Are you a true Christian? By that I mean are you a true disciple and follower of Jesus? Jesus described what it means to follow Him. Matthew 16:24 “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.’”
Why would you want to follow Jesus? He gave the answer in John 10:27-28 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” When you follow Him, instead of receiving eternal damnation, He gives you eternal life. There was a time when many of the disciples of Jesus were leaving Him. John 6:66-69 “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also want to go away?’ But Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’” Eternal life is yours only if you follow Jesus.
Jesus gave three elements of following Him. The first is to deny yourself. The only way to truly follow Jesus is through self-denial. There is no other way. While self-denial may sound miserable, it is actually wonderful. You simply deny yourselves those things that are temporarily pleasurable but eternally painful. Titus 2:11-12 “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” God’s grace should teach you to deny yourself.
To deny yourself ungodliness is to deny yourself anything that is contrary to the characteristics, thoughts and actions that God desires. This includes denying yourself anything of the occult such as magic, fortune telling, horoscopes, witchcraft and black magic. It includes denying yourself to be intoxicated with alcohol or other drugs. It includes denying yourself wild parties, lying, stealing, murder, selfishness, hatred, fighting or anything else that is contrary to what God desires.
To deny yourself worldly lusts is to deny yourself the strong desires for the things of this world. 1 John 2:16 “For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world.” Lust of the flesh includes looking on another person to lust for them, illicit sexual encounters, pornography, eating too much, wanting to have “fun” all the time, or any strong desire for things that please your senses. Lust of the eyes is to have a strong desire for riches, toys, cars, houses, jewelry, the latest technology, or the nice things that others have (which is covetousness). Pride includes things which you think make you better than others. You can be proud of your accomplishments, possessions, knowledge, abilities, and physical characteristics. Deny yourself worldly lusts.
You may also have to deny yourself other things in life. You can’t just marry anyone – you should marry only another believer (2 Corinthians 6:14). You may have to be careful in your occupation, your friends, how you spend your time, and how you spend your money if these things would take you away from Jesus. If you want to follow Jesus, you must first be willing to deny yourself.
The second element that Jesus gave for following Him is that you must take up your cross. What does it mean to take up your cross? Some interpret “cross” as some burden they must carry in their lives: a strained relationship, a thankless job, or a physical illness. They say, “That’s my cross I have to carry.” Because the Romans forced convicted criminals to carry their own crosses to the place of crucifixion, bearing a cross meant carrying their own execution device while facing ridicule along the way to death. Therefore, “Take up your cross and follow Me” means being willing to die in order to follow Jesus. By saying “Take up your cross and follow Me”, Jesus was giving us a word picture of the concept of “death to self”. Matthew 16:25 “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” The idea is that nothing in this life is worth keeping if it means losing eternal life – not a job, not a family, not a group of friends, not earthly pleasures, not even your very identity. You have to die to self everyday. You die to self by putting God and His will and His way of living first in your life. Anytime you feel the pain of an insult, disappointment, suffering, physical challenge, failure, injustice, trial or temptation, it’s an opportunity to die to pride, die to ego, and die to sin. In other words, die to self.
The last element that Jesus gave is to simply follow Him. 1 Peter 2:21-24 “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness — by whose stripes you were healed.” You must seek to live as He lived. He suffered; He committed no sin; no deceit was found in His mouth; when He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when he suffered, He did not threaten; He committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; He sacrificed Himself for others; He went around doing good; He demonstrated great love for others; He had compassion for those hurting; He resisted temptation; He was a person of prayer; He obeyed His father in everything.
My encouragement to you is to be a true Christian. Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow Jesus.