Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life. Matthew 16:24-25 (NLT)
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose. – Jim Elliot, one of the five missionaries martyred in Ecuador in 1956.
Here at the Catch, we are all about discipleship. Discipleship is what it means to follow Christ on a day-to-day, moment-by-moment basis. And these verses in Matthew are probably the most direct and clearest statement about what Christ said it means to follow Him. This isn’t the most popular thing about being a Christian because it doesn’t necessarily fit into our idea of promising the good life by which we often try to entice people into becoming Christians. This is not what you call fun. And it’s not necessarily what we all want to do. Jesus said that if we want to follow Him, we must deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and get in line. Whoopee!
It may not sound like fun, but hold on.
In following Christ, you will find a life that’s better than the one you thought you had following yourself, though it will cost something. I think we miss this sometimes in our emphasis on grace — that following Christ cost us something; indeed it costs us quite a lot. Albeit we are not earning anything by following this process. We are just joining up, and paying the dues that go along with this new way of life. Our salvation was a free gift; our discipleship is a fulfillment of that. It’s a compelling realization that Jesus knows the way to true fulfillment and that way necessitates giving up our own way for His.
Salvation costs us nothing, but following Christ costs us everything. And I’ll be honest with you — I’m having a bit of a hard time with this. I’ve been mostly doing what I want to do for a long time and avoiding what I don’t want to do, which is certainly not what Jesus is talking about. “If any of you want to be my followers, just coming along and live as you please.” No, I don’t think so. That doesn’t even sound right. What He’s saying is: Give up your way and take up mine, which will mean the death of your own way. That’s what it means to take up my cross.
So let me try and put these verses in my own words, which would go something like this: If I want to follow Christ, I must put aside what I want to do, shoulder my cross (the death of me and my way) and follow Him. If I try to keep control of my life for myself, I will lose it. But if I give up the control of my life for His way, I will find true life.
This fight with ourselves will mean different things for different people, but for me following Christ means giving up what I want to do (to be irresponsible), and doing what I don’t want to do (to be responsible). That’s part of my cross to shoulder.
Having said all this, let me conclude with the fact that His grace plays a big part in my discipleship as well. His grace not only saves me, it gives me the power to pick up that cross and do what He wants me to do.
But still, we must choose. It is our prerogative to take our way or His. And that is that day-to-day, moment-by-moment choice that defines our discipleship.