Jesus warned his disciples in Luke 9:23 that “any one (who) would come after me….must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Jesus appears to have issued
this call on at least three different occasions. In John Koessler’s book, True Discipleship, he says that “The cross is the most recognizable symbol of the Christian faith.“ He also says “the message of the Cross is at the center of the Christian faith, it is the life of the Cross that is at the heart of Christian discipleship.”
Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily. What does this mean? Koessler writes that “God is not satisfied with anything less than everything.” In Matthew 10:37-38, Jesus said, “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me." In Luke 14:26-27, Luke recounts Jesus’ words much stronger than Matthew by saying, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Koessler writes that the “hatred spoken of in this passage is by way of comparison. It is a hyperbolic language meant to drive home our obligation to love Christ more than any other and to defer to Him in all our decisions.”
We are to "count the cost" of discipleship. Jesus compares counting the cost of discipleship to a man who builds a tower or a king who plans to go to war with another king (see Luke 14:28-32).
Koessler says that “both would estimate the potential cost of such a project before embarking on it.” Why does Jesus want us to count the cost before following him? Jesus wants followers who will go the distance, not quit the race halfway through. Jesus guarantees that if we pick up our
cross daily and follow him that it will not be easy. The cross itself represents persecution, torture, shame, abandonment and rejection. So if we are to pick up our cross daily and follow Jesus, that means we must anticipate shame, persecution, rejection and possibly martyrdom. We must count the cost and be willing to still follow even if it means we must go through what Jesus went through. We must love him enough to follow him no matter what the cost.
Picking up our cross to follow Jesus will include handling temptation, learning to avoid temptation by understanding the stages of temptation. The first stage is desire (James 1:14). Koessler says that “sin always promises more than it can deliver.” We see that in the story of the Garden of Eden. Satan (the serpent) promised Adam and Eve lies. Koessler says, “The stage of desire is the point when we need to look beyond the initial false promises of temptation and ask ourselves some
James, the brother of Jesus, described the second stage of temptation as conception: “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin” (James 1:15a). This is the stage where we rationalize sin, rather than flee from it. Why do so many people who profess to be Christians live as though they are slaves to sin? They don’t have to. We are commanded not to. Koessler says that “it is because they offer themselves to the flesh in voluntary slavery.” He concludes saying that “All who would be Christ’s disciples must bear the cross. Yet all who do, find to their eternal joy that it is really the cross that bears them.”