Summary: An examination of what it means to "deny yourself and take up your cross."

JESUS' OPINION: Jesus says the path to life is not in “finding yourself” but in “denying yourself.”

- Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34.

- I’m thinking of the stereotypical statement that is so common that it’s almost a cliché: “I’ve got to go find myself.” It is forever being used to express the pursuit of truth and your true heart.

- Another similar phrase: “You’ve got to follow your heart.”

- It’s jarring to consider this morning that Jesus says those statements are lies. In fact, even for many Christians the sentiments are so common that we don’t even think twice about it. We just presume that they must be true.

- Does this go against everything that we’ve been taught in our culture? Yes.

- This morning we’re going to look at the challenging words that Jesus says in calling us to “deny yourself and carry your cross.”

- We need to really step back to the basics, so we’re going to start with simply defining what those phrases even mean before we move onto talking about why it’s a wise choice to pursue what Jesus is saying.


a. To “deny yourself” means to surrender your right to have things your way.

- Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34.

- “I surrender my right to what I want.”

- “I surrender my right to have it my way.”

- The idea that I have the right to have things my way presumes that I’m in charge of my life. I’m not. 1 Corinthians 6:20 reminds us that we are bought with a price. Jesus is Lord of my life when I become a Christian – He is the one calling the shots.

- It is the natural direction of the human heart to want what it wants.

- In fact, it’s a popular plot in TV shows and movies to have a couple “follow their heart” in order to be together. Any damage that happens in the pursuit of that is fully justified because, presumably, there is nothing higher than “following your heart.” Just to cite one example, years ago on the TV show Frasier, when Niles and Daphne finally confessed their star-crossed love for each other, the plotline effectively destroyed two marriages in order to bring them together. But there was no hint that anything was wrong with that because they “were meant to be” and they had to “follow their heart.”

- It is a sea-change for us to say, “No, I don’t have to have my way. I am not in charge of my life. I am going to deny myself and my natural desires.”

- This is an act of the will, not of the emotions.

- The elevation of the emotions is one aspect of this “follow your heart” truth. “We must do what our emotions call us to do,” we are told. Emotions are not good truth tellers. Emotions make good cabooses, but terrible engines. (That is, they’ll come along usually when our will leads in the right direction, but they are poor guides to follow.)

- Pursuing what your emotions tell you is true is pretty much a recipe for ruining your life.

- Instead, we need to put our will in charge. Which leads us to the second half of the statement.

b. To “take up your cross” means to embrace the sacrifice.

- Matthew 10:38; Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 14:27.

- This means to embrace the sacrifice that Jesus calls us to.

- This means to carry the difficult things of the Jesus life.

- Unlike Jesus who literally carried a cross, it’s a figurative thing for us. The cross represents sacrifice.

- Obeying Jesus is going to demand that we do things that are difficult for us. (More specifics coming up.) It’s going to demand that we do things that are not on the easy path. It’s going to demand that we put aside “what I want” and pursue “what He wants.”

- There is definitely a sacrifice here. It’s found in the pursuit of what Jesus tells us we need to do. Much of what He commands us does not come naturally to us.

- When we come to follow Jesus expecting sunshine, rainbows, and lollipops for everyone, we will presume that we’re off track when He leads in directions that require sacrifice and struggle. We should not be surprised by sacrifice and struggle – He called us to “carry our cross!”

- Yet somehow most American Christians have managed to completely ignore that part of the gospel.

- These two ideas go together: you are “laying down” your desires as you “take up” what Jesus is calling you to do.


a. Your heart’s goals are faulty.

- How can I prove this point? If I do everything I want, where is that going to lead me? Very often it will lead me toward what feels good, toward what is easy, toward what excuses my behavior.

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