Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. ~Matt 16:24-27 (ESV)
Lately, I’ve been reading a few books that have brought up this subject of “the cross” we, as Christians, all must bear. I felt that one passage was very important to this day we are in, for it seems that we have lost sight of what the “cross” was. It was a symbol of death. It wasn’t a symbol of some annoying thing in ones life (like a grumpy relative, bad job, hateful “acquaintance”). It was the universal symbol of Jesus’ day for capital punishment. Today he would have been given lethal injection, without any appeals process. So today he would have said, “take up your lethal injection and follow me.” How important it is for us to learn to give our “self” up to die so that we may have true life flowing within us, for “if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” (Rom 6:7-9). David Wilkerson, from his book “Have You Felt Like Giving Up Lately” sums it up nicely.
You Will Never Arrive
Hear me, friend. God will never permit you to feel as if you have arrived. That’s the trouble with too many Christians today. Way back, they received a great blessing from the Lord. God did a wonderful work in their lives. The Holy Spirit came upon them and redid their lives, through and through. It was glorious, and they started telling the world about their awakening. But it’s been downhill ever since. They have been riding out that one great experience and, in the process, have become self-satisfied and complacent. Take heed when you think you stand, lest you fall. Finally, that once-blessed Christian ends up feeling weak and empty. After trying, unsuccessfully, to invest and recreate the blessings, he gives up in despair. He cries out, “I’m spiritually dead. I’m losing ground with God. I feel like a phony. I can’t seem to get back to where I was in the Lord.”
Your love for Jesus can put you on your knees, but your cross will put you on your face – on the ground, in the dust. God meets you in your prostrate condition and whispers, “I have chosen the weak things of the world; the foolish things; the broken things; the things that are nothing, that no flesh should glory in His presence.”
The Cross Teaches Us How to Deny Self
We will have to carry our crosses until we learn to deny. Deny what? The one thing that constantly hinders God’s work in our lives: self. Look again at what Jesus said: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.” We are misinterpreting this message if we emphasize self-denial, that is, the rejection of material or unlawful things. Jesus was not calling upon us to learn self-discipline before we take up our cross. It is far more severe than that. Jesus is asking that we deny ourselves. This means to deny our own ability to carry any cross in our own strength. In other words, “Don’t take up your cross until you are ready to reject any and every thought of becoming a holy disciple as a result of your own effort.”
There are millions of professing Christians who boast about their self-denial. They don’t drink or smoke or curse or fornicate; they are examples of tremendous discipline. But not in a hundred years would they admit it was accomplished by anything other than their own willpower. In fact, they are quick to add statements like the following: “I can quit any time I want.” “The devil can’t trick me.” “I know what’s right and I try to do it.” “I keep all the commandments.” “I’m a clean, moral person.” “I don’t lie or cheat, and I am faithful to my marriage vows.”
They are practicing self-denial, but they have never denied self. In some ways, we are all like that. We experience spurts of holiness, accompanied by feelings of purity. Good works usually produce good feelings. But God will not allow us to think our good works and clean habits can save us. That is why we need a cross.
I believe Jesus is actually saying to us, “Before you take up your cross, be ready to face a moment of truth. Be ready to experience a crisis by which you will learn to deny your self-will, your self-righteousness, your self-sufficiency, your self-authority. You can rise up and follow Me as a true disciple only when you can freely admit you can do nothing in your own strength. You cannot overcome sin through your own willpower. Your temptations cannot be overcome by your self-efforts alone. You cannot work things out by your own intellect.”
David Wilkerson goes on to discuss how not even Jesus carried his own cross. Wilkerson made it a point to emphasize that we can NOT carry our own cross. We need an “Intercessor!” We have not the power on our own. As I have tried to finish my thoughts on this subject the Lord kept bringing me to the story of the rich young ruler. Huh? Yeah, that’s what I thought at first, and maybe that’s why it took me so long to finish this. But, in Mark 10:17-27, the story is told of a “rich young ruler” who comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him the last 6 of the ten commandments and he says “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up. Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” (10:20-22)
Do you realize that Jesus was not concerned with the man’s wealth? Do you understand that it didn’t matter that the man was rich. In the following discussion with his disciples, Jesus speaks of how hard it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. His disciples say, “Then who can be saved?” Who CAN be saved??? Jesus’ answer: “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”
The point Jesus was trying to make, may have actually been accomplished in that rich young man’s encounter. Jesus essentially told him the one thing he could never do on his own! Jesus wanted to make a point to the young man that he could not earn his way into the Kingdom. He had to send him away sad – he had to send him away knowing that in his own strength he was helpless. That is why in Matthew chapter 5 when Jesus preaches his first recorded sermon in scripture, he begins with “Blessed are the poor in spirit” – blessed are those who realize spiritually they are the poorest of beggars! We cannot make it on our own.
Are you beginning to see how this ties in to carrying our cross. Something naturally rises up in us that says “I can accomplish something.” It may even say, “I can accomplish something for God.” And we begin to strive and work at our salvation in our own strength, and we deny our need of a cross. And when we do that we tell God that he is a liar. Jesus said “apart from me you can do NOTHING” and God does not lie! We must humble ourselves and go before our wonderfully gracious and merciful God. PRAISE JEHOVAH! We must go before him and say, “Lord, help me carry my cross, help me die daily, help me surrender to you that you may live through me. It is YOU I want. Empty me of my self and live through me. I want to give you all the credit. I want to give you all the glory. I want people to look at me and see you Jesus, not me working for you but You working through me!”
Don’t be the Christian who practices self-denial, be the Christian that denies self! You cannot do this! But “all things are possible with God.” When the Greek is translated “with God,” we need to understand that it means “through God.” Don’t see the loop-hole caused by the English language and say that you can work with-God. Come to the understanding that only HE can do this! God can rid you of “self” and He can live victoriously through your life!
Lord Jesus, kill our “selves” today. Let us die, that we may join Paul in fully saying “to live is Christ!” and bring glory to your name in our lives, and in the love you want to show through us! We confess that we want to “be” something and we try to accomplish things to bring value to our own name. Change us oh God! That we may be humble servants of You. We praise and honor your Name Jehovah God, for you are worthy. We thank you that You can and will accomplish this in our lives. We call on your strength and the power of your Holy Spirit, in the precious and mighty name of Jesus! Amen!”
Other posts in this series:
Jacob is a sinner saved grace by God’s grace daily. He is married to Annette, the author of In All You Do, and father to his four children. He desires to follow God’s leading in every aspect of his life and share God’s Word and truth with everyone he meets.
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