Jesus had just finished telling the twelve that he was to suffer many things including being crucified (Luke 9:21-22). Peter had just confessed Him as the Christ (Luke 9:18-20). It seemed fitting that he would tell His disciples what was expected of them.
A disciple has to deny himself. He has to subject himself to the Master. There's no other way. He will have trouble. Each day he will need to be prepared to bear the cross that only he can bear. He has to choose to follow.
What does it mean to deny oneself?
Have you ever had a craving? A desire for something that was so intense it was almost as though you were tasting it as your mind pictured it? What if someone offered you the very thing you were craving with that intensity? Could you say no? Could you just say, "No thank you. I'm full"?
I'm using this analogy as an illustration of how it may feel to deny yourself. When we choose to follow Christ, we have to give up those things that seem "natural" and go against our very nature.
It is our nature to sin, but we have to go against that.
It is our nature to judge others, we have to remember that judgement belongs to God.
And don't think it's going to be easy. In fact, you may finally understand what Paul meant when he said, "For I do not understand my own actions. for I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (Romans 7:15, 18-19)".
We have to continually submit ourselves to Christ: in spite of how we may be feeling, in spite of what's going on at work, in spite of the condition of our family life. Being a disciple means we follow Christ. Full stop. No excuses. No distractions.
He leads. We follow. that's it.
How do you take up your cross?
Jamaicans like to talk about crosses. For us, crosses mean trouble. So we're tempted to interpret taking up our cross as taking up trouble. In other words, being a follower of Christ will often mean that we will have some type of trouble or difficulty to bear.
But taking up your cross is a little more than that though. Each person's walk is going to have it's unique features. It will include those things that you wish it didn't - death of a loved one, loss of a job, financial worry, friendships that end.
At the end of the day, taking up our cross has to do with our willingness to follow Christ in spite of what happens in our lives, in spite of what happens to us. The two verses that follow make this even clearer:
For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? (Luke 9:24-25)
What's the point of having a long life here on earth, if we're doomed to eternal death? What's the point of becoming the richest person on earth if we don't share in the reward that Christ has for His faithful followers?
There's an interesting article on GotQuestions.org that gives some more insight on this topic: you may read that here.
You know what's so fascinating about those two words? If we're following, it must mean Someone is ahead of us. When we choose to follow Christ, He remains ahead of us. If we keep our eyes on Him, we would have no need to fear. We would have a guide, an encourager, a leader.
He leads. We follow. Nothing could be clearer than that.
And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
As we study this verse, another thing becomes evident: discipleship is voluntary. Jesus said, "If any man will".
He's not going to force us to follow Him or to serve Him. We have to choose. This choice is available to every individual.
What does denying self mean for you? What is your "cross"? How do you take it up every day to follow Jesus?
Share with us in the comments below.