Beholding the Word of God is like looking in a mirror. We see two things: We understand what God is like, and unfortunately, we also find out more about ourselves and our desires. God did not give us His Word for our affirmation and reinforcement. Instead, Scripture should motivate us to change, and one of the changes it tells us we need to make is to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him (Matt 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23).
Some of us look into the mirror of God’s Word, and don’t want to see who we are—we want to forget our sins, push them aside, ignore it all. Sometimes we distort the meaning of His Word so that it fits into our lives.
James tells us, “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do” (James 1:23–25).
“The Word of the Lord is a revealer of secrets; it shows a man his life, his thoughts, his heart, his inmost self.”
– Charles Spurgeon
Christ’s directive to renunciate ourselves is reported three times in Scripture and each writer gives us a slightly different set of details surrounding its utterance.
Matthew, writing to the Jews, tells us Jesus spoke to His disciples. Matthew says, “You disciples are going to have to say no to yourselves, take up your cross, and follow Jesus because that’s a characteristic of a disciple.”
Mark includes another group. “He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me,’” (Mark 8:34, nasb). As he records Jesus’s words, not only for the disciples but for the multitudes as well, he wants readers to know what it means to be a disciple
Luke puts it all together to a general audience. He writes, “Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me’” (9:23, emphasis added). Note the addition to “take up their cross daily.” Later Luke adds, “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (14:27).
Why would God ask a Christian to deny himself or herself? The answer is in Galatians 5:16–17 which says, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.”
Remember Luke writes to tell us we’re to forsake what we want to do to follow Christ—to focus our lives on Him, every day, in everything we do.
So how do we escape from wanting to do our own thing? The only way we can deny ourselves is with the help of the most powerful One in the universe. He is the One who offers us the way from sin and self. He provides the bridge from living for ourselves to following Christ.
That bridge is the cross—the means by which a person comes into a relationship with Christ, and how the committed disciple finds freedom from sins and self in the ongoing challenges of the Christian life.