Today we’re looking at Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” (NLT) Following Jesus requires some sacrifice on our part. Once we have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, He asks something that, for us as humans, is hard. We are to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him.
When we became Believers, we turned from sin and accepted Jesus’ forgiveness and sacrifice on the Cross as payment for the death penalty that hung over our heads for our sin. At that point, we were initially sanctified because of the blood of Jesus. However, sanctification is also a daily process. Jesus asks us to deny ourselves, in other words, deny our fleshly desires and turn toward righteousness. J. Vernon McGee explains it this way in his commentary on Matthew, “Many people interpret this verse, ‘Let him deny himself ice cream’ or ‘Let him deny himself some luxury down here.’ What this verse says is ‘Let him deny himself!’ You already know that the hardest person in the world to deny is yourself. To deny myself dessert is hard enough, but to deny myself is difficult indeed. To deny myself is to put self out of the picture and to put Christ in the place of self.”
Does that mean that in denying ourselves we are to not treat ourselves with respect or have anything good? Of course not! We are not to see ourselves as the world’s doormat or appear to be a poor, pitiful creature, all the while saying that God is taking care of us and seem as if He abandoned us. Denying self is an internal working out of our salvation so that the Light of Jesus shines through.
Jesus also says we are to take up our cross. This is a concept some may find hard to understand. The cross we are to bear isn’t Jesus’ cross of sacrifice for sins. It is our own cross…the cross of fleshly desires, desires that would lead us back into sin. Daily we are faced with decisions that must be made. Will we turn to an area that will lead us into sin or do we deny ourselves the temporary pleasure of that sin and walk in the path of righteousness?
Galatians 5:19-20 gives a list of “works of the flesh”, those things that we are to walk away from. Daily we need to nail those things to the cross and kill them so that we can turn our hearts to righteousness. Some of those things are easy for us to reject while others can be a source of constant struggle, thus we battle daily with overcoming our fleshly desires. We may deal with something our whole lifetime. It is only through daily nailing our sin nature to the cross that we can find victory.
The Apostle Paul put it this way in the book of Romans. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1-2 NKJV) We are to deny our sin nature and daily endeavor to walk in righteousness. Righteous living is exhibited in the fruit of the spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23. Those things are what we are to strive to turn our attention to, to place in our lives as we walk daily with Jesus and follow Him.
Walking with Jesus is a life-long journey. The more we crucify those things in our lives that would turn us away from Him, the closer to Him we will walk. Deny self and take up your cross.