We ended yesterday’s post with, “While the way of the cross is far from easy or worry-free, Jesus reminds His disciples that by losing they gain, and by dying they will live.” Jesus knew He needed to remind His disciples of the first lesson He taught them. They were called to leave everything–their family, livelihood, life-style, and home–to follow Him. So He tells them, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24).
I admit there have been many times when I thought of myself first. I get tired, distracted, overwhelmed, angry, sad and just feel like “checking out” for a time. I did that recently after the death of my father. It was a catch-22, and that behavior perpetuated those feelings. I was not denying myself; instead I was living for myself. As Christians, that’s not what we are called to do.
Deny Ourselves: We must reach the point where we are willing to deny we have the capacity to save ourselves, or to be what God wants us to be, and acknowledging we contribute nothing to our redemption. “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” (Rom. 7:18)
The heart of man must see its sin. It must see itself judged and condemned to hell, knowing it can do nothing of itself to change that outcome. In desperation it must reach out and seek a rescuer outside of itself. And that rescuer is Christ. Self is cast away when Christ enters in. The apostle Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20). He subjected himself to the lordship of Jesus Christ; and as His followers that is what Christ calls us to do. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24).
In Matthew 5:3 Christ describes the attitude of those who will enter the Kingdom: “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” According to Matthew 5:4 those who are poor in spirit mourn over their condition. They are also meek, knowing that nothing good is in them (Matt. 5:5). They therefore hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt. 5:6)–something they desperately want but can’t get because it isn’t within their grasp. As a result, they are utterly dependent on God.
Taking up the cross refers to the willingness to endure persecution, rejection, reproach, shame, suffering, and even martyrdom for the sake of Christ. “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master.” (Matt. 10:24)
Follow Christ: Being a disciple of Christ becomes a pattern of living. We are to imitate Christ. If we say we belong to Jesus, we ought to walk, even as He walked. “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:6). We need to be obedient to God’s divine will. That’s what our Lord meant when He said, In John 8:31 “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.'”
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘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 will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.'” (Matt. 16:24-27)
Jesus has asked us to give up our sinful lives in exchange for following Him. We may gain power, fame and adoration from the sinful world by staying in our sin, but we will not have eternal life in Christ Jesus if we do. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21). The true disciple is marked by dying to self, taking up the cross, and living in obedience to His will. Although the Lord will bless us, our reward is not promised in this earthly life. “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then He will reward each person according to what they have done.” (Matt. 16:27)
- NIV Study Bible
- Winning by Losing: The Paradox of Discipleship