Summary: What is the secret to real Christian living? Not how much you know; great leadership ability; personal charisma; or even a winning, positive attitude. The real key to Christian living is summed up in 2 words: FOLLOW ME.

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Mark 8:34, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself & take up his cross & follow me.

Intro: I saw a cartoon that showed a church building with a billboard in front that said: "The LITE CHURCH: 24% fewer commitments, home of the 71/2% tithe, 15 minute sermons, 45 minute services; we have only 8 commandments—your choice, & we have a 800 year millennium. Everything you’ve wanted in a church…& less.”

Far too many people have that kind of relationship with the Lord. Let me throw out 3 words which define many people’s relationship with the God: Casual, convenient, & comfortable.

The word casual means occasional.......coming at certain times, w/o regularity; showing little interest or concern; nonchalant; not close or intimate.

Convenient, being suitable to one’s comfort, purposes, or needs. The faith of many is driven by convenience, & fails when it is challenged to true discipleship.

Comfortable. We want to meet in air conditioned building in the summer, & a heated building in the winter, & we want to hear sermons that make us feel good, & God forbid if we should ever be made to feel uncomfortable or asked to do something that we’re not comfortable with doing.

There is nothing casual, convenient, or comfortable about true discipleship. In the original Greek it says "Keep on denying yourself, keep on taking up your cross, & keep on following me." THIS IS NOT THE DECISION OF A MOMENT, BUT THE DIRECTION FOR A LIFETIME! This isn’t very appealing is it?

Jesus gives us the motive which will move us in this direction: "For whoever would save his life will lose it; & whoever loses his life for my sake & the gospel’s will save it." (Mark 8:35 RSV).

I. There is a DENIAL You Must EMBRACE. …deny himself…

A. Self-denial is the bedrock of discipleship.

When Jesus speaks of self-denial, He is not merely speaking of denying some pleasure or comforts in life like so many do during Lent. It goes much deeper than that. Jesus is telling us that we can no longer be the center of our lives.

He is never concerned about what we do so much as with what we are. He is not talking about giving up luxuries, or even necessities, but about denying self, which is entirely different. Denying self means that we renounce our right to ourselves; our right to run our own lives. We are to deny that we own ourselves. We do not have the final right to decide what we are going to do, or where we are going to go.

When it is stated in those terms it sounds outrageous. It strikes right at the heart of our very existence. The one thing that we value, covet, & protect above anything else is the right to make decisions for ourselves. We refuse to be under anything or anybody, but reserve the right to make the final decisions of our lives. Remember what Paul said, "You are not your own; you are bought with a price." 1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a. If you are going to follow Jesus, you no longer own yourself.

B. Self-denial is to follow Christ no matter what cost is involved. Martin Luther said, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, & suffers nothing, is worth nothing.”

ILL- A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. "If Jesus were sitting here, He would say ’Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’ Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, "Okay Ryan, you be Jesus!"

That’s the problem isn’t it? We want everyone else to deny themselves but Christ is calling us to a life of self-denial.

Self-denial is not easy. We all have things we want. We all have goals, but Christ is clear that when we choose to follow Him, we must deny ourselves. That means you can’t always do what you want to do; what your natural tendency is. This means that you will face tough, life-changing decisions that need to be made in the shadow of the cross, & not the desires of the heart. This doesn’t mean that you’ll be deprived of joy and happiness; rather it means that you find fulfillment & joy & happiness through dedication to Jesus Christ. Denial of self is placing yourself in the hands of God at all times, no matter where His hands might lead you.

II. There is a DEATH You Must EXPERIENCE. …take up his cross…

When Jesus said, "Take up your cross" the cross wasn’t a beloved symbol like it is today. It was big & ugly--a heavy, crude device of torture that conveyed a message of shame, suffering, & death.

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