“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)
Have you ever heard anyone in the Church give an altar call or invitation to church membership based on Luke 9:23?
“If you want to be forgiven of your sins and have everlasting life, put your trust in Jesus, who died on a cross for you, by denying yourself, taking up your cross daily, and following Him.”
“If you want to become a member of 1st Denominational Church, we would love to have you. Simply deny yourself like we have, take up your cross daily like we do, and join us in following Jesus.”
The answer to both questions is, of course, “No”. In fact, most Christians today have never even heard a sermon on Luke 9:23 because your pastors know it asks more from you than you seem willing to give.
The Bible sets forth the mission of the Church, not a congregational visioning committee, and that mission is to make disciples. (Matthew 28:19-20) We want altar calls and membership drives to be easy. Becoming a disciple of Jesus does not sound easy.
To be a disciple of the One who died on the cross for us, we must bear our own cross and come after Him. (Luke 14:27) If we do not take up our cross and follow Jesus, we are not worthy of Him. (Matthew 10:38) And Luke 9:23 teaches we will not be able to take up our cross daily and follow Jesus until we deny ourselves.
What is a disciple? Jesus said a disciple must be taught to obey all that He has commanded. (Matthew 28:20) This is much more than bible study. A disciple of Jesus must both have and keep His commandments because that is what “followers” do. (John 14:21)
Jesus also said a disciple is not above his or her Master but must be fully trained to become like their Master. (Luke 6:40) This is a reminder we are to serve Him as Lord, not the other way around. It is also exactly what Paul was talking about in Philippians 2 when he said our mindset should be like Jesus, who gave no regard to His status in heaven as the Son of God, but obediently humbled Himself and bore His cross to Golgotha.
So, how do we take up our own cross? We embrace and carry out the daily service to God and others the Lord assigns to us. These are good works our Eternal Father prepared for us as new creations in Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10) They are part of the blessed hope and future He has for us, and while our service will at times be sacrificial, the only part of you and me that will have to die is our selfishness. (Jeremiah 29:11; Romans 12:1)
How do we follow Jesus? The Greek word Luke uses for “follow” is “akoloutheo”, which means “follow” or “accompany”. “Accompany” is really the better translation because while we seek to follow the teachings of Jesus set forth in scripture, we have far more than just a book. Jesus said He would be with us always. (Matthew 28:20) If we let Him, He will abide in us through the Holy Spirit and lead us through life from within. (John 15:4-7; Romans 8:14) When we are “yoked” to Him in this way, our burden is easy and light because He who is in us is greater than anything we face in this world. (Matthew 11:28-30; 1 John 4:4)
Finally, how do we deny ourselves? The Greek word Luke uses for “deny” is “arneomai”, which means to “deny”, “disregard” or “refuse to follow”. The first essential step in becoming a disciple of Jesus is my decision to stop leading my own life and let Him lead. Let Him decide what is best for me, not me. Let Him, and not me, set both the daily and long-term agendas for my life.
Can we be brutally honest? Christianity in America is dominated by “lovers of self” rather than lovers of God. (2 Timothy 3:1-4) It is being assured you “got saved”, finding the worship music and fellowship you enjoy and the tech-driven programs your kids like, or hearing an encouraging message about what God has done and can do for you. What service some of us do render is generally only a small portion of our day.
As a result, the Church in America has for generations demonstrated a shallow appearance of godliness but no real power to transform lives or communities. (2 Timothy 3:5)
Jesus wants disciples. America needs disciples. It is time to deny ourselves. How? Simply learn enough about the Lord and about yourself to realize you can trust Him to plan and lead your life much more than you can trust you. (Proverbs 3:5-8)
God bless you, and God bless our community.