“If any man will follow me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
What a powerful sentence. It carries so many messages, so many challenges… First, Jesus sets up the goal… if you want to follow Him, here’s your to do list.
1) Deny yourself.
Huh? Did I hear that right? Deny myself? What does that mean? God wants me to deny myself, but He made me this way. Why would God ask me to deny His own creation?
The reality is that Jesus is not asking us to deny our humanity, but to rise above it. To choose to make holy sacrifices in the face of human urges and needs. To forgo pride for humility. To forgo hunger for fasting. To forgo anger for forgiveness. To forgo accumulation of things for giving to the poor.
The path to holiness is through actions of faith, through sacrifice. Jesus knew he was going to pay the ulitmate sacrifice, His own life. Therefore, to truly follow Him, to walk in His steps, sacrifice is required and our first sacrifice is to deny ourselves. To no longer live for this world, but for the next.
Did not the Apostles deny themselves when they dropped their nets and followed Jesus? These men were no greater, no more holy than we are today. They were flawed people too. But, they lived their faith by answering the call and putting Jesus first in their lives above all things.
Okay, denying myself. That’s a pretty hefty requirement. Let’s say I can do that… what’s next?
2) Take up your cross.
The cross. In practical terms it was the symbol for Roman “justice.” A common form of lethal punishment inflicted upon the people under Roman reign for the purposes of keeping the peace. The sight of a cross was nothing new to these men.
In Jesus’ terms, it represents sacrificing your very life, if need be. I have always been fascinated by the moment where Jesus tells the Apostles “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Not only was Jesus telling them of His own eventual death on the cross and resurrection. He was also telling them of their own deaths. All of them would become martyrs for the faith, for Jesus. I always wondered, as they neared that moment of death, if those words echoed in their thoughts and gave them solace.
But what does that mean to me? Does that mean I have to die for my faith?
Yes, if need be. If we are successful in following step one, to deny ourselves, then step two would seem a logical step if required to do so. If I have truly humbled myself, become a servant to the Lord and am living a holy life, then sacrificing your life for those beliefs would seem only natural.
What if I am not meant to die for my faith? What does taking up my cross mean?
To me, it means two things. One, to follow Jesus will mean suffering. He told us the world will reject us. That rejection has a price, a consequence. It’s not if we are going to suffer, but when. That’s the price of being a Christian.
Then what should we do with that suffering?
Secondly, as Jesus showed by example on the cross, we should believe until our very last breath. We should forgive those who cause us suffering. We should offer up our pain to God for His glory. We should do so strengthened by God’s grace, by His love and by His Spirit.
Wow… none of this seems easy. As a matter of fact, it looks down right difficult.
I guess that’s why Jesus said that path to Heaven is a narrow one. Not many will have the strength, the faith to travel it.
3) Then follow Him.
So, after I have denied myself and taken up my cross, only then am I able to follow Him? Am I ready for such a journey? How much faith will it require to fight the good fight?
Personally, I think we’ve watered down the price for salvation in our society. Christianity has become so ingrained with our culture that we’ve started taking it for granted. Though we may grow up thinking that our journey to Heaven will be effortless and without challenge, Jesus’ own words state the exact opposite.
I hope and pray that my faith remain unwavering in the face of the journey that I must take… that we ALL must take, if we are to truly follow Jesus.