Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.’”
The word disciple, “mathetes” in the Greek means, “a student or pupil of a teacher.” Just like in modern times when a person joins a mentoring program for their job, a college class or a martial arts dojo, the student is first asked to agree to the requirements of the course given by the teacher. Likewise, when people wanted to follow Jesus they had to agree to His standards.
Jesus’ three main criteria of being one of His students was; (1) Deny yourself, (2) Take up your cross and (3) Follow Jesus. If a person agreed to these requirements, then Jesus would consider them one of His students or disciples.
Jesus didn’t give multiple options to choose from to be His disciple. Nor did Jesus give one way for those who were rich and educated and another way for the poor and uneducated. All people, for all times, are given the same criteria if they want to be a disciple of Jesus- deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him!
The first criterion Jesus gave is to “deny yourself.” To deny yourself means to no longer rely upon your own abilities and human effort to guide and save your life. This was Jesus’ way of teaching His students to no longer depend on their mental intellect, good works or even religious beliefs for salvation and daily guidance, but rather trust in God for everything. A popular way of saying this today would be, “let go and let God.”
We deny ourselves by repenting of all the times we worshipped and made an idol of ourselves. We repent and turn away from being the “god” of our own lives and stop believing the lie of Satan in the Garden of Eden, “ye shall be as gods,” (Genesis 3:5 KJV). J.I. Packer wrote, “Repentance is more than just sorrow for the past; repentance is a change of mind and heart, a new life of denying self and serving the Savior as king in self’s place.” Jesus takes His seat rightfully in the throne of our heart and we deny ourselves the right to ever rule our lives again.
Certainly, Jesus didn’t want His disciples to turn off their brain and lay helpless on the floor because they denied their own ability to even sit, stand or walk and then wait for God to move them like a puppet. Rather, Jesus was referring to the principle He had taught in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Therefore, the first step to being a disciple of Jesus is to honestly realize your spiritual poverty and put your faith in Him to receive the true riches of heaven. In other words, “I deny my efforts to save myself, but I believe Jesus can fully save me.” It’s not about my dreams, ideas and plans; it’s all about God’s will for my life. The cry of the disciple’s heart is Jesus’ prayer to the Father before He took up His cross, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
- Think of 2-3 ways you have tried to save or guide your own life.
- Ask God to help you deny your impulses to guide your life.
- Trust Jesus to save and guide you everyday!