Who Will Follow Jesus?
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me’” (Matt. 16:24).
This statement by Jesus is translated in the Williams New Testament, “If anyone wants to be my disciple, he must say `No´ to self, put his cross on his shoulders, and keep on following me.” This translation accurately conveys the idea Jesus was wanting His disciples to grasp and understand. The term deny in the Greek (ἀρνέομαι) means to disown and renounce self, to say no to oneself, and to conquer all works, interests and enjoyments. The term take up in the Greek (αἴρω) carries the idea of taking up and placing on oneself. To follow Jesus (ἀκολουθέω) conveys the concept of following His lead and acting according to His example. We truly must say no to our desires, to have a willingness to suffer as our Lord suffered for us, and to always seek to imitate Him in devotion to the Father, as Jesus submitted in all ways. “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38).
In a society where the satisfaction of one’s pleasures and desires takes precedence over so much of life, these words of our Lord seem outdated and non-applicable for life today. Indeed, even for those who profess to be Christians, the concept of self-denial is all too often foreign and forgotten. And yet, aren’t we saved so sin will no longer have dominion over us, so we might instead show our fellow Christians, and the world around us, what godliness is, what the beauty of holiness is, what being in the image of God is all about?
Sin wants dominion over us, but if we allow it to have its way with us, it brings condemnation, because that is the very nature of sin. To allow it to run its course in us, do others really see Christ in us? To abandon truth for lies isn’t saying no to self but yes to sin. To allow anger to overcome us isn’t taking up His cross as our own, but taking up sin. To seek one’s way instead of encouraging others isn’t following the lead of Jesus and acting according to His example, but being selfish. Anything that is based in human notions, and not in spiritual truths, can’t help but produce sin.
It takes a conscious effort to follow Christ. Luke tells us it is something we must make happen daily (Luke 9:23). What would life be like if we stopped to consider that our Lord watches over us in everything, that He has provided His example for us to pursue, that God’s grace urges us to be faithful to His will? How can we be more effective in this? What keeps you from spending time reading God’s word daily, other than not setting aside time to do so? What keeps you from praying for strength daily, other than not setting aside time to do so? What keeps you from assembling with the saints for encouragement, other than not setting aside time to do so? Following Christ starts from within, in the heart. If one can’t commit to it, genuinely desire it, and seek to make it one’s lifestyle, where does the problem lie?
God doesn’t expect us to do what we can’t. If we seek Him, He will help us follow Him, to find the strength to overcome that which would deter us from following Him. If we give it no thought as we go through the week, it won’t happen. The life of Christ should be seen and heard in each member of the Lord’s church, in the building we assemble, in the home, in business, recreation, and everywhere else.
On the heels of Jesus telling His disciples to have this type of mindset, this kind of lifestyle, that this is what pleases Him, some professed their desire to follow Him, but offered excuses for not doing so. Jesus responded, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). He asks us to follow Him, meaning we say no to self because if we don’t, sin enters to condemn. He asks us to follow Him, meaning we take His cross on ourselves, because if we don’t, sin enters to condemn. He asks us to follow Him, meaning we live a life of obedience because He loves us and wants to save us, and if we don’t, sin enters to condemn. Do you follow Jesus or sin? It’s one or the other. Follow Jesus.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice.”