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Summoning the crowd along with His disciples, He said to them, “If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me."
At Brentwood Baptist, we value discipleship as a journey in which people are progressively transformed in such a way that the personality and deeds of Christ naturally flow out of them where they live, work, and play. Therefore, we seek to lead people to pursue an intentional spiritual growth plan that leads to a Christ-centered life.
This Brentwood Baptist value statement provides direction to our congregation in leading people toward Christ-likeness. Many struggle with defining Christ-likeness, let alone understanding the implications of a lifelong journey toward a Christ-centered life.
Thus the question: what does it really mean to be a Christ-follower?
Some would say being a Christ follower is to be “born again.” Theologians would concur and point to doctrines such as The Doctrine of Regeneration (John 3:3-8) and The Doctrine of Justification (Galatians 2:16).
Some would state that being a Christ-follower is one’s willing response to the gospel in which he or she sincerely repents of sins and trusts in Christ for salvation. Although true, this response leaves one short of the fullness of gospel of Jesus Christ, creating what some refer to as a “reduced gospel.”
Others would add that a Christ-follower is one in which “the continuing work of God in the life of the believer is making him or her holy. “Holy” is defined as “bearing an actual likeness to God”.[i] This work is known as “sanctification.”
Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives. The differences between justification and sanctification are as follows.
- Justification: legal standing, once for all time, entirely God’s work, perfect in this life, the same for all Christians.
- Sanctification: internal condition, continuous throughout life, we cooperate, not perfect in this life, greater in some than in others.[ii] Some use the term “spiritual growth” when referring to the sanctification process.
Still others would add that being a Christ-follower involves the processes of perseverance and glorification (Romans 8:18-30). These also are key doctrines in the journey toward Christ-likeness.
Yet Christ provided the answer. If you want to be a Christ-follower, then deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me. When Jesus spoke these words, they weren’t just for the disciples. They were also for everyone in the crowd.
After telling His disciples about His impending death, Jesus told everyone about the cost of being His follower. The phrase “deny himself” implies that, like Jesus, we must seek God’s will and submit our will to His.
“Take up His cross” must have been a puzzling, offensive statement to listeners. This word picture in our minds was a reality in the lives of early believers. It literally means to lay down one’s life for Jesus. By denying oneself, taking up one’s cross, and following Jesus, a disciple acknowledges he’s fully submitting to Jesus’ authority.[iii]
Following Christ is not a short journey. In fact, once one begins the journey toward Christ-likeness, it will require his or her all for the rest of life—regeneration, justification, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification.
Dr. Bill Hull pens the following description of a Christ-follower:
1. Transformed Mind: We believe as Jesus believed.
2. Transformed Character: We live as Jesus lived.
3. Transformed Relationships: We love as Jesus loved.
4. Transformed Habits: We train as Jesus trained.
5. Transformed Service: We minister as Jesus ministered.
6. Transformed Influence: We lead as Jesus lead.[iv]
Luke 9 adds a unforgettable conclusion from a parallel passage: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” [v]
Two thousand years later, we’ve not seen the kingdom of God. Or have we? The disciples expected the kingdom to bring victory and political domination. We expect the kingdom to bring final judgment and reward. Jesus showed His disciples a preview of the kingdom glory in His transfiguration, which will follow immediately. He let them see the kingdom at its beginning point, not at its climax.
This kingdom came when He was exalted on the cross, when He was glorified in the resurrection, and when He was enthroned in the ascension. This kingdom came when Pentecost brought previously unknown kingdom power to bear on earth and reaped an unprecedented harvest into kingdom membership.
Peter’s confession of Messiah and the disciples preaching and healing mission didn’t bring the kingdom. Only the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Son of Man brought it into view so people could see its power and glory—that will be even further magnified when the Son of Man comes in the glory of the Father and his angels to judge the earth.
Who sees that kingdom and participates in it? Those who follow the Son of Man on the path to the cross.[vi]
[i] Erickson, Millard J. (2002). Christian Theology (980). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.
[ii] Grudem, Wayne. (1994). Systematic Theology (746). Leicester, Great Britain: Inter-Varsity Press and Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing
[iii] Cooper, R. L. (2000). Vol. 2: Mark. Holman New Testament Commentary (136). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
[iv] Hull, Bill. (2006). The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ (130-152). Colorado Spring, Colorado: NavPress.
[v] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. 1995 (Lk 9:26–27). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
[vi] Butler, T. C. (2000). Vol. 3: Luke. Holman New Testament Commentary (146–147). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
- Do I need further study in the doctrines of regeneration, justification, sanctification, perseverance and glorification?
- If Jesus were to return today, would He be ashamed of me? Would He find me ashamed of Him and His words? Would He find me ashamed of the way I am living?
- Considering Dr. Bill Hulls description of a Christ-follower, what areas of my life need the most attention? Am I willing to deny self and take the necessary steps to give this area fully to Christ?