24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will find it. 26 For what will it benefit someone if he gains the whole world yet loses his life? Or what will anyone give in exchange for his life? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will reward each according to what he has done. — Matthew 16:24-27
By What Death Will You Glorify God
by Carol Vicary
In Tennessee, we get to experience all four seasons. I love three of them. When winter comes, I just want to wrap up in a blanket with a cup of coffee until March. This winter, in one of the few times I stuck my head out the door, I glanced at the long, grey arms of the bare trees behind our fence. I realized that with the leaves gone, I could actually see what the trees were made of—tall, strong branches. As Christians, what are we made of? Are we ready to give up our lives in order to become more like Jesus, His strength becoming ours as we reach out to a hurting world?
In this passage, Jesus talks to His disciples about the cost of following Him. We hear phrases like losing your life, denying yourself. In the economy of God’s kingdom, losing our lives brings life. Jesus said that people who follow Him must carry a cross. This seems to mean that Christians should be prepared to die to their own plans and desires.
Our human minds struggle with this. We naturally run away from pain and loss. We naturally run toward what we want—success, money, power. But what if we began to understand that losing our lives allows God to change us into the people that we long to be, the people He created us to be? What if, when we think of the cross, we remember the resurrection? Death brings life. In Romans 6:8, Paul says this, “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” Peter, who so adamantly declared that Jesus wasn’t going to die, wrote, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Because of His death, we can die to the sin that so easily entangles us and live a different way, a righteous way that looks like Jesus.
NT Wright says this in his Lenten devotional on Matthew: “Following Jesus means denying yourself, saying no to the things that you imagine make up your ‘self,’ and finding to your astonishment that the ‘self’ you get back is more glorious, more joyful than you could have imagined.”
For the disciples, losing their lives meant saying no to safety and security. It meant sharing the gospel in creative ways in countries where believers were hated. Persecution was part of each day. It meant that every breath was a gift. And yet, the heart of Jesus was obvious in the ways they loved others and continued to obey. This is still the daily life of many Christians today—losing their lives, but getting them back with more joy than they could imagine.
Denying myself means saying no...no to selfishness, no to greed, no to having my own way, no to saying whatever I think, no to hate, no to always thinking I’m right, no to rebelling against God’s will and ignoring His Word, no to fear, no to judgment. It means intentionally living in the knowledge—day by day, minute by minute—that I am a new person because Jesus’ wounds have healed me. Saying no to these things allows Him to transform my heart, and this will show up in how I live my life, love God and love my neighbor.
- Take a few minutes to pray through these verses. What feelings do you have as you read and pray? What do you think God is saying to you?
- This passage tells us that Jesus wants us to deny ourselves. What is God asking you to say “no” to so that He can transform you, equipping you to live out the gospel in your home, neighborhood and office?
- In what ways are you gaining the world—success, money, power—but forfeiting your soul? If you are trying to ignore feelings in this area, that is a good indication that God wants to do something or say something about it.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible® and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.