Monthly Archives: February 2021

Luke 9:23–24:

And he said to all, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.’ ”

Jesus makes two references to future events: his death and resurrrection (v. 22) and his cross (v. 23). These words must have seemed mysterious and unbelievable to the disciples—not only because they referred to events that had not happened yet but also because they bleakly pointed to their loss of a dear friend and teacher.

How difficult it must have been for them to stay with Christ after hearing such dire news. A faithless, unbelieving person could have easily walked away at this point, dismissing Christ’s words as those of a raving madman who was no longer worthy of their time. But these men (with the exception of Judas Iscariot) showed their faith by continuing to walk with Christ in spite of these bleak prospects and their lack of understanding (see v. 45). This is a sure sign of faith: perseverance in the face of severe difficulty, even when we don’t fully grasp what is going on. Understanding is never a prerequisite to faith and obedience; on the contrary, “By faith we understand … ” (Heb. 11:3).

Gaining is losing, and losing is gaining

It is not surprising, then, that Jesus follows this bleak prediction with his exhortation to follow him in true discipleship. It is as if he was saying to them, “Even though I have just told you dire news about what awaits me, stay the course and follow after me. Don’t turn away, no matter how bleak things may look, for if you do, your loss will be great.” When the road ahead looks grim, and our faith is rocked about by storms of the worst kind, of all times that is when we should be the most willing to shoulder the cross and keep our eyes on Christ ahead of us. There will be rewards, but it is impossible to obtain them without loss. This is what Christ urged upon his disciples.

True discipleship is about personal loss. To not lose one’s life is to not be a disciple. Refusal to deny oneself is an undeniable refusal to be a disciple. In case anyone thinks this writer is being too harsh, I must point out that the Lord himself presents this as a clear either/or dichotomy: Either we deny ourselves to follow him, or we shrink from self-denial to follow our own will and desire instead. The two choices lie before us: self or Christ, and there is no middle ground. The great irony here—and this has sobering implications for eternity—is that when we gain this world, we lose the only thing that is really worth keeping in the end: our souls. Even the entire world, with all its money, pleasures, power, and fleeting benefits, is nothing in comparison to our souls. As the Lord asks in a parallel passage, “Or what shall a man give in return for his life?” (Mt. 16:26).

This is at once the great challenge of discipleship but also its inestimable reward. The cost is nothing less than complete self-denial. A partial self-denial, occurring as a spasm here and there and as it suits us, is the mark of one who is not embracing genuine discipleship. Anyone who things that such a half-hearted discipleship of convenience is acceptable is not familiar with, or is outright denying, the clear exhortation of Scripture:

Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:5–8)

This clear exhortation banishes any idea that a discipleship of convenience is an option worth considering even for a moment. If the Son of God himself, the second Person of the Godhead, “emptied himself” and set aside his privileges of divinity even to the point of death, and for the sake of love, how dare we, sinful mortals, shrink away from such a path for ourselves? The disciple is never above his master.

I can almost hear some saying, “This exhortation is only for those who have reached a certain stage of spiritual maturity.” Make no mistake: This exhortation is addressed to all people; Christ made that clear by inviting all to take up their cross: “If any man would come after me, …” This is meant for all those who wish to follow Christ, regardless of when they were baptized.

The primary reason for Christ’s exhortation in our passage is the prospect of persecution, since he makes direct reference to his own eventual death and the prospect of being ashamed of him and his words. However, the application to us today reaches beyond this. We may never be persecuted for our faith, but it is possible that we might be ashamed of Christ and his words in front of our family, friends, coworkers, or others. What is the solution to this, and how shall we avoid this pitfall? Christ’s answer to us is just as clear today as it was to his disciples long ago: “let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

This, then, is the great key to living the Christian life. Do you struggle with a particular, besetting sin? Resist it, take up your cross, and follow Christ. Has someone wronged you to the point where you feel you could never forgive them? Deny your urge to maintain a grudge, and follow Christ. Are your life circumstances not what you desire, and there seems to be no way out? Endure it with patience, take up your cross, and follow your Lord. This is the divinely ordained battle plan for victory, the weapon we have been issued, and the solution for the struggles we face in our spiritual journey: not to struggle out of the struggle but to continue through it, bearing our cross with patience and perseverance and keeping our eyes on our great forerunner, Christ, and on Golgotha in the distance.

We will always be plagued with the temptation to drop the cross and walk the easy path away from Golgotha, rather than bear the full burden all the way to the Place of the Skull. The benefits of dropping the cross may seem good, but they are fleeting, while the costs of doing so are dire and eternal.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1–2)

Father, grant us the fortitude, courage, and strength to carry our cross always, refusing to drop it on our way to Golgotha but persisting on that path no matter the difficulty, so that we may bear fruit for your glory and live lives worthy of the Gospel. We ask this in the name of our great forerunner who bore the cross on our behalf, your Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

About the Author

The author of this blog, Jeremy (Jehanne), is a Catholic who strives to think God's thoughts after Him and obey Christ's exhortation to take up the cross daily and follow Him on the way to Golgotha. He likes reading theology, evangelizing, and, of course, writing.