Whoever Wants Must Deny Himself | F/F Week 5

First Unit Half Summary

Many of the things we learned for the past few weeks can be summarized by reading Matthew 7:21-23, verse by verse:

  1. "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
  2. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do mighty works in your name?'
  3. And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"

In light of this verse, and with the help of the other questions we've been asking ourselves lately, we would have to determine whether we're fans or followers. Whatever the answer, Christ calls us to follow him and follow him more closely in our lives. The Biblical promise is that "we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him". This alone should mean that following Christ will be worth it in the end. 

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The Second Half of the Series: An Invitation to Follow

Jesus clearly lays out his requirements for his disciples all over Scripture, but it is most clearly stated in Luke 9:23:

Then he said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me"

Our focus in this second half of the series is on each of the phrases in this verse:

  1. "Whoever wants to be my disciple
  2. must deny themselves
  3. and take up their cross daily
  4. and follow me"

For this week we are studying the first two phrases. 

"Whoever wants to be my disciple"

The first word here is "whoever" -- in other words, Jesus is making an open invitation to anyone, without any other qualifications. No matter what past, background, ethnicity, or any sins anyone has made, Jesus makes an open invitation to ALL. This concept is echoed all throughout scripture:

John 3:16 -- "...whoever believes in him will not perish..."
Acts 17:30 -- "...now [God] commands all people everywhere to repent"
Matthew 28:19 -- "...go and make disciples of all nations..."

The implications of this is that we should never exclude people from knowing the good news of Jesus Christ. No one is (in fact, no one can ever be) bad enough, far-out enough, or even "good" enough for the gospel. One can find quick proof of this by simply reading the gospels and seeing what kind of people followed Jesus: sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, etc. God calls everyone to himself. 

The rest of this phrase in Luke 9:23 implies that one has to "want to be [Jesus'] disciple". This means that he doesn't impose his will against anyone. A follower must actually want to be a disciple.

"must deny themselves"

Here lies the crux of discipleship; these are simply words but captures the essence of following Jesus. To follow him means to stop following everything else that is not in accordance with following him. This concept of self-denial is repeated throughout the Bible:

Titus 2:11-12 -- "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age."

Luke 14:26 -- "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple."

It is also emphasized in Scripture that once anyone becomes a Christian, they live new lives that please God rather than selves:

Galatians 2:20 -- "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

The whole of Romans 6 talks about being dead to sin, and alive in Christ. Many, many Christians have also written about this. 

The fact that Jesus demands self-denial in his followers means that everything we do must in some way done for his glory alone (1 Cor. 10:31). This may be difficult in our modern American lives where the "I" is held at the center of one's life. But the truth is that one cannot fully see how great God is if we're so distracted by our own selves. As a hymn goes:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in his wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.