As we continue answering the question, "who?" from our study of Acts 1:8, we see the second necessary response and requirement for those who desire to follow Christ.
II. Deny Self v23b-25
The second way that we must respond to the call of Christ is to deny ourselves. Jesus goes on in verse 23, “he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Jesus' call demands that we deny ourselves and bear our cross each day. We need to recognize what Jesus meant, and did not mean, when He said take up your cross. This was absolutely positively not talking about a piece of jewelry. I have heard things like, “this is just my cross to bear” referring to an illness, a grouchy husband, or a bad mother in law. Christ's original audience knew exactly what he was calling for. Perhaps some 30,000 men were crucified during the lifetime of Christ alone. The disciples knew exactly what to expect and it was not good. They immediately pictured a poor, condemned soul walking along the road carrying the instrument of his execution on his own back, and one thing about that man was certain: if he was seen leaving town carrying a cross, he was not coming back. He was as good as dead! Jesus is saying, this is what you have to be willing to embrace if you will follow me. Jesus said, you must willingly and intentionally give up your life.
He goes on in verse 24 to say, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” Stop. Read that verse again and ask yourself, Am I characterized by working hard to save my life or to lose my life for Christ’s sake? Am I living in reckless abandon for my Master? Somewhere along the way we have missed what is real about our faith and replaced it with what is comfortable. We are settling for a Christianity that revolves around catering to ourselves when the central message of Christianity is actually about abandoning ourselves.
There is a warning and a promise hear in this text. The warning is, if you save, you will lose. The promise is, if you lose, you will save. Some of us are likely thinking, Jesus didn’t literally mean…and this where we need to pause. Who are we to say that Jesus did not mean what he said? Who are we to say that the Bible doesn’t mean what it says? When we do this, we are molding Jesus into our image. We are interpreting the Bible so that it fits the comfort of our culture and keeps us comfortable. We must be very careful!
Jesus goest on to ask His audience in verse 25, “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?” This is a serious question that Jesus asked directly and indirectly often in His ministry. Consider what occurred in Luke 18:18-30. We read: “A ruler questioned Him, saying, ‘Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ 19 And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’ 21 And he said, ‘All these things I have kept from my youth.’ 22 When Jesus heard this, He said to him, ‘One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ 23 But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. 24 And Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! 25 For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ 26 They who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ 27 But He said, ‘The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.’ 28 Peter said, ‘Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You.’ 29 And He said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.’” When we read this we are often quick to say, this was not a requirement of everyone. While this is obviously not a requirement for everyone, was it not a requirement for some? Notice the pattern of Scripture. Peter and Andrew left their nets. James and John left their nets and their father. Matthew left his career. Jesus reiterates this expectation in Luke 14:33 when he says, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” In the original language, the word renounce is ἀποτάσσεται (apotassetai) and literally means “to say good-bye to.” If we take this verse seriously, we have to admit that in order to follow Christ, we must be willing to give up everything. We must desire Him and deny ourselves daily even to the point of death.