And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (ESV)
Luke 9:23 is not a quaint or allegorical verse. It is a call; a command for obedience on the part of those who would follow Jesus.
Many people want to profess faith in Christ but do not want to deny self or let their own desires and pursuit of pleasure go. They want the faith part but not the repentance (turning from sin) part; As if Christ could only be one’s Savior but not also the Lord and Master of one’s life. To contextualize, idolaters want to place faith in Christ but do not want to let go of their idols. Some homosexuals want to be followers of Jesus and yet still be active in the homosexual lifestyle. The pornographer wants redemption but still wants to have that 30 minute “quiet time” whenever he can slip away. This can be for any sin. Here’s my problem: Jesus did not say “just profess faith in Me and I’ll save you and you can get around to the obedience part whenever you want, if at all.” Don’t get me wrong, I understand that temptation is in the areas of struggle are still so very real, and that we are all “works in progress,” but Jesus said that there is an obedience that follows faith (not that we are obedient in order to receive it — salvation in Christ is by faith alone). When did we lose sight of this? Jesus says before one can follow Him, there has to be a denial of self. This sounds difficult; it is difficult. We have to forgo our inner most desires, our lust for sin, our selfishness, before we can follow Christ. Actually, the verse shows that the denial of self must come before the carrying of the cross. Why is that? Because we don’t want to carry an instrument of suffering and shame such as the cross. However, we cannot forget that Jesus denied Himself and carried a cross and went to die for sinners. If Jesus had not denied Himself, perhaps, even He would have wanted to leave the cross be. We see His grief in the garden of Gethsemane because He knew of what He was about to have to endure. He prayed for the cup of God’s wrath to pass, but yet He denied Himself (Phil. 2) in obedience to the Father for redemption for His people was at hand. And here we are, those professing to be Christians, struggling with the very thing that Jesus did and has called us to do: deny ourselves.
This is a struggle for many Christians, I would dare say all: to put anything before self because, by nature, we are self-centered. Those of us who live in “free” societies like America and Europe live in a culture that tells us it’s all about “me.” For you, it’s all about you. What you want, what your plans are, what offends you, how can I serve you, are you satisfied? I’m not suggesting we not take care of ourselves or have plans to do great things but I am saying we let those things hinder our relationship to Christ. Our desires (sinful desires, at that) and plans are subservient to Christ, His will, His calling upon our lives to do a variety of tasks and jobs. To take this point even further, many believers around the world are denying themselves to the point where they are giving their lives for Christ and His gospel. I’m reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Christ-centered cross-bearers.
1) Denying self, and 2) bearing your cross are things that are required for those who would follow Christ. Being a witness for Christ, a disciple of Christ and bearing our cross is a tough task (which is why we need the Holy Spirit), but when we properly see the supremacy and glory of Christ, His accomplished work on the cross and in the resurrection, His love and grace for us, His redemptive work for mankind, it becomes, maybe not easier, but more desirable and it is worth far more than anything in this world.