When I was a child my dreams of the future centered on becoming a professional athlete. In the summer, I dreamed of playing professional baseball for the Cincinnati Reds. In the fall, I dreamed of playing professional football for the Dallas Cowboys. In the winter, I dreamed of playing professional basketball for the Boston Celtics. And then, as I grew older, I realized I didn’t have what it takes to be a professional athlete. By and large, I didn’t have the right combination of size, speed and agility to play professional sports. Even if I did, more than anything else, I’m not sure if I was willing to give and give up what it takes to become a professional athlete. It takes what it takes.
In comparison, now read what Jesus says about what it takes to be His disciple, 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. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
To begin with, this is a call to follow Jesus addressed “to all” and “anyone.” And then, as Jesus explains, there are three conditions of becoming His disciple. The first condition is a call to deny self. In other words, stop directing your attention on things that enhance and please you. Instead of focusing on yourself, focus on Christ. Instead of thinking that Jesus exists for me, think I exist for Jesus. As the famous German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was quoted, “Self-denial means knowing only Christ, and no longer oneself. It means seeing only Christ, who goes ahead of us, and no longer the path that is too difficult for us.” Let’s not forget Jesus’ example of self-denial as He prayed to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, “not my will but yours be done.” Even though Jesus asked for a different way to suffer and die for the sins of all people, He accepted the Father’s way. As a preserved C.H. Spurgeon’s sermon script chronicles the whole desire of the famous English preacher, “I have now concentrated all my prayers into one, and that one prayer is this, that I may die to self, and live wholly to Him.”
The second condition of discipleship is “take up his cross daily.” Let me say, the church has certainly marginalized the meaning of what it means to “take up your cross daily.” It’s often referred to in terms of going through a bad circumstance like cancer, suffering at the hands of a bad supervisor or agonizing over the consequences of sin. No! This cross is among the world’s cruelest instruments of torture leading to death. “Taking up your cross daily” means that you are prepared to suffer and die at any cost to obey Christ. As an added perspective, A.W. Pink writes, “taking up my ‘cross’ means a life voluntarily surrendered to God.”
The third and final condition is “follow me.” This is not an occasional but a continual following. Furthermore, this is not a following similar to the way we “follow” someone on social media. Let me say this another way. Jesus didn’t simply say “watch me or observe me” as a fan. Instead, follow implies full engagement in what He is doing. This following is also positional. We are in a submissive position behind Jesus with our eyes focused on Him. We go where He goes and we join Him in what He is doing. Maybe this one line of the famous evangelist John Wesley’s prayer can deepen our understanding of what it means to follow, “I am no longer my own, but Yours. Put me to what You will, rank me with whom You will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for You or laid aside for You, exalted for You or brought low for You; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to Your pleasure and disposal.”
Even though it was a fond childhood dream, fantasy is likely a better understanding, I realized as an older teenager that I didn’t have the combined size, speed and agility to be a professional athlete. Several years later, I also realized that I wasn’t willing to give and give up what it takes to become a professional athlete. Well, that’s one thing but a willingness to give and give up what it takes to follow Jesus is quite another. The first is temporal but the second has eternal implications. Eternal implications because faith in Jesus and following Him are inseparable. We don’t follow Jesus to get saved but we follow Him because we are saved.
Regrettably, there are people I meet on a daily basis, and some I see every Sunday morning, that haven’t fully decided whether they want to give and give up what it takes to be a disciple of Jesus. I wonder if they are exhausted from setting on the fence? Remember, three things are required to become a disciple of Jesus: deny self, take up your cross daily, and follow Jesus. Simply put, you have to give up your life and give Jesus all of you. What it takes is what it takes. I will leave you with an exhortation from author and lead pastor Dr. David Platt, “We are settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves.”
A Work in Progress,