In Luke 9:23, 24, Jesus speaks of three phases of discipleship: 1
1) Denying ones self is to live without a modicum of self-centered thought; to be devoted exclusively to Jesus and his work; to be willing to let go of anything that competes with his kingdom; to give up all individual rights possessions, passions, and people that might distract us from following him.
To deny ones self means striking a blow to self-centeredness; it means putting his agenda ahead of ours; it means denying the gospel of self-esteem and self-love. To deny self is to disown ourselves in the manner that Peter disowned knowing Jesus. (See Luke 9:57-62)
2) Taking up the cross is not some mystical level of a deep spiritual life the religious elites. To take up the cross is simply to be willing to pay any price for Christs sake to be willing to endure shame, embarrassment, reproach, rejection, persecution, and even martyrdom.
3) Following Jesus means being where Jesus is and doing what Jesus is doing. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. (Jn. 12:25) Jesus was challenging the disciples to follow him to Jerusalem where he would drink his own cup of death on the cross. They would in time mount their own crosses as 10 out of the 12 disciples died as martyrs. We see this self-sacrificing spirit exemplified in the life of St. Paul: I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. (Act. 20:23, 24) (See Act. 21:13) Following Jesus means truly imitating him in his radical and costly obedience to the Father: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:5-8) (See Mt.20:28; 26:39; Rom. 8:3; 2 Cor.8:9; Heb. 12:2)
Here is the remarkable paradox: While it appears that following Christ is initially a death sentence, in reality the pay back is a life amidst pain and suffering that is free, joyful, expanding and fulfilling beyond anything we could imagine; a life that extends into eternity. In John 12:26 Jesus makes a wonderful promise to us in this regard: My Father will honor the one who serves me. Imagine, being honored by God for being where Jesus is, and doing what Jesus is doing. And the exact opposite is true for the one who clutches his life to himself: He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. (Jer. 17:6)
Jim Elliot brilliantly summarized it in stating, He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.
QUESTION: Surly we must ask ourselves whether we in fact have chosen to lose our lives into His, so that he can live his life in ours. If the answer is no, our life is a living tragedy; if the answer is yes, our life is a miraculous expression of the beauty of Christ and we are the richer for it. What is your answer to the question?
1 Some of the key ideas and phrasing in this Facts are drawn from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary.