What did you deny yourself yesterday?

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what good will it do a person if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul? Or what will a person give in exchange for his soul? Matthew 16:24-26 (NASB)

Jesus did not make following Him sound like a vacation. His first instruction was that His followers were to deny themselves. Denying yourself takes practice, self-control, and a habitual turning toward Christ and His way. It means not getting your way, not giving in to luxury, not indulging yourself.

Then Jesus tells His followers to take up His cross. What is a cross? It is a method of execution. Guards demanded prisoners carry their cross to their deaths. Taking up the cross means this choice is to be for life. From the point of salvation to the last breath. Christ’s disciples either follow His way or their own. They either deny themselves or deny Christ. There is no moderate position. It is an extreme decision. Jesus promises that those who lose their life, finds life. That means men, women, teens, and children who chose to be Jesus' disciples literally relinquish the life they COULD have had. The glory days on a soccer pitch, the short skirts of cheerleading, the parties, the fun nights in bars, sleeping in on Sunday mornings, and the careers that could yield lots of financial security with nothing left over for church must all but be denied and laid down. The cross must be taken up, and the disciples must follow Christ.

We ask men, women, and children to accept Jesus, but we do not warn them of what they must deny. It is not an easy life, the life of the disciple. There is a cross to be carried. Crosses are heavy. They are cumbersome. They give you splinters. If a disciple is carrying the cross, there is no space or strength left to carry anything else.

Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me,” right after Peter desperately wanted Jesus not to be handed over to be killed. When Jesus said His disciples were to deny themselves and take up the cross, He meant it. He really did mean the disciples were to set aside their love for their friends, their plans, and their desires.

It is easy to read the instructions of Jesus as an analogy. It’s not. If you cannot deny yourself the Wednesday night sports practice, the first 10% that God asked for in tithe, or give up sleeping in on Sunday, what else are you unwilling to deny yourself in favor of the cross? If you fear the coach who yells and makes you run more than you fear the empty seat in a sanctuary or bible study or missing times of fellowship, do you really fear God?

Being a disciple of Jesus is serious business. It costs the world, your plans,  your skills, your time,  your mind, and your heart. In short, you lose your whole life. It’s quite a sacrifice.

What did you deny yourself today in order to be a disciple of Jesus? What do you plan to deny yourself tomorrow in order to follow Jesus? What cross do you carry in His name? If there is no tangible answer to these questions, are you Jesus’s disciple by His definition? Or by someone else?