“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’” (Matthew 16:24).
As we continue our month-long Mission Festival this coming Sunday, we will continue to look at the “Mission of God,” and specifically as it is “In the Cross.” The cross for every believer is a treasured symbol of the great love that God has for us in the atoning sacrifice of the Son. And it also has profound implications not just for the moment that we believe, but for every day of the Christian life. The mission of God involves being united to Christ both in his death and in his resurrection.
First, that means the Christ’s atoning death was truly a substitute for the death we deserve. As Horatius Bonar wrote:
Upon a life I did not live
Upon a death I did not die,
Another’s life, another’s death
I stake my whole eternity.
Not on the tears that I have shed,
Not on the sorrows I have known,
Another’s tears, another’s grief
On these I rest, on these alone.
I think too often Christians, particularly in the west, are guilty of selling a gospel that is too easy. All a person needs to do to be saved is to accept Jesus as your savior and pray a little prayer. And it would be nice if that were true. But it is not what Jesus said, or what he expects of us. This passage teaches something altogether different from that.
What Jesus wants from us is discipleship. A disciple is more than just an interested fan who sits on the sideline and watches the show, without getting involved. A disciple is one who actively follows another, learning from them, and imitating their teacher. And that is what Jesus is saying in this verse. I cannot be Jesus disciple without leaving my old life behind and following closely after him. Discipleship involves self-denial. It involves losing my life for Christ’s sake. And it involves finding a new life in Christ.
Some would say that salvation and discipleship are not the same thing; that one can be saved without being a disciple. But that is foreign to the teaching of Jesus and his apostles. Jesus is particularly clear in this passage. You have to lose your life for Christ in order to find it. Life in Christ is accompanied by death to the world (Gal. 2:20).
To be clear, I am not saved because I have died to self in order to follow Jesus. But if I truly have been saved, I am a new creature, the old has gone and the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). I will deny self, take up my cross, be a disciple, and follow Jesus. That is what he calls on us to do here.
Oh, may we experience the fulfilling of Jesus’ prayer for us in the Garden the night before he was crucified. “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).