How excited are you about “coming after” Jesus or, in other words, “following” Jesus? Do you know the expectations? Do you understand the cost? I want to warn you before you read the rest of this, it isn’t the typical religious self-focused, health and wealth diatribe. So what does Jesus say about the expectations of following Him?
LK 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.
Many during Jesus’ earthly ministry followed him physically waiting for healing and miracles. Others, those of the religious elite, followed Him to entrap, report, and accuse. However, this isn’t what Jesus meant by coming after Him or following Him. He wasn’t asking us to hang out in the crowd for our benefit alone. The attention is not centered on us or the things that enhance and please us. After all, Jesus is more than a celebrity. He is our Lord and we follow Him as a servant obliges his Master.
Admittedly, denying ourselves is a radical notion, especially considering the modern practice of religion. Moreover, considering the lack of commitment of evangelical Christians to Jesus and His church as reported by Barna, Pew, and Lifeway. Jesus’ expectations of self-denial are more than simply denying ourselves things that we can do without like chocolate during Lent. Denying self mandates we deny our personal interests and self-fulfillment to clear the way of any obstruction and distraction from following Jesus. It doesn’t necessitate you giving up your career or professional life, that is, unless it interferes with following Jesus. All in all, a disciple seeks to fulfill the will and the teachings of Jesus as the highest priority in life motivated by a love for Him that surpasses no other.
In order to grasp the depth of self-denial, let’s examine a couple of questions. First, have you denied yourself of anything or anyone to follow Jesus? Make a list of who or what you denied yourself to follow Jesus. I’d be concerned if this list is empty or scarce. Second, in contrast, have you denied Jesus to follow someone or something else? Make a list of who or what you followed instead of Jesus. In case you’re unaware, this list may contain your personal false gods (ref. Exodus 20:3). If so, I exhort you to repent of your idolatry and ask God to help you, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to truly follow Jesus.
Let’s engage one more angle in examining what it means to deny self. Let’s look at what denying self is not. I’ve made a list of 10 common examples of what self-denial is not in relation to coming after or following Jesus as follows:
1) You become too busy with everything else that you don’t have time or desire for worshipping (public and private), witnessing, making disciples, and serving in the church and you steal from God by spending your tithe on other things. 2) You take proverbial detours in your busy life from time to time to make it to a worship service or a church event to ease your conscience or to check a box on your to-do list. 3) You view using your spiritual gifts in service to the church as an inconvenience. 4) You feel taking time out for corporate worship and serving on Sunday mornings is a sacrifice of your personal time. 5) You attend corporate worship services as an observer, critic, or fan instead of a worshipper of the Most High God. 6) You live as if the commands of Jesus are optional. 7) There is little or no evidence (behavior, lifestyle, attitude, desire, spending) that you have a personal relationship with Jesus. 8) You often seek your happiness and pleasure instead of the way, truth, and will of Jesus. 9) You actually expect Jesus to follow you around and bless what you’re doing instead of joining Him in His work. 10) You blame your lack of engagement in the church and ministry on your disagreement with and dislike of others.
Let’s pause here and reflect on how we’re doing with self-denial. Remember, this isn’t optional. It is a specific requirement of following Jesus straight from His mouth. However, if this seems impossible for you, be encouraged to know that not one of us can do this on our own and in our own strength. We are completely dependent on abiding in Christ (John 15:5) and the power of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:17-20).
And, if you want to come after Jesus, self-denial isn’t the end of it. As terrifying as it may seem, the road you travel as you follow Jesus, maybe the final road you travel, leads to the cross. Specifically, taking up your cross. However, this isn’t a reference to a gold cross on a chain you wear around your neck. It also isn’t a cross on a building marking a place where the local church meets. In fact, you cannot wear or put this cross on display. You must bear it. As you choose to follow Jesus, you must prepare yourself to suffer the rejection, pain, and even death as Jesus suffered. Taking up your cross is more than a confession of faith. It is evidence of a transformed life that is the result of a genuine confession of faith in Christ. Now, take up your cross and follow Jesus even to the death. It is there you will find true life.
LK 9:24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
I warned you from the beginning that this wasn’t the typical self-focused religious diatribe. It is simply the truth from the mouth of Jesus about His expectations for following Him as His disciple. After all, Christianity is not a religion but a relationship and the focus is on our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. So quit centering your attention on things that enhance and please you. Instead, focus on Christ. Find out what He wants you to do every day. Do it! Just do it! Now then, that’s exciting!
A Work in Progress,