Vs 22 – NASB). At first glance this just sounds like Peter not wanting Jesus to suffer and die. But Jesus reveals the truth behind Peter’s statement. Peter isn’t really concerned about Jesus. His motivation is purely selfish and self-centered. He had an agenda and Jesus was a critical part of that agenda being fulfilled. He was supposed to be the Messiah. He was supposed to right the wrongs and injustices that the Jews had suffered for generations. Jesus was supposed to set up His kingdom here on earth and overthrow the Romans. And Peter wanted a place of importance in that kingdom. When Jesus revealed God’s plan, it didn’t match Peter’s. So Peter read Jesus the riot act. He was not thinking about God’s eternal plan of redemption for the entire world. He was thinking about Peter’s plan for power, prominence, and position. Sure, he wanted to see the Jewish people restored, but he could have cared less about any Gentiles being a part of that restoration. His vision was short-sighted and self-focused. Jesus made it clear when He said to Peter, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, and not from God’s” (Vs 24 – NLT). Then Jesus made His now-famous statement that those who want to be His followers, must first deny themselves, their agendas, and their temporal, man-centered viewpoints.
But that’s not all. Denying self must be accompanied by a willingness to pick up our own cross. To take up the very instrument that would lead to our own death. To bear the cross means to accept the rejection of the world for turning to Jesus and following Him. Discipleship involves a death that is like a crucifixion. I crucify my old self and my old way of life on the cross daily. Paul puts it this way in Galatians 6:14: “For my part, I am going to boast about nothing but the Cross of our Master, Jesus Christ. Because of that Cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate” (The Message). In Galatians 5:24, Paul says this: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there” (NLT). In Romans 6:6, Paul states: “Our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin” (NLT).
In his Gospel account, Luke records Jesus call to radical discipleship this way: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23 – NASB). He includes the word “daily.” While my old self was crucified with Christ on the cross, there is a sense in which I am daily required to die to self. I will continue to do battle with my old sin nature until Jesus returns or He calls me home. So I must take up my cross daily. I must deny my old sin nature by putting it to death each and every day of my life. And I have plenty of opportunity to do so.
It’s interesting that Jesus said that we must first deny ourselves, then take up our cross, before we follow Him. There seems to be a flow to this process. We tend to want to follow, but leave out the first two steps. Jesus seems to make discipleship costly, not easy. He says that if I want to save my life, I must be willing to lose it. Following Jesus is not easy. The path He calls us to is not a smooth and pleasant one. It will cost us. But the reward for outweighs any cost. The gain is far greater than any pain it may require of us. Following Him means forsaking ME. My will, my desires, my plans, my pleasures, my sins. It means denying myself, taking up my cross daily, and walking the path He walked. A path of selfless service, radical obedience, and total dependence on the Father.
Father, help me deny myself and take up my cross daily. It is hard to do. My old self still pulls at me, trying to get my off the path. I still have to battle the old desires that used to enslave me. But I am no longer a slave to those things. I have been set free. But I need to daily deny myself and shoulder my cross. I need to continue to put to death the old sin nature that would love to take back over control. But thank You that I can live differently because I have the Holy Spirit living within me. I am a new creature with a new heart, and a whole new potential for living a Christ-like life. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men