Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
There’s an old hymn called I Surrender All, which is what Jesus meant when He said His followers must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Him.
When I was young, I called myself a Christian, but I never thought of myself as a disciple. I figured that disciples were Jesus’ earliest followers. And I never thought Christianity required giving up anything.
Well, as was the case with many of my early notions about Christianity, I was wrong. Disciples are for today and there is self-denial involved in following Christ.
I learned that calling yourself a Christian does not mean you ARE a Christian. I also discovered that Christianity is not handed down or inherited from our parents. The Weirich family surname was a given. Their Christian faith was not. That’s a choice only I could make.
There’s more to becoming a Christian than just believing. “Even the demons believe…” (James 2:18) James made that statement in the context of works that give evidence of faith. Those works are the self-denial and taking up the cross to which Jesus refers.
To be a Christian is to be surrendered and committed to Christ, believing not only in Him but willingly following His guidance for life, which comes through His word and the indwelling Holy Spirit. It’s not a part-time job for extra Brownie points with God, but a full-time commitment to live for the One who saved you.
So what does it mean to deny self? Self-denial is an act of love. The greatest example of self-denial is Christ giving His life for us. His motivation was love. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
It took marriage and having children for me to understand the power of love in acts of self-denial. Those feelings of self-denial rooted in the power of love can lead to a willingness to trade places with a suffering child. Have you ever heard a mother say, “I would trade places with her if I could,” in reference to her sick child. I believe people who make those statements are just saying it because it sounds good, but it’s something they sincerely mean.
I recall hearing a father whose son had died in a wreck say, “Oh, if God had only taken me instead of him.”
Self-denial for Christ is not an overwhelming burden for followers of Christ. These are acts of love we give for the head of our forever family.
Any pursuit in life that is worthwhile requires commitment and sacrifice. No telling how many hours I spent in the practice room trying to master the trombone. But I didn’t hate the sacrifice because I loved playing the instrument and wanted to be the best I could be.
Our passions in life drive us, through pain and sacrifice, toward something better. All the more for Christ as we serve Him. He is, after all, worthy of our best.
Have you ever considered why they call plays depicting the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, Passion Plays? His passion is us — and proven in His act of sacrificial love.
So when Christ said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,” He wasn’t asking us to do anything He wasn’t prepared to do for us.
Saving faith isn’t just believing. It’s believing with surrender to the person and the will of Christ.
For more on this topic, check out this article: With Christian Freedom Comes Responsibility
Reprinted from The Forever Notebook, Book 2 (April – June) Get your copy here: Paperback and eBook/Kindle formats.