Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
I’m guessing that’s not one of your favorite scriptures.
I get it. Your flesh cries out in rebellion against such commands. Deny myself? We spend our lives trying to indulge the desires of our “selves.” That goes against everything in our nature. And carrying a cross doesn’t sound very fun. No one likes a burden. So those first two make the last one seem pretty unpalatable.
Why would I want to follow Jesus if to do so I have to deny myself and carry a cross?
Why, indeed? I’d like to suggest something that perhaps you haven’t considered. What if the fact that we find those commands so unappealing confirms how very important they are to overcoming the enemy and experiencing abundant life?
Here’s the truth of the matter: The enemy of our souls likes keeping us under his thumb. He’s been governing our sin nature since man’s fall at the beginning of time, and he’s not keen on giving up control. He enjoys the chaos and destruction he generates in our lives as he bends our wills to bring about death, all the while convincing us we’re free and making our own choices.
Maybe you didn’t realize that. Yes, dear one. If you don’t choose to submit your will to God, you’re already submitting it to the prince of this world, the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Ephesians 2:2).
Your will is not your own. You only think it is.
In 2 Timothy 2, Paul challenges believers to call on the Lord out of a pure heart. He says this about opponents of truth in verses 25-26,
Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
You see, beloved, your sin nature rebels so strongly against self-denial, because the enemy of your soul doesn’t want to lose his grip. He’s convinced you to believe that you’re free to do as you please. Meanwhile, he quietly pulls the strings. The “I” that you think is making your decisions actually has a master.
“As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. “ Romans 7:17
Precious one, allowing sin to continue to govern your “I” eventually brings about death.
For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. Romans 7:5
Because sin governs them, following our own passions and desires will always hurt us eventually. So can you understand, beloved, why the first step in following Jesus to new life must involve denying what your “self” insists you need?
When Jesus asks you to deny yourself, He isn’t trying to take away your right to choose. He wants to restore it to you! He simply wants to set your “I” free from the destructive rule of sin. Then the person He created you to be—your personality, your deep passions and sense of purpose—the real, unfettered you can emerge to step into abundant life. And your soul can soar with the joy that comes with it.
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36
Not so bad, right?
But what about taking up that cross? We know what it meant for Jesus. Death.
Beloved, the only death coming to you through the cross belongs to the sin that binds you. Remember, even for Jesus, the cross became the means to resurrection life. It offers the same promise for you.
That cross represents God’s beautiful will for your life. Yes, Jesus carried an actual cross up a hill to Golgotha, bearing its shame and shedding His blood so that you and I could be free. He lived out God’s will for Him so that we could live redeemed. Now that cross remains a symbol of what God wants to see lived out in each of our lives. “ . . . not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
But we forget what else that cross represents. What became available to us through that cross?
Love … forgiveness… the Holy Spirit… mercy… grace … freedom… sonship… power
Beloved, when Jesus asks you to take up your cross, He invites you to take up all that comes with it. He wants you to take up God’s will for your life, just like He did. He asks you to believe that He intends to prosper you and not harm you, that He means to offer you hope and a beautiful future (Jeremiah 29:11).
He also welcomes you to take up everything He poured out for you through His cross to empower you to step into the abundant life He’s planned for you.
The question is: will you believe? If so, there’s one thing left to do.