As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must be good at saying “no” to our flesh, saying “yes” to Christ, and bearing our cross, and following in the footsteps of Jesus our Lord. "Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24 NIV) What we hear from this passage is:
• Deny Ourselves (following the flesh)
• Take up our cross (being led by the Holy Spirit)
• Follow Christ (in obedience)
What does it mean to deny ourselves?
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way ... “ (Matthew 16:24a NLT) I need to say “no” to the desires of my flesh. As Christ said: “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing ...” (John 6:63a NIV) Saying “no” to my selfish, self-centered desires is required in order to have the room to say “yes” to Christ’s Holy Spirit.
Renouncing selfish ambitions, worldly desires, and our own plans and priorities gives us the freedom submit completely to God's will and to put His purposes above our own. For me, it requires daily surrender. That is why a daily quiet time of prayer and meditation on God’s Word is so critical. Without this daily reminder, I find it is easy to slip away from the complete surrender to Christ that being a Christ-following disciple requires.
TAKING UP OUR CROSS
What does it mean to take up our cross?
The cross symbolizes suffering and persecution. Jesus is emphasizing that being His disciple involves enduring hardships and self-denial for the sake of the Gospel.
In Jesus’ time, the cross was a symbol of shame, suffering, and the most brutal form of Roman execution. For Christ’s audience, the idea of taking up one's cross would have been associated with being condemned to death. The command to "take up their cross" is a call to radical discipleship. It signifies a total commitment to Christ, even unto death. This may include suffering and persecution for the sake of Christ. Just as Jesus suffered and was persecuted, we should expect no less. This can manifest in various forms, from social ostracism and ridicule to physical suffering or even martyrdom.
In most parts of the world, Christ-followers today are soft, un-tested, and overly comfortable as Christians. We find it hard to even sacrifice an hour per day of our precious time to devote to prayer, mediation on Scriptures, and listening to the Holy Spirit. We jump out of bed and into “our” day, as if it belongs to us. We do “our” thing, as if what Christ wants does not matter. We are self-willed, self-driven, and self-motivated to accomplish whatever it is that will provide us comfort.
Christ calls us to suffer for him. That means we must sacrifice our will and our way, and we can start by making more time for Him, as we sit quietly, read our Bibles, and listen for His gentle whisper which informs our day.
What does it mean to follow Christ?
I think of it as walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Having his thoughts. Having his emotions. And surrendering to His Father’s will. For him, that included a real cross. For us, that cross is symbolic of the death to self, so we may be fully alive to Christ.
Bearing one's cross is inextricably linked to following Jesus. It's not merely about suffering or self-denial in isolation but doing so in the context of a relationship with Christ and in obedience to Him. It's about following His example, adhering to His teachings, and living out the principles He embodied.
Let us challenge superficial forms of Christianity that don't require significant life changes. Let us commit to a deep, transformative, and sometimes costly discipleship. The cross is not just the symbol of Christ's sacrifice but also a symbol of the cost and the shape of Christian discipleship. It's about the willingness to give up everything, endure anything, and go anywhere for the sake of Christ and the gospel.
In the words of James the Just, brother of Jesus, and pillar of the Church: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22 NIV) Self-deception is alive and well in today’s Christian community. Anywhere we look, we can find most Christians, myself included, over-indexing on making ourselves comfortable, and under-indexing on following the example of Christ by denying ourselves, and taking up our cross.
Your aspiring servant,
January 8, 2024
POSTSCRIPT: Dear friends, if this daily, transparent “Conversations with Christ” blesses you, please go to www.SOLIDpastors.org, where you will find these posted, and a repository of all, in English and Spanish. If you ever want to chat, you can reach me at Daniel@SOLIDpastors.org. May Christ bless you richly as you have your own intimate, daily conversations with Christ.