Do you want to follow Jesus? I don’t mean, “Do you want to go to church?” “Do you want America to be a more Christian nation?” “Do you want to feel better so you can live your life?” or “Do you want to conform to your family’s religious heritage?” I mean, “Do you personally want to be a follower of Jesus Christ?”
Before you answer, here’s what doing so would look like according to Jesus in Matthew 16:24:
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
Step 1: Deny Yourself
The word translated “deny” in the original language is built from two words which mean “from” and “deny.” It means to disable and run away from. In other words, Christianity is not self-enhancement, self-modification or even self-suppression. Christianity is self-abandonment.
This can be difficult for us 21st century Americans who live in a culture of self-confidence, self-esteem and self-discovery. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Tumblr give each of us a platform to revel in ourselves and invite others to do the same. Pop psychology and new-age gurus teach us to look within ourselves for the strength to live abundantly.
This is personal for me because I am naturally self-conscious. There’s proof of this in (embarrassing) journals full of introspective self-analysis. I used to be embalmed in myself. I was rotting within myself like a corpse in a casket. Thanks to Jesus’ work in my heart, I am gaining increasing freedom from myself every day.
Freedom from the tyranny of the self is a primary facet of Christianity. Since we are designed to worship God and serve other people, a key component of Christ’s work must be to unlock us from ourselves. We cannot stretch upward and outward while shrinking inward.
Do you want to follow Jesus? If so, deny yourself.
Step 2: Take Up Your Cross
Choosing to follow Christ is choosing to die.
I like to say that weddings are “death ceremonies.” It gets a chuckle from the old married folks – but more importantly it captures the essence of the transaction. During the wedding ceremony, the groom is says to the bride, “I am now dead to myself and living for you.” The bride says the same thing to the groom. When you say you follow Jesus, you are saying that you are dead to yourself and living for him.
Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Following Christ requires a cross. It requires dying to self in such a real way that you can say with Paul that “it is no longer I who live.” It means giving up your life so completely that Jesus’ life is able to fill you. It means the old you is dead and the new life you lead is emptied of “you-ness” and filled with “Jesus-ness.” This is good because you are a sinking ship (see Romans 3). You must escape yourself into Jesus.
Do you want to follow Jesus? If so, deny yourself and take up your cross.
Step 3: Follow Jesus
You would think this one would go without saying – but it doesn’t. Sadly, many church folks could define their version of Christianity without mentioning Jesus.
If you want to follow Jesus, you must FOLLOW JESUS. You must picture Jesus looking at you now, addressing you specifically and directly: “Do you want to follow me? Do you want to listen to my teaching? Want to live by my way and be one of my people?”
Do you want to follow Jesus? If so, deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Him.
A Closing Word to Church Folks
Many get involved in church thinking it will be like Netflix. Netflix conforms to your individual preferences as you choose the shows and movies you like. It learns your tastes and presents options tailored to you. However, Christianity is not like Netflix – it’s like a cross.
Some reading this may be frustrated because their church is not conforming to their preferences. It never will. Nothing in Christianity is about our preferences – it’s about our death. It’s about Christ’s life filling us and changing us.
So, instead of getting involved in church motivated by personal preferences and expectations, follow Jesus. Be a self-denying, cross-carrying Jesus follower.
Work together as a group and create a definition for the word “Christianity.” Discuss what this religion is and is not.
What does it mean to “come after” Jesus in Matthew 16:24? Do all church folks go after Jesus?
What does it mean to deny yourself (vv. 25-26).
What are the most prevalent ways you see selfishness creep into your own life? How does selfishness affect our church?
What does it mean to take up your cross? For clues on this, look at verses 25-26 (see also Galatians 2:20).
How can you follow Jesus – practically?
What would it look like if you were able to live completely by this verse? How would your church be different if we all were able to live by this verse?