Read Mark 8:34-38.
Wherever Jesus went, crowds gathered to see him perform miracles and to hear him teach, but this time he explains to them, that following him is not a spectator sport. Jesus says if you want to follow me there are two things that need to be done: 1) deny yourself, 2) take up your cross. This is one of the most challenging passages in all of Scripture. This discipleship Jesus calls people to, is not half-hearted or easy. Denying yourself is a refusal to be guided by your own interests and a decision to NOT attempt to control your own destiny. Jesus says, discipleship means you give up control of your life to him and it means that your destiny is not what makes you influential or great in this world, but our destiny is a cross.
Practically speaking, this may not cause all of us to live the same way, but it does call all of us to a radical manner of living. The comfort and prosperity of cultural Christianity in our age must constantly be compared to Jesus’ call for us to deny ourselves and set his sacrificial and humble death on a cross as our prize to attain. We cannot explain away the intensity and the seriousness of this call to discipleship. We’ll continually be tempted to placate this call and find balance or moderation, but this is not a message of moderation.
Most of the 12 disciples followed Jesus to their death literally. There are disciples all over the world who have followed Jesus to their deaths in recent history. Our situation in America may not lead us to martyrdom, but we cannot ease the sting of these words to our lifestyle, our motivations, and our goals. Jesus explains further what this means in a few different ways.
For clarity’s sake in this passage, the words “life” and “soul” are the same word translated two different ways. I don’t know why a translator would do that, but they did, so when you read this passage, reads the word “soul” as “life” because that’s what it says. He describes discipleship, or following Jesus, with three different concepts.
First, discipleship is related to what we lose and gain. We can lose our lives to this world and gain the next, or we can live for this world and lose the next. Secondly, discipleship is related to profit. We can invest ourselves in this world, and our return will be at most, gaining the things of this world. He asks in verse 37, “what can a man give in return for his life?” What can a person invest his or her life in and not lose their investment? The glaring answer that is unspoken is the same Kingdom of God that Jesus is ushering in, and will bring about through his death and resurrection. The third aspect of discipleship is where we place our pride and our identity. In verse 38 jesus tells us we can shrink back from identifying with him and his message or we can follow him. There are two roads before us. One leads to merely the potential for prosperity and success and comfort in this life but being rejected by the King in the next. In choosing the other road, you may lose prosperity or success, but you gain the Kingdom of God. Whichever road we choose, we experience hardship and injustice in this life. But by refusing to pursue the “ideal life” here, and instead pursue the Ideal Savior, we’ll have a constant companion in this life and a promise for the life to come. And if in God’s grace you do experience physical prosperity in this life, you will understand it’s temporary nature and you won’t place your how in those things, but your hope will remain in the Messiah. Jesus says in verse 38 that he will come in the Glory of the Father and with the Angels. The day will come when he will set everything right, but he calls us to begin to set our hearts and lives right today. Jesus’ call to discipleship in this passage is a description of what he means when he says the proper response to his message is belief and repentance.
This is what repentance looks like. It looks like denying ourselves and pursuing the life of the cross.
Lest we think this isn’t practical and applicable, let’s think about it. Are you denying yourself in your marriage or pursuing your own pleasure and your own rights? Are you denying yourself at work, at home, in your friendships, in your neighborhood? This may look different in each of our circumstances, but the Gospel is more practical than we like to admit. It’s easier to give 3 steps to a healthy marriage, or 5 ways to raise kids, or 2 ways to be successful at work. But Jesus says deny yourself and pursue the life of the cross.
Do you believe Jesus is the Messiah who came to die and will one day return to set everything right? If you do, then repentance is mandatory for we who call ourselves disciples, Jesus followers, or Christians. And that repentance looks like dying on a cross in every circumstance, decision, motivation, attitude, and relationship in our lives.
This is immensely difficult, but this is the life he’s leading us to, and when we believe and repent, it leads us to a life better than we can conceive in our minds. It leads us to heaven.