This is part of a chapter out of a book I’m writing, “Total Transformation.” You might find it to be of use.
When we want to be transformed, Jesus shows the way. That way is not easy, but it is simple. It is the way of discipleship.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” Mt 16.24.
It might seem strange to us that Jesus makes this affirmation to his followers so late in his ministry. His declaration, however, comes at a critical point, after the confession of his identity and the Lord’s subsequent revelation of his death. Now his group can begin to understand the nature of discipleship.
Discipleship is the practice of following Jesus, the “state” of being a disciple of his. That state is not a static existence, nor is it life protected by bubble-wrap. It is the full-blown experience of living for him and striving to please him.
Jesus states three steps to becoming a follower of his and, in the process, being transformed from letting our selfishness have its head.
First, to become Jesus’ follower is to deny self. To deny self is to say no to self. It means to refuse to let self have its way. The expressions, “I want, “I wish,” “I insist,” “I demand,” and similar ideas, no longer have any meaning, because it no longer matters what I want. Jesus said he came to do the Father’s will. His followers do the same.
Second, to become his follower means to take up one’s own cross. To bear a cross is another way of saying to go and die. The one who bore a cross in Jesus’ day was a condemned criminal on his way to the site of crucifixion. It meant to bear the shame, to wear the condemnation of the world, to accept as God’s will the suffering for the sins of the world.
Jesus’ death fully accomplished our salvation. Hebrews makes clear that Jesus did “once for all” Heb 7.27. But there is plenty of suffering still to be done so that the salvation he brought is made known to all people. Paul spoke of filling up “what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ” Col 1.24. Part of Paul’s aim was “to share in his sufferings” Phil 3.10. To bear one’s cross therefore means to assume the mission of God in the world. It’s one thing to sit in a pew from week to week, quite another to walk among those who spit and curse in order to make salvation available to them.
Third, to become Jesus’ follower means to follow him. At first glance, this appears to be redundant. But Jesus is insisting that no one can be a follower in name only. The Lord never accepts one who merely calls him Lord without doing the Father’s will, Mt 7.21. To be a follower, one must follow. The action of following Jesus proves the identity of the follower.