When we talk about Discipleship, what we are referring to is dedication in following Christ Jesus. That means that a disciple is a dedicated follower of Jesus. To be qualified as a disciple is not to follow for a time or season, No! What makes one a disciple is in following perpetually. And so, when Jesus instructed his apostles in Matthew 28:19 to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations; He was referring to dedicated and adherent followers who would take the message of the kingdom into the ends of the earth.
But, it is important for those who would be disciples to understand what it entails. So, when Jesus said in Luke 9:23-24 that “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” What exactly was Jesus talking about here? In verse 23, there are three important phrases that I want us to take cognizance of if we are going to understand discipleship and taking up one’s cross daily. (i) If anyone desires to come after me, (ii) Let him deny himself and (iii) Take up his cross daily. These are the three fundamental phrases in discipleship. Now, what do they mean?
‘If Anyone Desires to Come After Me’
The first understanding we must have is that not everyone qualifies or can become a disciple of Jesus Christ. If it is a free for all kind of arrangement, Jesus would have foist it on everyone by force, and He wouldn’t have used the “desire” in that phrase. Now, what is DESIRE? Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘desire’ as “the feeling of wanting something.” In other words, desire usually stems from the heart of ‘desiree’. So, Jesus was saying if anyone desires to come after me; let them make up their minds. Let us see this truth in Matthew 8:18-22
“And when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him, He gave a command to depart to the other side. 19 Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” 20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 21 Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
Also, the story of the young rich ruler is a great example here. Mark 10:21-22 tells us “Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”22 But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” The young man couldn’t afford to make up his mind to follow Jesus because the Bible says “He had great possessions.” Now what these two examples showed to us is that, not everyone can be Jesus’ disciples, except those who have had their mind made up.
‘Let Him Deny Himself’
To deny oneself means to say no to self and say yes to God’s will. To deny oneself means to say no to food and yes to fasting. Naturally, your body does not like to even stay away from food a bit. To deny oneself means to say no to pleasure and yes to prayer and fellowshipping with God. We must understand that self denial is not self-hatred. It does not also mean self condescending. Now, the life of Jesus Christ is a great example of what it means to deny oneself. In Philippians 2:6, the Bible says Him being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God. That is a great example of self denial.
So, when Jesus said whoever that will be His disciple must deny Himself, what He was simply saying is that you have to let yourself go for the sake of me. You have to let go of certain pleasures and the things that you are used to before now, and come be my disciple. And there are many examples in the Bible talking about denying oneself for the sake of God. In Daniel 1:8, the Bible says “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.” Daniel could have chosen to enjoy the largesse that comes daily from the kings table, but he chose not to, simply because of God.
In Jeremiah 35, God wanted to expose the disobedient of the men of Judah, but he needed to do this by citing an example from among them, the children of Rechabites, how they had listened to their father’s instruction to abstain from wine, and they followed their father instructions, even when he was no longer with them physically. So, to wholly follow Jesus and be His disciples, it is required that one completely say no to everything called “me, myself and I” and follow wholeheartedly the Lord Christ. This is how to be a true disciple indeed.
‘Take Up His Cross Daily’
Now, what was Jesus saying when He said this? The first understanding I had from this, taking up your cross daily; is to live absolutely and depending on God on a daily basis. Now, when Jesus was teaching His disciples how to pray, in Matthew 6:11, He told them to pray thus: “Give us this day our daily bread.” So, taking up one’s cross daily means depending on God as each day goes by. It is a state of absolute dependence on God, nothing more, nothing less.
Apart from this, we also know that the cross is a symbol of pain, shame and death. When Jesus was saying this to His disciples, He was already telling them what manner of death He was going to die. He was simply telling them that this kind of cross, you may have to also bear it in this journey of discipleship. And no wonder He said to them in Luke 9:24, that if you because of this experience want to have a change of mind in order to save your life, you will lose it eventually. And if anyone is ready to follow and forget about the consequences, not minding to lose his or her life in the process, He says such a person’s life would be saved.
Apostle Paul understood this when he wrote in Galatians 2:20 that “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” So, saying one wants to be a disciple of Jesus indeed is to first and foremost, make up his or her mind to follow Him, daily and constantly deny himself or herself and taking up his or her cross daily, following Christ.
I believe you have been blessed.
[Centre For New Dimension Leadership]