Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed? If anyone is ashamed of me and my message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels.” Luke 9:23-26
Perhaps one of the biggest lies circling through Western Christianity is the idea that we can have Jesus and our own way, too…that we are each the author of our own life, we are each the absolute ruler of our own kingdom, and we should look to ourselves for identity, purpose, meaning, and morality.
“Just follow your heart.”
“Be true to yourself.”
“Live your truth.”
Add a little Jesus into the mix, of course, like you would add sprinkles on a cupcake. Jesus makes for the nicest sprinkles. As do Gandhi and Oprah.
Yet, Jesus’ own words stand in stark contrast: If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me…
We must give up our own way because He is the Way.
We must give up our own truth because He is the Truth.
We must give up our lives because He is the Life.
There is a cost to following Christ. There is a giving up.
In Luke 9:57-62, three different people say they will follow Jesus, but in every situation, they also try to hold onto this world and their lives here. Jesus’ response to each person is to point out they can’t have it both ways. To follow Christ requires complete surrender.
There is also a taking up.
…take up your cross daily…
Every day when we rise from our beds, we are to take up our cross. We take up obedience. We take up sacrifice. We take up rejection. We take up death…the death of our former selves and former ways and sometimes the death of our freedom and rights or even physical death…all for the sake of Jesus.
Jesus humbled Himself when He took on human flesh and came to live the life of perfect obedience in our place. He who was fully God gave up the glories of heaven to become fully human. And, then He took up a cross and the shameful death of a rejected criminal to pay for our sins and shortcomings. He was perfectly surrendered to the will of the Father and anyone who would follow Him must humble themselves, die to their own way, and surrender themselves as Christ did.
Though he was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When He appeared in human form, He humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Philippians 2:6-8
There is no dual citizenship in heaven. We can’t be of this world and of the Kingdom of God (John 17:14-19). We can’t have the life of Christ and the life of the flesh (Galatians 2:20). We can’t follow Him on the narrow path and follow our own way on the wide path (Matthew 7:13-14). To choose one necessitates the rejection of the other.
A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else – your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26-27
Huge crowds followed Jesus wanting to listen to his teaching and wanting to see His miracles, but only those willing to pay the cost of following Him were considered by Christ as His own. It’s easy to be an admirer of Jesus and His teachings, but Jesus isn’t looking for admirers; He’s looking for disciples. The difference between an admirer and a disciple is a cross.
Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God. Luke 9:62
The cross to which Christ calls us, the death we must take up to follow Him, is actually the very means to life…abundant life. This is why He says in hanging onto our lives we lose them, but in letting go of our lives for His sake we save them.
Christ calls us out of the spiritual death we are born into which has been passed to us through our first parent, Adam, and gives us new life (Romans 5:12-17; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). No one can be both dead and alive. If we want to hold onto the grave of our flesh and former ways, we cannot simultaneously be alive in Christ.
To follow Jesus may mean we lose this world…its accolades, its comforts, its freedoms, its opportunities, and even its relationships, but what good is all the treasure in the world, all the praise, and all the glory, to one who is dead?
And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?
When we pass from this world into the presence of God, only one thing will matter…Is Jesus Christ ashamed of us or does He receive us as His own? If we were ashamed to identify with Him and His message in this life, He has made it clear He will not be willing to identify with us in the next.
So, what are we to do? The only thing which has been given us to do. We repent of our sin (1 John 1:9) and place our faith in Jesus’ finished work on our behalf (Romans 4:25), and we pick up our cross and follow Him. We won’t follow Him perfectly. We will stumble along. But, for those who make Christ their Savior, every stumble, every trip, has been paid for in His death. We carry our crosses and follow Him imperfectly, but in Christ, we are received as perfect.
The yolk of Christ is light and His burden is easy (Matthew 11:28-30) for He has borne up under the full weight of obedience in our place, He took the condemnation of our failures on Himself, and we live from His victory (1 Corinthians 15:57).
As we take up our cross and follow Jesus, we can take courage in the truth that Christ is our advocate in heaven and has prayed our faith will not fail (1 John 2:1; John 17), that we have the Word of God to instruct us and correct us (2 Timothy 3:16), and that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and makes us holy (Romans 8:26-27; 2 Thessalonians 2:13).
The question for each of us is this…Are we clinging to our own way or are we clinging to Christ? The answer to this question is quite literally a matter of life or death…abundant life for those who choose Christ and the death of their own way, and death for those who choose their own way and the life of the flesh.