“Whoever wants to be my disciples must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)
When looking forward into the years of our lives, we tend to dream with rose-colored glasses. We see only comfort, happiness and blessings in cozy homes with ideal relationships, which are certainly not bad dreams. But what does it mean when Jesus calls his disciples and followers to deny themselves? Is this cruel or kind? Before we begin jumping to conclusions, we must first exam the identity and intention of the One who said these words so many years ago.
Jesus was explaining to his disciples, the 12 men closest to him in friendship and mentorship, that he would soon go to Jerusalem and suffer severely at the hands of the chief priests and elders of the law. He told them he would be killed and then raised to life on the third day, all according to God’s plan for redemption.
When Peter, one of his closest disciples, heard this, he had a fairly predictable reaction and rebuked the Lord saying, “This will not happen to you!” Jesus then challenged Peter to think beyond himself and human concerns but rather about the concerns and plans of God. Denying himself through dying to save the world was always Christ’s plan for our redemption and relationship, but was it part of Peter’s plan?
It became clear to Peter in this moment what following Christ could mean for his own life. He would have to imitate the same self-sacrificial love, even in the face of great suffering. This kind of love, commitment and obedience is frankly daunting because it is costly.
God calls us to give him our whole selves – our lives, our time and our dreams. But when submitting yourself to the love and authority to the only One whose love for you never falters, whose plans never fail and whose heart is for your well-being, it becomes a simple choice. In John 16:33, Jesus assures us of his victory, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have over-come the world.”
Letting go of the control to live our lives as we please and instead letting God into them and trusting Him as Lord over them is what it means to deny yourself and follow Him. It seems like such a sacrifice, but when we look at our lives on earth as mere blinks in comparison to the weight of eternity with Christ or look into the heart and intention of this Lord and Savior, it becomes clear that it is the safest decision we could ever make.
He is a Good Father! And though following Him means putting Him first in our lives, no matter the circumstances, it will always be more than worth it in the end. He came and died so that we could have life and life to the fullest. The more we get to know the Lord, the more we understand that He is the best thing for us. In this way, denying our own desires and putting Him first is not a sacrifice at all – it is a remarkable gift of freedom.
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