Grace is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. However, grace is not a means of excusing our shortcomings or bad habits.
Grace is meant to silence our guilt and shame so that we can get back up and do better.
As a Christian, the challenges we face become God’s instruments in building faith. In other words, our struggles are not in vain!
Jesus never sugar-coated being His follower, but He did promise that it would be worth it. If we endure hardships and the challenges that come with a life of faith, Heaven will be worth it.
Heaven is a place absent of suffering, temptations, and heartaches. It’s all the things we are searching for but that this life can’t provide.
So, let’s unpack Jesus’ statement in Matthew 16 that gives us the correct perspective in following Him.
Our first takeaway is that “anyone” can be His follower! Knowing Jesus is exclusively inclusive.
- Race doesn’t matter.
- Educational status doesn’t matter.
- Economic status doesn’t matter.
- Social status doesn’t matter.
- Your past doesn’t matter.
Even if you were His follower years or even decades ago and bailed on Him, that doesn’t disqualify you. He welcomes you back! Through Jesus, God takes all of our brokenness and shame and exchanges it for grace and perfection.
If we look at this exchange alone, we would be foolish not to take Him up on His offer. Jesus made two important qualifying statements in following Him.
#1 The first is that we must deny ourselves.
The word “deny” in the Greek language means to refuse, to renounce, and to abandon. The act of denying self highlights the intentionality of a follower.
Without denying ourselves, we will never #2 pick up our cross.
The Romans made sure that everyone was familiar with crosses and crucifixions. They would publicly perform crucifixions as a deterrent to rebelling against Rome.
A cross was synonymous with death. Jesus uses the cross as a euphemism about dying to our way of living.
There is a cross for every follower. The word “follow” in our text is in the present tense, which is continuous. It’s not a one-time action, but we take up our cross daily and follow Him.
This is the only way we can effectively and fruitfully be a Christian.
Jesus then adds to this with a paradoxical statement, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Some may think I can’t do everything that Jesus asks of me to do because I’ll miss out on fun, lose friends or followers on social media, or lose my reputation.
Succumbing to our fears over our faith in Jesus will not save us from disappointment but compounds it.
To hone in on the battle of denying ourselves, picking up our cross versus not doing so, Jesus asks a question, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
What if you lived life your way and choose to accumulate as much of this world’s riches/fame/pleasures yet paid no attention to your soul? In the end, as you stand before God, what could you offer as payment for your soul?
The answer is NOTHING!
If you’re struggling with denying yourself and picking up your cross, what can you do to get the upper hand in that battle? It begins with changing your mindset.
“1If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:1-3
We must set our minds on things above and seek things that are above and not on earth.
“But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” 1 Corinthians 2:9
Consider this: God created the beauty of this world and everything in it in just six days, yet, He informed His followers upon His return to Heaven over 2,000 years ago how He would prepare a place for them.
How amazing is Heaven going to be???
To deny ourselves daily and to pick up our cross may be a battle at times, but the reward will far outweigh our sacrifice. Following Jesus is an all-in proposition.
His grace is there to sustain us and pull us back in when our humanity fails us. So daily, let’s commit to following and asking the LORD to reveal those things we need to surrender to Him.