Updated: Mar 10, 2020
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
How can one lose his life, to find life? How can one who wishes to save his own life, lose his life? Jesus poses a stark juxtaposition about life and death to highlight the reality and severity of the gospel truth: to save oneself, is not an option! Every individual requires a Savior (#spoileralert Jesus), to bring them out of the darkness of sin/death, and into the light, to receive life. Jesus gives 2 requisite commands of following Him:
#1. Deny yourself (and)
#2. Take up your cross (and)
#3. Follow Jesus
Not to be mistaken with asceticism/monasticism, which promotes a system of self induced "tortures" (physically/psychologically) to attain a state/standing of spirituality empowered by one's own strength; this line of thinking - which exalts man's ability to achieve enlightenment in one's own strength & will - is simply 'pride' masquerading as 'humility.' The bible teaches us that no amount of good works, will ever put us into right standing with God; so, why would Jesus tell us to "deny ourselves," as if we were an ascetic/monastic monk? The end goal, of Jesus's statement eludes to those who have been called to become Christians, who are predestined to be conformed into the image of the Son of God (Romans 8:29). I am going to articulate what this process, practically, looks like and why it is so very crucial to our faith.
Deny Yourself and...
Denying oneself involves recognizing sinful thoughts/behaviors; as obtuse or acute as the sinful thought may be, one must take captive their thoughts and make them obedient to Christ. A Christian has been given the spirit of God to dwell within their heart, which is directly opposed to the fleshly humanistic nature that is characteristic of man. Our "natural" impulses are fleshly impulses, and the Spirit of God prevents us from doing the things we would like to do!
"For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would." Galatians 5:17
19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21
Jesus had every opportunity to walk away from the path laid before Him, but he didn't; Jesus denied the flesh, at every opportunity, and did not sin: to the point of death on a cross! Jesus's death on the cross was the necessary step to bring about the forgiveness of sins, and the fulfillment of the resurrection: by the power of God, Jesus was raised from the dead! Similarly, each and every Christian, is conformed into the image of the Son of God.
...Take Up Your Cross and Follow Jesus
Though not every Christian may be called to die on a cross, literally, we (as Christians) have been given a cross to bear, and this is significant. We have all earned the wage of sin, and the wage of sin is death: ALL have fallen short of the glory of God. But Jesus has allowed that which is destined to destroy man (sin), to be brought to nothing (Romans 6:6), by the cross. The cross was a FEARED instrument of torture, agony and despair, but God chose this instrument to bring about the forgiveness of sins, leading to eternal life.
Jesus tells us to deny ourselves: the sinful, fleshly, impulses that will lead us to destruction, we must deny! We, as Christians, are simply fallible humans: born rebels, but surrendered to ultimate authority, and we humbly face Jesus, the one who has been given the power to judge. Jesus calls us to take up our cross: the sentence given to a convicted criminal, we must carry on our shoulders the very thing that will destroy the body. The burden that we carry is the "old man," the flesh, and this is the reason for the cross that we bear. The death sentence, of the cross, is meant for the body of sin, and this sentencing is followed through, as we follow in the steps of Jesus, when He says "...follow me;" Jesus's steps lead to calvary, where the body of sin, is indeed put to death. We follow Jesus wherever he may lead, and we do not stop along the way and try to escape. "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it" Matthew 16:25. Bearing your cross may seem painful, but the pain of enduring through a trial of temptation - something as simple as being a good husband to your wife - is worth it: it leads to life. The cross is not meant to bring death to the believer, but to bring about life through the death of the body of sin, and the forgiveness of sin. "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:26
Bearing your cross may seem painful, but the pain of enduring through a trial of temptation - something as simple as being a good husband to your wife - is worth it: it leads to life.
I hope this gives additional insight and encouragement, for those who desire to follow after Jesus, to “...deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow” [Jesus].