Discipleship is not a game. For those who choose to follow, Jesus states two very important 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. In Mark 8:34 Jesus said: “If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” Notice the two requirements of discipleship in Jesus’ words; one is stated negatively and one is stated positively but both are imperative commands. True disciples of Christ will be both self-denying and self-sacrificing.
First, one must “deny himself” by consistently saying no to selfish desires, personal interests and earthly securities. Self-denial does not mean denying our own personality, it does not mean we must die as a martyr, and it does not mean we must deny “things” (as in asceticism). Rather it is the denial of “self” by turning away from self-centeredness and self-interest. It means that to follow Jesus, we can no longer have a “me first” attitude. Self-denial, however, is not done for its own sake alone.
The second requirement of discipleship is stated positively by Jesus when he said one must “take up his cross”, which has the connotation of decisively saying yes to God’s will and way and no to our will and way. It requires deep sacrificial commitment on the part of believers. To “take up one’s cross” demonstrates submission/obedience to the authority of another, namely Jesus. Those who follow after Him must take up their cross (not His), which means willingly and freely accepting whatever comes to them in God’s will as a follower of Christ. I love the way the Bible Knowledge Commentary describes cross-bearing: “This does not mean suffering as Jesus did or being crucified as He was. Nor does it mean stoically bearing life’s troubles. Rather, it is obedience to God’s will as revealed in His Word, accepting the consequences without reservations for Jesus’ sake and the gospel. For some this includes physical suffering and even death, as history has demonstrated.”
No doubt about it true discipleship is disruptive, it requires personal sacrifice – we must be self-denying and self-sacrificing if we are to truly follow Jesus and Savior and Lord. Clearly, one cannot be a true disciple of Christ and maintain the status quo of life. Our lives must be focused on Christ and not ourselves and in so doing we will become “others focused” just as He was. There will be more to come on that topic in the coming days. For now, let us focus on denying our self and following Him.