With such a great salvation given to those who trust in Jesus Christ as Lord, many live the Christian life just with what they receive from Christ, not understanding that there is a personal cost to follow Him. I am not talking about salvation here; salvation is all about Jesus. I am talking to those of you who proclaim Jesus as Lord: As He saves you, you are called to live a life set apart for His kingdom, to consider the cost to follow Jesus. The verse that echoes in my heart is Matthew 16:24, where it says, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.’” This verse is foundational when it comes to Christianity and discipleship under Jesus Christ. It drives straight to the heart and tests the commitment level of the Christian. In essence, Jesus is asking, “Are you sold out for Me?” He is talking about total commitment. It is interesting that it was spoken to His disciples, but it makes sense, since they were going to be heralds of the gospel of grace. And if there was ever a group that needed commitment it was going to be this ragtag group of hand-picked disciples.
Jesus’ question also has great implications for you and me today. He begins by saying, “If anyone wishes to come after Me…” This is a question of discipleship, of being a Christian. It has an evangelistic tone here and is calling to all those who wish to follow Christ. What comes next is a three-fold commitment on behalf of the follower of Jesus. There are three imperatives, three must-do’s. The first is that “…he must deny himself…” Jesus calls for self-denial, which is harder than you think. We are very selfish people. We like to sit on the throne of heart and dictate direction and do what we want. Not so for the follower of Jesus Christ. The word “deny” means to disown, so Jesus is telling the believer to disown himself. It could be translated, “Let him refuse any association or companionship with himself.” It makes sense, because, regarding salvation, there really wasn’t anything we could do in our flesh to please God. On our own we can’t earn salvation, so it makes sense that Jesus doesn’t want us to run our own Christian life. He kicks us off the throne of our heart and says, “This is my seat.” He becomes the director. Don’t think that is bad, beloved; it is not. This great Lord and Savior has bought you with His blood and caused you to receive forgiveness and experience grace. He, the Great Shepherd of your soul, would never lead you down a path of unrighteousness or evil. It should be easy for a Christian to say yes to Jesus. But it is hard. Why? Because our flesh wants to do something other than what Jesus calls us to do (Romans 7:18). But let me ask you, when you sit on the throne of your life, how well do you lead it down the path of righteousness and for the Kingdom? I know the answer: Not very well. As matter of fact, we often fall flat on our faces. Jesus’ exhortation is simple: Deny yourself.
The second imperative is to “…take up his cross…” This might seem odd at first, but once we understand it, it guides our living. The cross, as you know, was a symbol of pain, suffering and death. Jesus’ injunction here calls for a willingness to follow Christ even if leads to death. Does He want total commitment? You bet. Taking up one’s cross means to stand for His truth and endure persecution, rejection, shame, suffering, and, yes, even martyrdom for His sake. Oh, beloved, with such a jello-like Christianity surrounding us today, consider the cost of following Jesus. Be so branded with His Word engraved on your heart that you bleed the Scriptures and live in His power. By the way, Luke 14:27 adds a wonderful word here. Luke doesn’t just say, “. . . take up his cross,” but, “. . . take up his cross daily.” It’s a way of life for us — every day. That is who you are. A committed Christian denies himself and takes up his cross daily for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom. Does that call for loyalty? You bet. Does it involve self-sacrifice? Absolutely.
Finally, the third imperative for considering the cost of following Jesus as a true disciple is to “…follow Me.” Simply put, following Jesus is your way of life. It is about submitting your will to His. Paul would say it this way in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Is following Christ your normal pattern of life? When situations arise, do you search the Scriptures for truth and direction? Are you so devoted to Christ that it flows through your actions? That, beloved, is what it means to follow Christ. It means that He and His Word are authoritative in your life. Remember, He is your Lord and Savior for a reason. So, kick yourself off the throne of your heart and allow Jesus to sit there. You do that by denying yourself, picking up your cross, and following Him.
Now go start living for Jesus.