“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)
There are many born again Christians that have no idea what it looks like to follow Yeshua. If they take a hard look at their lives before and after Him, they are one and of the same. Mistakingly, they have surrendered their lives to the notion that they can follow him without ever losing their lives to the call. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote in The Cost of Discipleship, regarding this type, “The upshot of it all is my only duty as a Christian is to leave the world for an hour or so on a Sunday morning and to go to church to be assured that my sins are all forgiven. I need no longer to try and follow Christ..”
In the act of following Jesus, many Christians leave their homes without picking up the crosses to bring Yeshua with them. They have, in essence, made Him a part of their lives, but have not fully committed to Him being their source of life. This stems from a misunderstanding of what it truly means to follow Yeshua. Many believe they can follow Jesus while maintaining full control of their own lives. This is in direct contradiction to the words of Jesus in Luke 14:27, which states, “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” This misunderstanding has allowed weeds of unbelief and half-hearted commitment to choke out the fruit of faith.
The Denial of Self
In our Scripture today, Yeshua outlines three important daily acts that propel a person into becoming a disciple. Jesus preferences the statement by saying, “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself…” The denial of the self is the first daily act in allowing Yeshua to become your life source. By denying yourself, you are obeying the call of Yeshua to more like Him.
Denying yourself means putting God first before anything else in your life. By putting God first, you put to death the “deeds of the body.” (See Romans 8:13). It is the denial of your fleshly impulses to seek natural answers before Godly ones. Paul illustrates this vital truth in Galatians 5:24, which states, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
Crucifying The Flesh
What Paul says contradicts what the average Christian believes about following Jesus. Many read that Scripture as the following, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have [pleased] the flesh..” By pleasing the flesh, we deny the right for Yeshua to lead our lives. We put ourselves in the driver seat and ask Yeshua to come along for the ride. By extension, we are leading our lives, not Him. In this, Jesus becomes the person we come to when we have a need or problem, but other than that, he has no control or influence on our everyday choices. We are controlled by our impulses of the flesh and not the call of Yeshua.
Those who have crucified understand that the flesh is a terrible master. When ruled by the flesh, a person will never fully embrace the call of Yeshua on their lives. Through the rulership of their flesh, they will “profit the whole world and lose their only soul.” They will follow Yeshua, but only until a certain point. That point is the moment in which the flesh begins to take control and overrides the call of God on a person’s life. Paul sheds light on this subject by saying in Romans 8:7, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.”
Those that are ruled by the flesh are in hostility towards the call of Yeshua on their lives. They are disciples up until a certain point. The certain point is the time in which the flesh begins to pull them in a different direction. What does it look like to be ruled by the flesh? To know this, we need to do a short Bible study and understand the greek meaning of the word. The Greek word for the English word flesh is the word “σάρξ”, which transliterated is spelled “sarx”. Strong’s concordance defines this word as the following, “In short, flesh generally relates to unaided human effort, i.e. decisions (actions) that originate from self or are empowered by self. This is carnal ("of the flesh") and proceeds out of the untouched (unchanged) part of us – i.e. what is not transformed by God.”
The flesh is the parts of us that we have not allowed God to touch in our lives. It could be a hurt that is buried deep in our past, or a sexual addiction, or a lying tongue. Whatever it is, it is rooted in a part that we have not allowed God to fully transfer. In essence, we tell God, “you can save my soul, but don’t touch this part of my life. I still want control.” When we are ruled by our fleshly impulses, we miss out on the divine privilege of following Yeshua.
Take Up Your Cross
“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23)
Yeshua is a great master, not the flesh. He rules us our spirits with unconditional love and an invitation to live an abundant life. Those who cannot deny their flesh forfeit the opportunity to live a life in reckless obedience. Today, as you follow Yeshua, deny your flesh the right to control your life. Take up your cross and follow Yeshua. Set your mind on the things of God first, and then the deep desires in your heart will be carried out through the goodness of God. Be encouraged in the words of Yeshua in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”