Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what discipleship is and how to embrace the Cross of Christ in all of life.

Discipleship-greenLuke 9:23, “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. ”

“Come after me” means to become a disciple. “Take up His Cross” means to make a commitment that will lead to rejection even death. Jesus in Luke 9:21-22 says He will be rejected and now calls His disciples to radical discipleship.

“Follow me” means to follow the example and teachings of Jesus. In Jesus day “follow me” meant joining the company of His disciples who traveled in ministry around Palestine. Peter identified Jesus as the Christ of God in Luke 9:20. This was only the first step to understanding who Jesus is and what He came to do.

In addition to knowing the person of Jesus, the disciples also needed to understand His work. In addition to understanding His work, Jesus worked with His disciples to understand how He would endure suffering, rejection, and death before rising on the third day.

The only Christ that Peter or anyone else can confess is Christ crucified and risen. All of this was very hard for the disciples to understand. Jesus in the span of a short time preached the whole gospel and applied it to daily life. While salvation begins by believing in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ- Jesus here calls people to never lose sight of the cross. This means discipleship is much more than knowing who Jesus is or what He came to do in His finished work. It means that His life, in all its suffering becomes the pattern for our lives.  The only Christ that anyone can confess is Christ crucified and the only way to confess Him is to follow Him all the way to the Cross. Jesus gave them all the facts because He wanted them to know what they were getting into. A life of self-sacrifice and self-denial is not just for super-Christians who share the gospel door to door or travel to a dangerous mission field; this life is for anyone and everyone who wants to be His disciple.

Deny, Take Up, and Follow Jesus

Jesus used three different verbs to describe what every disciple must do: deny, take up and follow. These are three different ways of saying the same thing, but each has a slightly different emphasis. The first verb is deny. When Jesus calls us to deny ourselves it means our sinful selves with all the selfish desires of our fallen nature. The Greek verb to deny is arneomai and is a strong word of negation that, in this case, means to forget oneself entirely, to reject any thought of doing what will please ourselves rather than God. Instead of gratifying our every whim, we are to deny ourselves, rejecting anything and everything that will get in the way of serving Christ.

Jesus calls us to deny ourselves so that we to many do the work God has called us to. This means saying no to sin, no to ungodly attitudes, no to unhealthy relationships, no to self-indulgent acquisitions, no to things that’s waste our time, and no to physical pleasures that sap our spiritual strength. It also means saying no to things that may be good for us but are not God’s will for our lives.

What are you accepting for yourself that Jesus want you to deny? What are you holding on to that He is calling you to give up or give away? We are to deny ourselves and take up the cross. The disciples did not know yet the extent of the agony Jesus would experience when He was crucified.

Later the cross would become a symbol for everything that Jesus did for them and for us in salvation. For the present, the cross was simply a means of execution like an electric chair or the syringe for a lethal injection. Dr. Morris comments, “When a man from one of their village took up a cross and went off with a little band of Roman soldiers, he was on a one-way journey. He’d not be back. Taking up the cross meant the utmost in self-denial.” It meant the very death of self.

Cross bearing is something that goes well beyond the ordinary trials of daily life.

When people complain about their problems, they sometimes say, “that’s my cross to bear.” Jesus was not talking primarily about the difficult people in our lives, or our work situation, or our physical limitations, financial hardship unless we are suffering these things because of our faith. He was speaking specifically about the suffering we endure for His sake, the hardships we face due to the very fact we are trying to follow Christ.

Joni Eareckson Tada takes this principle and applies it to daily life. She is a quadriplegic and has suffered more than most people, and in her suffering she has also learned the difference between the ordinary struggles of life and true Christian cross bearing. She says, “I have learned that it’s a passion for God that will give you a passion for people. And this utter delight in Him will come from the toughest of trials that you are about to face. Our affliction becomes that which pushes and shoves us down the road to the Cross. And that’s what it means to become like Him in His death. Don’t think that the cross is simply the wheelchair, or an irritating job, or an irksome mother in law. The Cross is the place where you die to sin and live to God.”

The Cross is to be part of our everyday lives as Christians. Jesus is not speaking about something at the beginning of the Christian life, or about the occasional sacrifice we make along the way, but about our everyday discipleship. Being a Christian does not mean going to church on Sunday, serving in a bible study once a week, and then living for ourselves the rest of the time. Biblical discipleship means laying ourselves on the altar of daily obedience. How could a Savior who gave His life for us be content with anything less than seeing us live our lives for Him? Jesus is calling us to daily crucifixion on our own personal cross. The third verb Jesus used was to follow from the greek word akoloutheo. To be a disciple is to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus. To be a disciple is to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus.  He has just said that He himself will endure suffering, rejection, and even death. Anyone who follows this Savior must be prepared for the same kind of rejection. The Christian life is a life after Christ, marked by suffering and death. He bore the cross for us; now we bear the cross for Him.

We are bound to have people criticize our uncompromising commitment to sexual purity or walk away from us because they do not want to hear you give them the gospel. We are bound to have occasional pangs of regret over things that we are giving up for the gospel, as we put more of our time and money at God’s disposal. Confessing Christ means more than simply believing in his cross; it also means taking up a cross of our own. 

On Friday, we’ll conclude this short two part series by looking at what Luke 9:24-27 has to teach us about discipleship.