There is much to be said about self-denial and the scripture repeats this theme over and over.
Jesus is clear. The Apostles and their letters are clear. Do I get it?
Self Denial — It is a requirement of following Jesus the Messiah: Commitment to the Messiah means taking up my cross daily, giving up my hopes, dreams, possessions, even my very life if need be for the cause of the Messiah. Only if I willingly take up my cross may I be called His disciple. The reward is worth the price.
Jesus followed His call of death to self (“Take up your cross and follow Me”) with the gift of life in the Messiah: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25-26).
“Take up your cross and follow Me” means being willing to die in order to follow Jesus. This is called “dying to self.” It’s a call to absolute surrender. After each time Jesus commanded cross bearing, He said,
“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:24-25).
Although the call is tough, the reward is matchless.
Wherever Jesus went, He drew crowds. Although these multitudes often followed Him as Messiah, their view of who the Messiah really was—and what He would do—was distorted. They thought the Messiah would usher in the restored kingdom. They believed He would free them from the oppressive rule of their Roman occupiers.
Even the Messiah’s own inner circle of disciples thought the kingdom was coming soon. When Jesus began teaching that He was going to die at the hands of the Jewish leaders and their Gentile over Masters, His popularity sank. Many of the shocked followers rejected Him. Truly, they were not able to put to death their own ideas, plans, and desires, and exchange them for His.
Following Jesus is easy when life runs smoothly; our true commitment to Him is revealed during trials. Jesus assured us that trials will come to His followers. Discipleship demands sacrifice, and Jesus never hid that cost.
In Luke 9:57-62, three people seemed willing to follow Jesus. When Jesus questioned them further, their commitment was half-hearted at best. They failed to count the cost of following Him. None was willing to take up his cross and crucify upon it his own interests.
Jesus appeared to dissuade them. How different from the typical Gospel presentation! How many people would respond to an altar call that went, “Come follow Jesus, and you may face the loss of friends, family, reputation, career, and possibly even your life”? The number of false converts would likely decrease! Such a call is what Jesus meant when He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me.”
If you wonder if you are ready to take up your cross, consider these questions:
- Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing some of your closest friends?
- Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means alienation from your family?
- Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means the loss of your reputation?
- Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing your job?
- Are you willing to follow Jesus if it means losing your life?
In some places of the world, these consequences are reality. But notice the questions are phrased, “Are you willing?” Following Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean all these things will happen to you, but are you willing to take up your cross? If there comes a point in your life where you are faced with a choice—Jesus or the comforts of this life—which will you choose?
- Matthew 10:37–38 — 37 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.
- Matthew 6:10 — 10 ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.”
- Matthew 9:9 — 9 As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.
- Matthew 18:8 — 8 “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire.
- Matthew 19:21 — 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”