Yesterday we posed the question; “What does true Christian discipleship look like?” Over the next few days we will attempt to answer that question by examining what Jesus had to say Himself about this topic. Early on in his ministry, Jesus was drawing lots of attention and interest and crowds followed Him everywhere He went. In Mark chapter 8, Jesus summoned the crowd of onlookers along with his closest followers to instruct them on the meaning of true discipleship. Let’s hear what He had to say:
Mark 8:34-38 (HCSB): 34Summoning the crowd along with His disciples, He said to them, “If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. 35For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it. 36For what does it benefit a man to gain the whole world yet lose his life? 37What can a man give in exchange for his life? 38For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
Jesus had much to say in this short passage of Scripture that directly addresses our question and His instruction to the onlookers was an integral part of the disciples’ preparation for future ministry. Over the coming days we will unpack this passage to explore several essential elements of true Christian discipleship. We will begin today by looking closely at verse 34: “If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.”
True Discipleship is Voluntary
Note that Jesus began by saying “If” which highlights the first principle of discipleship – true discipleship is voluntary. Disciples of Christ exercise free will in choosing to follow Jesus. Unlike other leaders throughout history, Jesus does not force or coerce people to follow Him. Jesus desires that we follow Him willingly and freely by the voluntary exercise of our own will, intentionally submitting our will to His will.
Further, it should be noted that true discipleship is open to anyone and everyone who has the will to follow Jesus. Note that Jesus said “If anyone” which indicates he was talking to the entire crowd not just the Twelve disciples whom He had called to follow Him. Indeed, He was talking to everyone who would later hear or read about this encounter which includes all of us today. If you have the desire then you can be a true disciple of Christ.
Then, for those who choose to follow, Jesus stated two requirements which are bound together and cannot be separated, true followers of Jesus must do both of them. They are not mutually exclusive as some would have us believe. We will examine these two key requirements of discipleship next time.