And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.Mark 8:34(NASB)
When Jesus summoned the crowd to come, and listen to Him, together with His chosen disciples, and made His astonishing demand... that anyone who wanted to follow Him was to deny themselves, and take up their cross and follow Him... we find that this requirement was recorded immediately after Peter had pronounced his divine revelation from God.
Peter had just confessed, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, following which, he was immediately and severely reprimanded, for attempting to prevent the Messiah of Israel, from carrying out His God-appointed work, on the cross of Calvary.
It is in this context that we read:- and Jesus summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me. If anyone wants to be a true disciple of the Lord Jesus, he must die to his own desires and personal wishes, and live for Christ alone - even though this may be very difficult. In a parallel passage, we read that whoever does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters - yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. True discipleships places Christ at the centre of a life and above everyone else.
Peter's protest, which attempted to save Jesus from being handed over to the Gentile nations, and crucified on the cross, to pay the price for the sin of the world, may have been born out of deep love for his Master, but ignorance of God's perfect plan of redemption. However, it was to trigger a sharp rebuke from Jesus, which laid the foundation for Christ to tell all His followers the enormous price of true discipleship in this passage. If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.
The price for our salvation was paid at Calvary, through the shed blood of Christ, such that whosoever BELIEVES on the Lord Jesus Christ is saved by God's grace, because of their faith. However, once a person is truly born-again and saved by the blood of the Lamb, they have a choice.. to follow Christ afar off, remain in spiritual infancy and live in carnality OR deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Him.. as a true, sacrificial disciple - for we read: if anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.
The conditions for true discipleship are hard, and Jesus made clear what was involved. FIRST, we are to surrender ourselves to Him completely. SECOND, we are to identify with His suffering and death and THIRD, we are to obediently follow Him, and trust His word.. no matter what the cost, or how difficult it may become.
To deny self has nothing to do with 'self-denial', where we give up this or that, now and again. It is a total surrender of our own wishes and personal desires. It is offering our entire life as a living sacrifice, which is set apart for God and remains holy to the Lord. It is disassociating ourselves from our own wishes and personal desires, and living life with a divine perspective, where we are willing to say, not my will but Thine be done.
All believers are promised an inheritance, that is kept for us in heaven. However, to take up our cross is to identify with the suffering of Christ - NOT His sacrificial work on the cross, which He alone accomplished. It is to participate with Him, in the abuse and hatred that Jesus received during His lifetime and which has continued to be poured out on members of His mystical body - which is the Church, for centuries of time.
To follow Christ as a disciple, may necessitate the forsaking of creature comforts, earthy ambitions, material riches, relational ties and even life itself. Let us seek to become sacrificial disciples of Christ, and not merely saved followers. Let us die to our own desires and live our life for Christ alone.
Heavenly Father, thank You that I have been saved by grace - through faith in Christ. But Lord, I realise that to truly become a disciple of Yours, I must deny myself, and all that it entails. I now understand that I must lay my entire life on the sacrificial alter, as a willing offering.. and be ready and willing to say, 'not I but Christ'. May I be prepared to say, in all things - 'not my will but Yours be done', and help me to deny myself, take up my own cross and follow You, willingly and joyfully - to Your praise and glory - this I ask in Jesus name, AMEN.