A few weeks ago we celebrated Easter. During that week, we remembered the crucifixion and death of our Lord Jesus. A short time before this event, Jesus was talking to his disciples in preparation for the journey into Jerusalem where he would be arrested, tried, condemned and subsequently die. He told his disciples, “if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and then follow me.”
This principle still applies today. Calling myself a Christian does not make me look like one. A Christian is more easily identified when he does as Jesus stated. Evidence of one denying himself giving preference to the will of God and taking up his cross as he listens to and obeys Christ’s teachings in the Bible is good indication of what a real Christian is.
Today I want to address the two conditions Jesus gave. However first I note that Jesus gave these conditions to anyone who chooses to be his follower. Jesus does not beg, He does not coerce, he does not lay guilt trips on anyone. He just says, ‘this is the way it is. If you want to be my disciple or follower, two things are required.'
During Lent, it is common for many people to give up something they would otherwise partake of or enjoy. It could be chocolate or movies. It could be Mountain Dew. There is nothing wrong with this type of self-denial. Actually, we would all benefit if we practiced more self-denial. But this is not the type of self-denial that Jesus is talking about. In this context, Jesus is saying that one denies himself by renouncing his right to direct his own life and hands these rights to God.
This does not look easy. Actually it is against our very nature as all of us want to be in control of our lives. Some of us even want to control other peoples’ lives. But Jesus is saying that following him is inconsistent with us being in control. Submission is the big word. To deny ourselves, we submit to God’s plan when it conflicts with our desires.
Jesus also said that we are to take up our cross. He stated this before He carried his cross toward Golgotha.
We all have infirmities or afflictions in life. Some of these are physical hardships, maybe disease or handicaps that limit our lifestyle. Others have afflictions in broken relationships. Some are victims of accidents or crime or abuse. As we struggle with these, we may reach a point of screaming at God that it is not fair. Some analyze such conditions and conclude that God is at fault if for no other reason than not stopping something bad from happening.
To take up our personal cross as the condition of following Jesus, we must embrace the affliction that God has allowed into our life and for whatever reason not elected to remove and we must not allow it to be an excuse for not following Him. In other words, we refuse to allow the hand dealt us in life to keep us from choosing Jesus and putting our faith in Him.
Many people do. They blame God rejecting Him, the church, and even the Bible because of something they must bear in life.
In this same passage where Jesus was teaching his disciples, he stated, “what does it profit a person if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” We must remember that the servant is not greater than his master. Jesus bore a cross to the end of his life on the cross. We too have crosses to bear. Some will not be taken from us during this lifetime. It makes no sense to use them as an excuse for not following the one who bore the penalty for our sin on His cross.