The call of Christ to be His disciple requires nothing short of an all-out effort. Jesus lays before prospective followers His expectations: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”
Following Jesus requires a denying of self. Let’s not misunderstand this. This is not about fasting or giving up the comforts of home to be a camp counselor for a week or to go on a short-term mission trip. This is about saying “No” to one’s self and enthroning Jesus as the King of your life. This is the discarding of your will and replacing it with His will. This is full submission.
Only when a person denies himself the right to direct his own life and gives that authority to Jesus is he ready for the next step of discipleship which is the taking up of his cross. Many have mistakenly believed that the cross here is a reference to suffering the troubles of life, but such an interpretation ignores the context. Jesus is discussing discipleship. Not only must self be denied, but self must die! The cross was an instrument of torture, but its primary purpose was for execution! So, how can I die and still follow Jesus? If I’m dead, how can I possibly be of any use to the Lord?
The apostle Paul explains this well for us (Galatians 2:19-20). Paul saw himself as being crucified with Christ. He died with Jesus on His cross, and now Christ lived in him. It was no longer his life that was being lived, but Christ was living through him. Paul had denied himself and submitted his life to the lordship of Jesus.
How did this happen? Again, we look to Paul (Romans 6:3-11). After Paul came to have faith in Christ, he obeyed the gospel as directed. He was buried in baptismal waters with Christ into His death and raised out of those waters as a new creation with the Spirit of God living in him. He now belonged to Christ. He had died with Christ, yet he lived. He was a living dead man. He was dead to sin, law and the world, but alive in Christ. Amazing!