“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24)

All of us walks each day as we are people of motion. Most of us walk in the use of our feet while others of us move by different modes of transportation. Our walk can be a physical walk and it also can be a spiritual walk. In the physical since there are boundaries to our abilities and in the spiritual our walk has physical no restriction. For most, it is just a walk in the park in places we have been before. Then there is the Divine walk that has no limit in possibility, as the Almighty Creator is our guide. The Divine Walk leads to life abundant because of its limitless distance and time. In our text today we see three rules to acquire for a Divine Walk. We first must have self-denial, take up our cross, and follow the Master our Lord Jesus Christ.

People too often see self-denial as a sacrifice. We all sacrifice something for our heart’s desire be it for the good or the bad. Our sacrifice should bring to us a profitable return for our effort. When we look with an eternal perspective as to where the eternal payoff is for our sacrifice and see the real potential for eternal wealth. All that we sacrifice for the profits of this world amount to nothing when we reach the end. So if we are to sacrifice let us sacrifice for the treasure where our heart is. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

To live a godly life one must practice self-denial as it is the foundation. If that foundation is not well built, if there are cracks in the foundation, then the whole house will fall. Self-denial is the binding thread that must run through the whole work of your beliefs. Self-denial is to lay aside your own self-will for the will of the Heavenly Father who has given you life. We can see the self we are to deny in four ways. There is our worldly self that works to acquire a worldly estate. Peter questioned Jesus what was the profit in denial of the worldly self. “Then Peter said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:27)

We have to deny our relative self if they come into conflict with our service to His ministry. Jesus explained this to a large group of His disciples. “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:26)

We must also be willing to deny our natural self even to the point of death in the comfort of our hope that we have life everlasting because our Lord has eternal life. “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” (Revelation 12:11)

At the heart of self-denial is denying the carnal self. We are spiritual beings living in carnal flesh. The flesh has been corrupted and all the desires of the flesh lead to death. Paul teaches us that we are to live in the power of the Spirit. Our spirit is to accept the power of His Spirit. This is where the life is and we must deny the carnal self and live by the Spirit. “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25)

Taking up our own cross is the proof of our commitment to the truth of our Divine beliefs. It gives the watchers notice that we in the power of the Spirit will endure the difficulties that we, as the followers of Christ, will have to encounter. Jesus fairly warned of the hatred we will face. “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.” (John 15:18)

Jesus emptied Himself of His deity and became as a man that we could identify with Him and the Father. Truly this is the example of self-denial. Self-denial is a requisite of being a follower of Jesus. Nowhere in the life of Jesus can we find a point where He was selfish. Selfishness can be found in men in different ways. One may find himself in his intellect, another is found in pleasure, while yet another is in religious beliefs and one who wants to be saved and goes in a way that is marked out.

In the same way, a follower of Jesus takes up his own cross and not that of another. He may not go out of his way to find it but when he sees it he takes it up. For his, it is a cheerful and joyful act, a heart that he takes up his cross and carries it. Dragging your cross is very cumbersome but carried crosses are much lighter. What is the cross that followers of Jesus must carry? The cross can be many different things but they come down to the commitment of service to the King of kings. Therefore, the cross carried today may be different than the cross of tomorrow. The cross may always be a trial that is humiliating and painful to the old sinful nature. Jesus warned His disciples to count the cost of discipleship. “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:28)

It is a privilege to be chosen by Jesus to follow His calling. To follow Jesus is an aspiration of our hearts desire to be in service to the one who created us, and the one who has the perfect plan for our life according to the will of the Heavenly Father. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) Following Jesus comes with a cost that we are responsible to meet. In this text, we see the three requirements to following Him on the way.

The first is the requisite of self-denial. We must deny our natural selves that have controlled our old life. We must set aside our old reasoning and rationalizations which have led us into sin. Our will must be subjected to His will which is founded on love, truth, and justice. He has freed us from the bondage of our sin by His forgiveness and mercy in His grace towards us. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.” (Titus 2:12) Depending not on our own faulty self-righteousness and seeking His. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus Christ, our righteousness.

Second, we must take up our own cross. The cross of our wholehearted commitment to serving our Lord and Savior. Fulfilling the good work that He has prepared for us since the beginning. The work that we are ordained to do for the Kingdom of God. Not depending on our own self-effort but Jesus living through us. “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

To follow Jesus we must first fashion our lives in the way that He lived His while here with us in the world. If we gain the same attributes of God then our actions in the world will be of God. Jesus told Phillip that if he knew Jesus he would also know God. As they are one and the same. (John 14:7) The Apostle Paul gave us this charge in this letter to the Corinthians. “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) If we are to follow Jesus, then we are to grow into His image.

Jesus is the greatest teacher and He taught by His Word and deeds. He spent three years training His disciples for the minister of sharing the Gospel with the world. This was a short time and Jesus, like His Father, does not waste His words. Everything He said and did hold eternal value for our spirit. If we are to follow Jesus then we must follow His doctrine in obedience. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) Our obedience to Him is the proof of our love for Him. It is difficult for a man to accomplish and no man has. Knowing this Jesus prayed that the Father would send the Holy Spirit to counsel His disciples. Following Jesus also means to be led by His Spirit. We must walk by His Spirit to avoid the pitfalls of life. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16)

God is our Creator and the giver of our life. As we as children cling to our parents we should all the more cling to our Creator. Following Jesus is being led on the narrow path that leads to our Heavenly home He has prepared for each of us. Jesus is the only way there is no other path to the Kingdom of God. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6)

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, January 4, 2019

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