If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23
“Of course I’m a Christian,” a man once told me, quickly adding, “I’m not a Jew or a Muslim—what else would I be?” Have you ever noticed that Jesus was strangely silent about much of what we today associate with Christianity? For example, He never encouraged anyone to join a church or even attend church or synagogue. He never suggested that the more you give the wider would the door open to God’s heaven at the end of your life. He did, however, use straight-forward, even stark language—the kind that at first you would think was intended to actually keep people from joining the ranks of the faithful. Or rather, was it to clarify, without any misunderstanding, what He demands—something that is neglected in our me-first culture today?
On one occasion Jesus told His followers that if their love for Him was not so great that it made ordinary relational love—like that which you have for your parents or even your wife and children—seem as nothing, you could not be His disciple (Luke 14:25-35). On another occasion His words must have shocked His listeners as He said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23), Three steps, said Jesus: First—deny yourself. Then take up your cross; finally start following Him.
All of this, of course, runs contrary to our nature. We are living in a culture of self. Look at the advertisements in your local paper. Check out the commercials on TV, the billboard which confronts you driving across town, the messages you get reading magazines. They say you are the focus of the universe. You deserve to be served, but denying yourself goes far beyond simply going into a cloister or convent and nailing the door shut. It means that Jesus Christ takes first place in your life. It means you no longer are in control of your desiny.
As A. W. Tozer put it: “The man with a cross no longer controls his destiny; he lost control when he picked up his cross. That cross immediately became to him an all-absorbing interest, an overwhelming interference. No matter what he may desire to do, there is but one thing he can do; that is move on toward the place of crucifixion” (A. W. Tozer, Of God and Men, as quoted by George Sweeting, Who Said That? p. 133).
Christianity without a cross, however, avoids the stigma attached to it. It ceases to be demanding and is quickly cleansed of the repulsiveness of blood; but it is powerless and useless. That is why the “following Him” is the important part, the sequel to acknowledging His control.
A closing thought. Understanding God’s purpose for your life is exciting and tantalizing. It has a fascination reflected in the eyes of millions of people, and God does have a purpose for your life. It centers in obedience. It’s about God, not you, and the flip side of that great truth is that obedience results in living out the will of God for your life, something that is concrete and specific. Walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ is treading the path of obedience to the will of the Father, and that is exactly what the Christian life is all about.
It is a journey, not a destination, not an experience, not a one-time encounter, but a daily walk whereby you awaken every morning and say, “Lord, I’m yours to command. Where you lead me today, I’ll follow. Stay close to me. I want to hear you voice and sense your presence. It’s a dark world out there. Be my life. Let’s go; I’m ready to follow.
Resource reading: Luke 9:23-27