Some time ago I read a “true story” about a preacher who was standing at the door shaking hands as the congregation departed. He grabbed one man by the hand and pulled him aside.
The preacher said to him, “You need to join the Army of the Lord!”
The man replied, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Preacher.”
The preacher questioned, “How come I don’t see you except for Christmas and Easter?”
He whispered back, “I’m in the secret service.”
Jesus is not looking for “secret service” followers. In Mark 8:34, “When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, (Jesus) said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
There are three key qualities enunciated by Jesus as requirements for discipleship.
(1) Deny yourself.
Jesus asks us to say “no” to ourselves. This is a 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.
A couple years ago, I 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. This kind of cross-bearing requires a daily commitment. 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.
As John MacArthur once wrote, “Too many Christians want the crown without the cross.”
(3) Follow Me.
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 with 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.
In the words of the hymn writer Eliza E. Hewitt, “Who Will Follow Jesus?”
Who will follow Jesus,
Standing for the right,
Holding up His banner
In the thickest fight?
Listening for His orders,
Ready to obey,
Who will follow Jesus,
Serving Him today?
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman