As we explore our next Jesus Says command it is going to be extremely important to remember our previous one – Jesus says do not judge one another. Today’s command often causes folks to compare themselves with others. Either in the sense of pride, “I’m better than Joe over there.” Or a sense of judgment that so and so aren’t Christians, just look at their lives. There are so many ways we get this wrong, but one way to get it right. Jesus says to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.
This command is repeated in Matthew, Mark, and Luke with Matthew and Luke’s being nearly identical with one small difference. That one-word difference in Luke’s quote gives us the necessary perspective. “And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” (Luke 9:23–24, NASB95) That one word is daily.
Understanding that Jesus command is something to be done daily removes the laxity of only denying ourselves on certain days. This is not a Sunday only following Jesus. But again, neither does Jesus’ command grant us permission to judge another believer’s freedom. The other trap is to follow a religious list of do’s and don’ts and assume that we are obeying His command. Maybe we are, but it is more likely that we are following someone else’s convictions and not our own Holy Spirit driven ones.
This command of Jesus is personal. How the Holy Spirit prompts me to deny myself may be different than how he prompts you. Sure, there are some universal do’s and don’ts but I think that Jesus was pinpointing the things in our lives that keep us from fully following Him. For some that could be the TV. For others alcohol. Or sports. Or family. Or hobbies. Or certain friends. Or certain possessions. Or certain desires. Or even certain foods. There is no single mandate for any of these, but they could, if elevated above God, cause us to stumble and fall. Denial of these, sometimes for a time, sometimes for all time, keeps us on the right path.
It may seem that “taking up our cross” is simply a repeat of denying ourselves. It isn’t. Denying ourselves leans towards the passive end of things while taking up our cross is active. It is something we do. But exactly what does it mean to carry our cross? Jesus didn’t define the command, but he did demonstrate it.
So often we think that the various trials of life are our cross. Or perhaps it’s the sin habit we have a hard time avoiding. Perhaps some think the cross is the evilness of the world we live in. Surely some will point to a determined life of self-denial as the cross we are to bear. May I submit that while these may have their purpose they are not the cross Jesus was speaking of.
Jesus didn’t see His cross as a trial of life or a sin habit to be beaten. While it was an evil instrument of torturous death Jesus didn’t bear it to make a point about its wrongness. And while there was self-denial in His carrying the cross it was a means to a greater end and not the end itself. You see Jesus carried His cross out of love.
Jesus’ cross was not just any love. It was, it is, a self-sacrificial love that willingly gives up life for another. We can do all the things that look like cross-bearing and totally miss it because we lack the motivation of love. Bearing our cross daily means loving God and loving others in ways that cost us something. It may mean self-denial, it may mean struggling against the evil in the world, it may mean choosing to avoid the traps of sin. Seeing our cross through the example and motive of Christ changes everything.
The third leg of Jesus’ command is to follow him. We covered that specific command in a previous Jesus Says (https://lambchow.com/2018/05/jesus-says-follow-me/). Let’s pivot just a bit to consider a hard truth. To follow Jesus, we must also walk in self-denial and in cross-bearing love. Not necessarily following the religious dictates of any order, community, or church culture but according to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. But don’t get me wrong, being in a community of believers is vital to our walk with Jesus.
To be honest, it is easier to follow a list of do’s and don’ts but that is not the pattern Jesus gave us. This calls for honesty and not using our liberty as a doorway to sin. It calls for a listening heart that is willing to obey out of love. It calls for elevating the needs of others above our own without the expectation of return. It calls for self-denial born of a love for God and for each other. A love like Jesus’ that willingly carried the cross for you and me.
Jesus says to deny yourself, take up your cross every day, and follow me.