“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)
There are some verses in the bible that really slap me in the face and my heart burns with conviction; this is one of them. Here, there is no question as to what Jesus is asking us to do if we want to follow him. Yet I can’t help but feeling that in this new millennium many Christians are getting it wrong. We think we can satisfy our worldly desires and have some Jesus and be counted as a sold-out followers. Lie. The world tells us we can have it all. If we work hard, follow our dreams, and never give up, with good works sprinkled in there, then THAT is a life well-lived. Lies. I know people who have worked hard and are poor, who never got to follow their dreams, and sometimes wanted to give up, but have devoted their lives to God and I say THAT is a life worth living. THAT is a rich person. As I examine my own life including what I spend my time on and what my heart looks like on the inside, the part that only God can see, I am convicted. I could be a better follower. I can’t do half-way Christianity. If I really want to follow Christ I MUST:
1) DENY MYSELF
That means that everyday I have to fight what my flesh tells me it should do. We live in a self-gratifying world these days. If I want something and I can’t find it in the store, Amazon can send it to me with FREE 2 day shipping. If I’m not being entertained then all I have to do is pull out my phone. Everything is only a finger tip length away and that is why denying ourselves can seem so difficult. I’m not talking about denying ourselves a piece of cake or a much needed vacation, I’m talking about those things in the depth of our soul that we want so badly that even the idea of it has a scent. It’s the thing you are passionate about that you will never loosen your grip on, even if you know it’s not good for you. It’s the love you desperately desire that you will quench immediately instead of wait, it’s the things you obsess about that you have to have now. I’m sure you can give other examples. These are the things that when God asks you to give up, it hurts, it’s painful, and you will miss it. That is what it means to deny ourselves. It’s not denial for denial sake; it’s denying in order to replace it with something better, something higher that we are called to.
2) Take up my cross
To Christians today the symbol of the cross offers hope, it is a picture of what was done for us; the price has been payed, we are no longer debtors. When Jesus was talking to his disciples it was before he died on the cross, before it was a symbol of hope. On the contrary, it was a symbol of death. The cross lead to death and Jesus was telling them that they had to pick it up and go. Imagine how heavy and stiff it is, crushing your shoulder and splintering your face, you are sweating profusely barely able to move it. Apply that thought to your life now. Jesus is asking us to pick up that which we may not want, to fulfill what HE wants. He is saying that the cost is great — it’s your life. Because taking up our cross means that we have denied ourselves, we got rid of what we wanted and now we are taking up what God wants us to. It’s called sacrifice. The sacrifice of our lives. Does it feel like too much? Yes. From our human hearts it can feel like too much. In the light of eternity, it’s not, and who gives us that eternity? God. For what His Son did for us on that cross.
3) Follow Him
We can’t complete the picture if we don’t follow Him, because we can deny and take up our cross and then what? If we don’t look up and follow Jesus we can lose our way in our own self-righteousness.
1 Samuel 15:22a says “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,”
I can sacrifice everything I have and still not follow Jesus in obedience. I have gotten lost in that cycle before, were I showed God all my sacrifices and been so wrapped up in them that the ministry he wanted me to do suffered. So we MUST follow. The burden is heavy but we must lift our eyes to Jesus and follow because “His is yolk is easy and his burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). Following out of obedience is difficult for many of us, but right after He asks us to deny, take up, and follow He says,
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Mark 8:35
The price of heaven is a worth it is it not? Not only for us but for others that God uses us to reach as we are following Him. In following Jesus we are running the race and pressing toward that mark, it’s a narrow road, the path seems too difficult, but then there is Jesus: The Way, The Truth, The Life, The Lamp to My Feet, The Light to My Path, The Alpha and The Omega. He is worth the obedience, worth the sacrifice, He is worth our lives. Believe me friends, it is better to be used by Jesus than live a life comfortable and only be used when it suits you.
There is no half-way in this verse, there are no detours, and more and more I am certain that there is no comfortable living for Christians. This verse gets under the skin because it requires that we give it ALL.