“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” Matthew 16:24
In my last post I went deep into the idea of denying ourselves. In this one I will go through the other two qualifications.
Take Up Your Cross
Jesus says these same words earlier in Matthew (10:38), so I’m thinking they are pretty important. To take up our cross means to submit to God’s will. The first qualification Jesus gives for following him is to deny ourselves (give up our own will). Now he wants us to take it a step further and yield to God’s. While on earth, Jesus shared a lot of God’s will. Examples in the Sermon on the Mount alone include not being angry toward a brother or sister in Christ (Matt 5:22), not lusting (Matt 5:28), loving your enemies (Matt 5:44), not loving money (Matt 6:24), and not being a hypocrite (Matt 7:1-5), among others. There are so many more throughout scripture.
The metaphor of crucifixion for discipleship is a powerful one. That was the most tortuous death of the time, and we read about it in detail in the Bible. Jesus, a perfect being, died the worst death. He walked the cross up the hill and was hung by nails in his hands and feet. And he wants us to do the same…?!?! It’s mind-blowing, ridiculous, and against our human nature.
Most of his apostles died horrible deaths for his sake. Christians around the world today do as well. But the vast majority of us will not be martyrs. Though we won’t physically be carrying our cross up a hill to be murdered, we do this symbolically by choosing God’s will over our own. We are putting our former self to death.
To take some of my examples of self-denial from part one, I will offer alternatives that are in line with God’s will and a way to “pick up our cross.”
Laziness. Work hard for God’s glory. Rest so that we may have energy to do this, but don’t sit around and let everyone do the work of building His Kingdom on earth. Go out and make disciples.
Low confidence. Understand our identity and purpose in Christ, and use that innate confidence to preach Christ to the world. Let others see Him through the way you carry yourself.
Comparison. Be thankful for the things and people you have in your life. Instead of wanting what others have, pray for them, be friends with them, and share Jesus with them. Instead of spending money on a specific type of décor that will go out style soon anyway, give to a local Christian organization that serves the poor.
By meeting the first two qualifications, the third will come naturally. If we submit our own will and live out God’s will, we will follow Christ. Jesus said in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” By following God the Father’s will (as laid out in scripture), we are following Jesus. If we want to follow Jesus, we need to look to the commands laid out by both Jesus and the Father throughout the Bible.
Following Jesus isn’t supposed to be natural or easy. But it is worth it. We live with an eternal mindset; we look toward the life to come. By following His commands we are storing up treasures in heaven (Matt 6:19-21), which is far greater than anything we can get on earth through our own will and desires.
The thing is, Jesus knew we couldn’t do all this. Living a perfect life as he did is impossible for us. He was not naïve to that fact. I think the purpose of him giving us these unattainable instructions is a combination of it proving his deity and saving power, as well as giving us something to look to, something to work toward as we live our imperfect earthly lives.
The apostle Paul said, “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). In all things, we should imitate Christ. A common phrase found on wristbands and car bumpers in the 90s was WWJD, or what would Jesus do? How we answer this question in all circumstances is how we follow him. This is how we come after him and be his disciples.
“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” Matthew 16:25-26