“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it’” (Matthew 16:24-25).

The law that ruled the Master’s life is here extended to the servants. They recoiled from the thought of His having to suffer. They had to learn that they must suffer, too, if they would be His. First, the condition of discipleship is set before them as being the fellowship of His suffering. “If” gives the option of withdrawal. A new epoch is beginning, and they will have to enlist again and with open eyes. He will have no unwilling soldiers nor any who have been beguiled into the ranks. No doubt some went away and walked no more with Him. The terms of service are clear: Discipleship means imitation, and imitation means self-crucifixion. At that time, they could only partially understand what taking up their cross was, but they would apprehend that a martyred Master must have followers ready to be martyrs, too.

But the requirement goes much deeper than this. There is no discipleship without self-denial, both in the easier form of starving passions and desires, and in the harder yielding up of the will and letting God’s will supplant ours. The cross is the eminent example. We should think too often of it as the instrument of our reconciliation and forgiveness, but we should often think of it as the pattern of our lives. Jesus adds that the desire to save life is the loss of life in the highest sense. Regard for self as a ruling motive is destruction, and selfishness is suicide. On the other hand, lives hazarded for Christ are truly saved, and if actually lost, such loss is gain.

Adapted from In His Presence