Luke 9:23, Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (NIV). Other translations give further insight into the meaning of Jesus’ words here:
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me” (NLT).
“Anyone who wants to come with me must forget self, take up their cross every day, and follow me” (TEV).
“If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me.” (NJB)
“If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross each day and follow me.” (CEV)
Then to everyone he said, “If anyone wants to come after me, let him say ‘No’ to himself, take up his execution-stake daily and keep following me.” (CJB)
“If people want to follow me, they must give up the things they want. They must be willing to give up their lives daily to follow me.” (NCV)
“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way…” (The Message)
The nature of the summons, therefore, is clear: A way of life defined in terms of unrelenting self-sacrifice, “denying ourselves” by the Spirit’s gracious enablement (Tit 2:11). As the apostle John tells us, “Christ gave his life for us. We too, then, ought to give our lives for our brothers and sisters!” (1 Jn 3:16, TEV). Clear, too, is the timeframe in which the summons is to be carried out: “daily”…“every day”…“each day.” In this calling there are no breaks, lulls, or pauses; no vacations; no snooze buttons; no times when we are free to just “check out.” We are to embrace it and walk it out minute-by-minute and day-after-day until our Master appears in the clouds clothed in glory and accompanied by angels. The calling is high, and it is difficult. “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life,” Jesus tells us, “and only a few find it” (Mt 7:14, NIV). And yet difficult as it is, we are never alone in it: “And remember, I am with you each and every day until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20, ISV).
Now, if this call to “deny ourselves” rests upon us “every day,” it means that Jesus is summoning us to something that can be done nowhere else except those places and situations in which all of us actually find ourselves each day: Financial decisions, washing the dishes, training our children, driving to work, interacting with co-workers, communicating with our spouses, resolving conflicts, changing diapers, etc. “Denying ourselves” means laying down our lives in context to the real, often sandpaper-like relationships that define our daily lives as human beings: Husbands and wives, children and parents, employers and employees, rulers and citizens, leaders and followers, etc. It should not surprise us, then, that the New Testament places great stress on self-sacrificial love being expressed in context to very specific relationships such as these (see, eg, Col 3; Eph 5; 1 Pt 2-3).
Following Jesus Daily in the Way of Self-Sacrifice
What does it look like for husbands and wives to “deny themselves” and “give up the things they want” as they walk out their relationship with one another day after day after day? Why does it matter? What does it mean for parents and children to “give up their own way” and “give up their lives” 365 days a year until Jesus returns? Is this really possible? What does it look like for “masters” and “slaves” (Eph 5:5)—or, more suitably to our own day, “employers and employees”—to “renounce themselves” one day after another as people loyal to Jesus and committed to his commands? Does Jesus really expect them to do this? How is Jesus’ “way of self-sacrifice” to find daily expression in relationships between the strong and the weak, between leaders and followers, between authorities and subjects, between persecutors and the persecuted, and between Jew and Gentile?
The Scriptures clearly state that failure to “deny ourselves” and “give up our own way” in the midst of these different relationships actually puts the gospel at risk of being slandered and falling into disrepute (see, eg, 1 Ti 6:1; Tit 2:5). The questions we are asking at this conference, therefore, are some of the most important questions that we as followers of Jesus can, and must, ask ourselves. By Jesus’ standard, a faithful witness is one that is defined not only by words and proclamation, but which is backed up by a life that denies and forgets itself from one rising and setting of the sun to next, without cease. We can’t do this in our own strength, but our King is with us.