“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, 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?”
Good sermons inspire me. Good sermons have, and will continue, to inspire my songwriting. My song “8:28” is really just one of Pastor Nathan’s sermons put into song. And my song “Reality” owes its credit to YouTube’s favorite pastor, Pastor Steven Furtick.
But the revelation from this text in Matthew Chapter 16 happened in my home turf. On the last day of 2017, Pastor E preached a sermon on Jesus’ words that challenged my life’s trajectory. His specially chosen words and illustrations mingled with divine conviction and creativity to birth a song in my spirit. The song is called Profit; and it will be the first song on my newest EP.
While I recommend you listen to my song, I also recommend you listen to the sermon that inspired it. (It can be found here.) Pastor E provided a powerful expository on the meaning of “take up your cross”. While Jesus never intended his followers to interpret cross-bearing as a pleasant proposition, He did clearly define the alternative as eternally unfavorable.
In sum? We are all going to die anyway. Why try to save your life? Instead, submit to your Creator; do it His way. By grasping for your own happiness, truth, and satisfaction, you will only lose your soul. Surrendering our selfish ways, picking up our cross, and following Jesus is the only way to make our lives truly count.
I want to take some time and expound upon those three steps Jesus listed. How do we:
- Deny ourselves,
- Take up our crosses,
- And Follow Jesus?
Let’s break them down together, shall we?
First, we must deny ourselves. Does that mean deny our own existence? No, not quite – but almost. It means that in order to successfully follow Jesus, I am first to deny the voices in my head that tell me who I am, and what to do.
Let me ask you a question: do your actions dictate the voice that defines you? Or do the words by which you define yourself then dictate your actions?
In other words, which comes first: Do you first tell yourself you’re lazy, then spend the whole night watching Netflix? Or do you let the hours fly away watching Netflix, and then, either in consolation or condemnation, you confirm to yourself that you’re lazy?
There’s no right or wrong answer to this question. Throughout the day, depending on external circumstances and internal conflicts, the answer will change. In examining my past and present, I see both. In one scene, my most shameful actions set the stage for the internal script to be written. In the other, I first write the script, then play the part.
Both must be denied. Both systems of thought and behavior present a direct opposition to following Christ.
I beg you: deny the voice that says, “You’re worthless”; whether it comes before or after you sin. Deny also the voice that says, “You’re worth your own happiness.” Deny yourself your own desires. Pick up your Bible and begin to speak the word of God over yourself instead; and allow God to give you His desires.
There’s a reason why Jesus tells us first to deny ourselves, then to take up our crosses. This order is crucial; for we cannot accurately determine what our cross is until we first deny ourselves. If we continue to submit to selfishness, we’ll become blinded by our own sin; and we’ll pick up the wrong cross. We’ll pick up the cross of pride, abuse, or shame. Jesus bore that cross already – no need to pick it up again.
But when we cease saying inwardly, “You’re worthless” or “You deserve to be happy” and instead say, “You’re worth Jesus dying for,” something shifts. The scrambled understanding of our identity begins to accurately align with the word of God. We now start to see bearing our cross, not as a punishment, but as an assignment from God. Bearing this cross – daily – is a necessary component to following Jesus.
What is your cross? Your cross is…you.
Think about your own life. Your own sinful tendencies. Your own wounds. Your own humanity. Jesus is calling us to die to that humanity every day by bearing it on a cross.
Jesus is not calling us to wear our wounds as a chain on our necks. Jesus is calling us to die to ourselves by confessing our weaknesses and asking the Holy Spirit to reveal the ways in which these weaknesses have kept us from righteous living. Following Jesus requires a daily determination to lay our lives down; and to disassociate ourselves from our sin. We are not our sin. We are children of God, purchased by the blood of Jesus.
Okay. So once we’ve denied ourselves and died to ourselves, what’s left?
Remember the old saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.”? Thankfully, that statement doesn’t apply to Jesus. Our God is consistent, immutable. He is who He is, was, and always will be:
Faithful. Holy. Righteous. Just. Humble. Pure. Generous. Compassionate. Worthy.
Worthy of abandoning all else to follow Him with your whole life.
But He won’t abandon you to do it alone – He’ll show you the way! He isn’t calling us to do anything that He didn’t do first.
Jesus denied himself. He beautifully did not count equality with God to be grasped; and willingly emptied himself of all power and authority. Jesus was human, just like you and me. We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses – he was tempted in every way – yet, He did not sin. Though He did not sin, He became sin – thus baring the heaviest cross of all – the sin of the world. And through it all, Jesus paved the way for us to follow. For though the sin of Adam caused death to rule over many, even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness; for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through the life and power of Jesus Christ.
Oh, He is worthy! Follow Him with your whole life. Let Him show you how.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”