“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24, ESV)
As Christians, we are required to follow Christ. In fact, many people ask “Are you a follower of Jesus?” Think about that question. If you have asked Jesus into your heart, then it seems reasonable to say “Yes.” However, this is not some flippant comment made by our savior. If we are going to say that we are followers of Jesus, then we need to actually follow Him.
What does it mean to actually follow Jesus? Well, there are some clues in this verse. Christ says that we are to “deny ourselves.” The original Greek meaning for the word “deny” is, “to forget one’s self, lose sight of one’s self and one’s own interests.” Many people will take this to mean that we have to deny ourselves of the sinful pleasures of this world. In reality, we need to deny ourselves of ourselves. What I mean is that we have to be like Jesus in every way. He was a man of no sin, so we have to deny sin entrance into our lives. He was a man of righteousness, so we must embrace righteousness in our lives. The problem is that He was the only person who ever existed that did not sin. Is it possible for us to reach a point where we live sin-free? Yes. It is called “Heaven.” In our lives, we are going to sin. However, we need to recognize the attempt sin makes to gain entrance into our lives, and run from it. 2 Timothy 2:22 says, “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” The word “flee” means, “seek safety by flight” and “to shun or avoid by flight something abhorrent, esp. vices.” So, the scriptures are telling us that we should not only turn away from sin, but to run from it.
The next thing is to embrace the righteousness of Christ into our lives. Notice that I said to embrace Christ’s righteousness. There is nothing righteous about us as humans. That is why Jesus came and died for us, taking our sin for Himself, and giving us His righteousness. Romans 3 talks a lot about righteousness. I’ll just highlight some key points, at the same time, I’ll draw some personal application of the scripture:
- God is faithful whether or not I believe, so I might as well believe, and reap the benefits. (v. 3 – 4)
- No matter how hard I strive to keep the law, I cannot establish righteousness in God’s eyes. (v. 21)
- Faith in Jesus Christ will establish righteousness in God’s eyes (v. 22)
- If I have faith in Jesus, God will justify me. (v. 26)
- By having faith in Jesus, I will want to keep the law (v. 31)
This scripture also says to “take up his cross and follow me.” If we are going to be followers of Christ, then we have to go after Him, no matter where He leads. The cross that Jesus carried was a literal cross on which He died for each of us. As Christians, we understand that there is a burden in following Christ. We must choose to either accept that burden, and follow Him, or ignore the burden, and live our lives any way we like. If we choose the latter, we are no longer following Him. The way He is going leads to death. This death is not a literal death for our forgiveness. It is a figurative death showing that we are no longer controlled by the desires of sin, rather that we are set firm on accepting the righteousness of Jesus.
To die to sin, or to deny yourself shows that there is a change in your life. I do not understand how we can come face to face with the splendor of God and then live as if nothing has happened. If we are going to be “like Christ”, then we must ask ourselves in everything we do, “Would Jesus do this?” The answer to that is simple. It is contained in a book that took 2,000 years to write, and is still just as relevant today as ever. To be a follower of Jesus, then we have to get to know Him. The only way to do that is to read His word, and engage Him in conversation (pray).