“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
“Deny himself…take up his cross…follow me.” In the Christian life, these three commands will not work in reverse order. You cannot follow Jesus unless you are willing to take up your cross; and you will never be willing to take up your cross, until you have reached the spiritual plateau of self-denial. All through the Gospels, the Lord warned anyone who sought to follow Him that it would not mean a bed of roses. After all, His own path ended (humanly) with a cross. No wonder we, like Peter, sometimes follow “afar off.”
It is not necessary, I think, to equate self-denial with automatic relinquishing of anything we want, or succumbing to every whim of those around us. What I do think it means is that everything we want must be conditioned on the will of God, and that a willingness to give right of way on secondary things to those around us, will be evidenced. In this world of egomania, true Biblical denying of one’s self may resemble martyrdom to some; but, in reality, it is a tremendous liberation. When I am free from the pressure of making sure my own best interest is being served, I am free to watch God work in the lives of others, as well as my own.
As believers, we are quick to say, “I am a follower of Jesus Christ”; but it is only true if we have accepted responsibility for our own cross in life. And that only happens when we are first willing to deny ourselves for His glory. Say what you will; you cannot reverse the order.