Follow Me – Deny Self – Take Up Your Cross

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.

Being Crucified with Christ

As we continue our study on the Cross of Christ, we look at Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (CSB) The Apostle Paul talks about being crucified with Christ. What does that mean? What is a life that has been crucified with Jesus supposed to look like?

I did some looking on the Internet to see what others have said about this. Most of us think of it as the “old man” being crucified when we were saved, which is true. However, it also should mean that we are conscious of the sin we struggle with every day and are endeavoring to get it out of our lives. Johan Oscar Smith, in an article I found on the Active Christianity website, says, “At some point we have to come to victory over all that we know to be sin, because conscious sin is of the old man. Then we gradually discover the sin which has been unconscious. As we receive light over unconscious sin, we will also crucify it. The body of sin will thereby be destroyed, and we will no longer serve sin.” The act of being crucified with Christ includes a conscious effort on our part to conquer the “sin that so easily besets us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

J. Vernon McGee states, in his commentary on Galatians, “We are not to seek to be crucified with Christ. We have already been crucified with Him. The principle of living is not by the Law which has slain us because it found us guilty. Now we are to live by faith. Faith in what? Faith in the Son of God. You see, friend, the death of Christ upon the cross was not only penal (that is, paying the penalty for our sins), but it was substitutionary also. He was not only the sacrifice for sin; He was the substitute for all who believe.”

When we accept Jesus as our Savior, He forgives our sin and comes to live inside of us. He helps us to conquer sin in our lives. It is through faith in what He has done for us that gives us the strength to conquer those things that would cause us to stray. We can be victors over sin because He is living in us and showing us what needs to be changed. He gives us the power to accomplish this. (Acts 1:8)

We don’t live under the law but under the law of grace. God’s grace covers us, and we are no longer found guilty because of Christ’s blood covering and sacrifice. Therefore, we are alive in Christ. We live by faith in Jesus, He gives us the strength and power to live a life that can win over our sins. We can’t do this on our own…only through Jesus can we conquer our failures.

Does that mean we are perfect and never sin? No, it means that when we are confronted with sin in our lives, Jesus helps us to defeat it so that we can nail that sin on the cross and win the victory over it. This means we must be looking for those things that would cause us to break our relationship with God and deal with them.

This is a life-long process. Every day we must take charge over our sin and refuse to be obedient to it. We then can say like Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ!”

We are Overcomers Because of the Cross

As we continue to look at the Cross, our Bible Journaling Scripture takes us to Revelation 17:14, “These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.” (NASB) I’m not going to get into the future events of this verse; what I want to focus on is the fact that because of what Jesus did on the Cross, we are overcomers.

Notice at the end of the verse it says that those who are with Christ are “the called and chosen and faithful.” That means that those who have accepted Jesus into their hearts, have repented of their sins and have lived for Him are with Him in this battle together. When we ask Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, we join Him in this Spiritual battle, and it says that Jesus and the faithful overcome those who are against them.

We face battles every day…Spiritual, physical, emotional, mental, all of these are battles that we deal with regularly. Some seem to be overwhelmed by the struggles they face. When we don’t lean on Jesus or allow Him to fight for us, we can feel defeated. King David knew that he couldn’t do battle against Goliath on his own, he needed God’s help. I Samuel says, “and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hands.” (NASB) In the same way, we can’t fight against the attacks of Satan without God’s help.

Because Jesus conquered Satan at the cross and in His resurrection, we too can win against anything that the Adversary throws at us. We’re sidelined by a virus. We can fight back with, “No weapon formed against me shall prosper” (Isaiah 54:17) because Jesus took stripes upon His back for our healing. We deal with feelings of worthlessness. We can remind ourselves of what God says, “But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.’” Isaiah 43:1-2 (NIV) (emphasis mine)

Because of what Jesus did for us on the Cross we can fight against the enemy with God’s help and we are overcomers. Revelation 12:11 says, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives unto death.” (KJV) Right before that verse, it says there was a war in Heaven between Michael the Archangel and his angels, and the dragon (Satan) and his angels, and the enemy were defeated and thrown out of Heaven. Notice it says they overcame Satan by the blood of the Lamb AND the word of their testimony. When we become Born-Again Believers, we are covered by Jesus’ blood. When we testify to what Jesus has done for us, Satan has no weapon against that. Once we accept Jesus and we give our testimony out in the open, the Adversary is defeated.

As we consider how we are overcomers because of the finished work of Jesus on the Cross, we should be encouraged. Don’t let the enemy tell you any different. Remind Him that he is already defeated. The Cross has made the difference and there is nothing he can do about it!