“And [Jesus] said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23
Well there it is, Jesus’ simple plan for being a Christian. It’s not some complicated theology of salvation. It’s not some theoretical discussion or intellectual journey.
It’s a straightforward demand that is not complicated but takes commitment. It is simple but profound. And it is not necessarily the easiest thing in the world… to leave all for Christ and actually follow him.
There were people in Jesus’ day who professed loyalty and vowed to follow him where ever he went (see Matt 8:19,20). But I don’t think Jesus was looking for the kind of loyalty to his personality that some folks then and now lavish on a celebrity.
He didn’t want people just to traipse around, doggedly following his every move. He wanted his disciples not to copy his behavior and words but to accept and follow his teachings, to live his ideas in their own lives.
He wanted disciples who would live according to God’s will instead of their own.
The first step: deny yourself.
What on earth does that mean—to deny yourself? To say we don’t exist? Of course not. Among other things, I think it means that we put our own will aside and seek God’s will. To please God instead of earthly personalities—including ourselves.
It is no small feat to get yourself out of the way so you can honestly and sincerely desire to do God’s will before your own. But you can’t stop there. It’s not enough to tell God you’re willing to do whatever He says. You have to follow through and actually DO it.
We usually tell God what we want instead of asking what He wants. Or as my friend Jim says, “We pray for God’s will and then tell Him what it is.”
It takes a humble heart to set aside even our most cherished hopes and dreams and trust ourselves totally to God’s care and live our lives accordingly.
But this IS something we can do. Jesus did not make any demands on us that we could not fulfill.
Step two: take up your cross daily.
I’ve always wondered at this saying. Jesus had not yet been on the cross. His disciples were unaware that he would be. What did they think this meant at the time? I bet they thought about this demand in a whole new light after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
To take up your cross is to face the world’s opposition to the truth that Jesus preached. It looked like Jesus was destroyed by this opposition. But just the opposite is true. He was the ultimate victor.
Jesus gave his disciples the authority and dominion to cast out evil spirits and heal the sick. Christ gives you and me the same authority today.
We are to take up our cross. Jesus did not say: Let the cross take you up. In other words, we do not need to feel that by taking up our cross that we are being crucified—although sometimes it certainly feels like it.
Jesus is not telling us to be crucified. He is commanding us—and giving us authority—to take up the cross, to deal with and defeat the material world’s resistance to and hatred of spiritual Truth.
And in case you didn’t notice, he says “daily.” It is a daily process, a way of life. Not just a one-time or occasional effort. To be a Christian requires day by day, step by step consistency.
Step three: “follow me.”
Whoa!! That’s a tall order. Thousands and thousands of books have been written about what it means to follow Jesus. So I won’t try to say too much here.
What did Jesus mean when he said simply, “Follow me”?
Jesus expected his disciples then and now to follow him: to think the thoughts he thought, to act the way he acted, to love with the Father’s love as he did, to seek and do God’s will in everything.
Christ calls to each of us today, “Follow me.” There is no call more urgent.
How will you respond?