And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?  For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” – Mark 8:34-38 (NASB)
Mark records that at this point in Jesus’ ministry He began turning his steps toward the cross. Even though Jesus’ ministry transitions, He is still ministering to people, still comforting, still healing, still preaching. While teaching, Jesus reveals three steps to true discipleship, and these are:
- He Must Deny Himself
- Take Up His Cross
- Follow Me
This is the first step of discipleship, and is often misunerstood and is therefore misapplied. This step of discipleship is not self-hatred, nor is it giving something up during lent, but rather it is denying the sinful desires of the flesh. Discipleship does not permit us to have our little ‘pet’ sins or ‘sinful indulgences’. If we want to be a disciple of Christ we must choose to live our lives according to His commands. The Bible teaches:
He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.”  Judas (not Iscariot) *said to Him, “Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?”  Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.  He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. – John 14:21-24 (NASB)
If we claim we love Jesus, this will be evidenced not just by the words that we speak, but also by our actions. If we keep His commandments we demonstrate our love for Him. If we refuse to keep His commandments or believe that they do not apply to us then by our actions we have rejected Jesus and have no love for Him.
Take Up His Cross
Often we hear the phrase “Well, this is my cross to bear” when people are referring to an unpleasant situation or an unpleasant person they have to deal with. However, this is not what Jesus was speaking about, but rather He was speaking about the persecution that is received for following Christ, professing Christ, and proclaiming Christ.
The Bible teaches:
Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. - 1 John 3:13 (NASB)
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. – Matthew 5:10-12 (NASB)
“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. - John 5:18 (NASB)
These verses demonstrate the difficulty of the command to Take up Our Cross. The best way to view this verse is to understand the verb “take up”. It should be understood as “to lift up.” When we lift up our cross and start walking, it will be quite evident that we are disciples of Christ, and this is when the persecution will begin. It might be subtle or it might be overt, but it will happen. Jesus tells us this not to discourage us, but to provide encouragement. The disciples of Christ should be encouraged because:
These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 (NASB)
This is more than simple belief in Jesus Christ- even the devil and demons even believe in Him.
You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. – James 2:19 (NASB)
While the devil and demons believe in Jesus, they do not follow Him. To follow Jesus Christ a person must make a willful choice to follow Him. He is not someone that you can follow by mistake, accidentally or follow partially. Either we follow Him completely or we are not following Him at all.
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. - Matthew 6:24 (NASB)
The most important aspect of the discipleship that Jesus was teaching was that these three actions of denying, taking, and following are not a one-time event in a person’s life, but rather a choice that is made every day in the life of the believer. May the Lord grant us the strength to continue to choose to follow Christ, as those who do will not be disappointed because He is faithful.
Grace and Peace