It has been observed that the mark of a great leader is the demands that he makes upon his followers.
The 19th century Italian freedom fighter, Garibaldi, offered his men only hunger and death to free Italy. During WWII British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said that he had nothing to offer the English people except “blood, sweat, toil, and tears” in their fight against the enemies of England.
Likewise Jesus demanded from his disciples total commitment if they were to be his followers. In one of the great verses of the Bible Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Matt 16:24)
There are three key qualities enunciated by Jesus as requirements for discipleship.
(1) Deny yourself.
Jesus asks us to say “no” to our selves. This is commitment that is greater than just denying one’s self of personal comfort, pleasures or possessions. It is giving up self-gratification. Self-indulgence. Self-centeredness. Self-interest.
Denying self goes against the grain. It’s not what our self-seeking culture is about. Everything today is geared toward self-satisfaction. Self-love. Self-devotion.
Jesus calls for self-denial. Self-sacrifice. Self-abasement. Self-control. Self-discipline.
(2) Take up your cross.
I recently saw a news video of a man from Memphis, Nick Moore, walking across Texas with a cross. He says he’s doing it to commemorate the death, suffering and sacrifice of Jesus. Interestingly, I noticed the cross is equipped with wheels and he’s pushing it. And ironically, he had strapped to the cross a thermos of water!
This is not what Jesus had in mind. He already bore his cross. The text is speaking of YOUR cross. MY cross. It is our sacrifice. Our devotion. Our personal commitment. It is our gift. It is using our time, talent and treasure to benefit His Cause, instead of selfishly using it all for our own. It is working for his glory, and not our own praise.
This is not once a year. Or once a month. Or once a week. Like on Sunday. Discipleship is a daily demand. Each day we take up our cross. Every day we live for the Lord. Daily we look for ways to make a difference. To give. To serve. To shine.
(3) Follow Jesus.
This is the natural result of self denial and cross bearing. He is the motivation for what we do, who we are, and how we live.
Following Jesus leads to ministry. Following Jesus leads us to involvement in the lives of others. And not just the comfortable environment of fellow Christians. But it leads us to interact with the less fortunate who need our help. With sinners whom we can share the Word. With opponents of Christianity to whom we can give a defense of the gospel.
Following Jesus leads us to Bible study. Prayer. Worship. And fellowship. Following Jesus leads to an intimate relationship with the Father.
Who can sing with the unknown lyricist, “I have decided to follow Jesus”?
I have decided to follow Jesus.
The world behind me, the cross before me.
Tho’ none go with me, I still will follow.
My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus
No turning back.
I’ll follow Him.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman