“Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’”
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Recently, I have been attending sessions at my church home to better equip myself to lead and disciple others. These sessions have been extremely valuable and have made me extra grateful to be part of a church that invests in its people and releases them into their God-given callings. A key nugget of wisdom I have held on to, is that to lead others effectively, you must first lead yourself. Therefore, to disciple others well, I must first be a true disciple of Jesus. As I (not coincidentally) came across the above scripture during my time with God, I immediately sought God to help me unpack it further. I had read this instruction from Jesus to His disciples so many times before, without giving much thought to what it meant for me personally. Shows how easily we can get caught up in going through the motions in our walk with Jesus!
So what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?
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In Luke 9:23, Jesus reveals three keys to being His disciple… “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
1. Deny yourself
Now, my first instinct when reading this phrase is that I must deny who I am (my personality, likes, tastes, preferences) in order to become someone else, perhaps someone worthy of following Jesus. This interpretation triggers the defensive side of me that wants to say “well if Jesus won’t accept me the way that I am, why should I follow him?” Sound familiar?
But when I read this through the lens of the Holy Spirit, I see that in no way is Jesus asking me to be someone other than myself. I know that God, who created my inmost being (Psalm 139:13), created me as I am, for a purpose.
As I recognise that, my perspective shifts to understand that Jesus is speaking of denying our own will and doing things our way, in favour of the will of God. To deny yourself, is to completely surrender to God, His will and His way. We may not always understand God’s way, in fact we rarely do until hindsight gifts us with clarity. However, when we surrender to God, we are choosing to trust that His way is better.
“For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” | John 6:38
2. Take up your cross daily
This to me, is probably the most cryptic (or symbolic, for use of a more constructive word!) of the three conditions – like the parables, it requires careful interpretation.
We know that today, the cross symbolises healing, forgiveness, victory, love, grace, mercy, freedom and so much more! At the time Jesus shared these instructions with His disciples, the cross represented suffering, death, sacrifice.
To be a disciples of Jesus requires daily sacrifice. Sure, we can say that we are surrendered to God’s will – we can lift our hands in worship, pray the right prayers and regularly study His Word, but what does that look like in our everyday lives? What does it mean to take up (or to carry) your cross? I believe that Jesus personalised this statement for a reason. Carrying your cross can look different for each one of us.
For me, it looks like stepping out of my comfort zone and speaking to that person who may be in need of a friendly gesture. It looks like overcoming my insecurities to lead and minister to others who need someone to walk alongside them. It looks like letting go of my need to control my finances and going against the grain, entrusting that God will always provide.
3. Follow Jesus
By reading the Gospels, we get a picture of how Jesus lived. We see how He walked and talked, how He spent His time and who He spent it with, His relationship with God and so many aspects of His nature. I believe that God sent Jesus to this earth in human form, not only so that He could die for our sins and make us right with God but also as an example for how we too should live.
To “follow”, means to go in the same direction – we are called to walk as Jesus walked. This means loving the unloved, living generously, serving others and continuing to grow in the likeness of Jesus.
“For even the Son of Man did not come expecting to be served by everyone, but to serve everyone, and to give his life in exchange for the salvation of many.” | Matthew 20:28 (TPT)
To "deny yourself" is something I struggled with for quite some time before the Holy Spirit revealed the intention behind this statement. Are there any of the three keys shared by Jesus that you have (or feel you need to) work through with God?