“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Here we have Jesus, always focused on the purpose for which he came into the world, setting his sights on the cross where he would be crucified. In our passage above we see Jesus speaking plainly about the cost of following him. He chooses the greek word “aparneomai” translated “deny” which means; to disown, repudiate, and fully reject. Jesus has never lowered the bar on that basic requirement of following him.
We read in Matthew 4:17 where Jesus begins his ministry with that same requirement of self-denial saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The word repent (metanoeō) here carries the idea of a deep ongoing change in one’s thinking, resulting in a complete change of attitude and focus of one’s life-purpose, only God is capable of accomplishing this.
At The Cross-Roads
To deny one’s self and choose a drastic change in thinking, values, attitudes and purpose in life meets the criteria of standing at the cross-roads. Oxford’s English Dictionary defines cross-roads as;
a. an intersection of two or more roads b. a point at which a crucial decision must be made that will have far-reaching consequences.
Who would deny that anyone listening to Jesus’ requirements “deny yourself” and “take up your cross and follow me” would find themselves standing at the cross-roads of life? Jesus surrendered himself completely to the Father’s will and asks the same of anyone who chooses to follow him. The Scriptures tell us to count the cost, doesn’t that make denying ourselves to follow Jesus a crucial decision? and doesn’t the lifestyle of following Jesus without compromise have have far-reaching consequences?
An Unconditional Surrender
Jesus who came to earth to seek and to save that which is lost is asking for nothing less that an “all in” unconditional surrender to God’s plans and purpose, for all who will follow him. The term “born again” means to be birth from above by the work of the Holy Spirit (see John 3:5-8). Paul the apostle writes to the church at Corinth, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;” – 2 Corinthians 5:17-18.
Our unconditional surrender allows God to do his perfect work of transforming us into the image of Christ from the inside out. Salvation is a gift undeservered from start to finish (2 Corinthians 3:16-18, Eph 2:4-9). God’s work in us is his gift (grace) to us, our efforts are of no use since our transformation runs infinitely deeper than behavior modification. Being genuinely born again is a trust issue from start and we can add nothing to the process beyond an unconditional surrender allowing God to do his perfect work his way.
God Does What You and I Cannot
Keeping ourselves at the cross-roads is a daily commitment choosing self denial over the merit system by our self-efforts. Allowing God to do his work within us so it gets done right is so liberating. Paul encourages the church at Phillipi saying, “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13). The writer of Hebrews encourages Jewish belivers not to go back under the burden of self-efforts (trying to win God’s favor by keeping the law), by pronouncing a blessing to allow God to “equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen” (Heb13:21).
God Safeguards and Sustains Our Unconditional Surrender
At first glance we may look at an unconditional surrender as austere or unreasonable, not realizing that forbiding us to “help God” is actually the multifacited blessings of grace. You and I can never be perfect, our surrender allows God to “perfect that which pertains to us” thus keeping us safe.
Our surrender places us securely in God’s hands, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand…(John 10:27-30). An unconditional surrender is the wisest and most eternally secure way to live. With all the challenges that face us, it’s still impossible for the gates of hell to prevail against the Church because we are hidden in Christ held in the firm grip of both the Father and the Son’s hands.
So, I challenge you to take God at his word and place yourself forever in his capable hands allowing the Spirit to use the cross to do his transformational work in you. You can be absolutely “sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). So, Be diligent, Be unconditionally surrendered, and Be encouraged.