Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself,
and take up his cross, and follow Me. Matthew 16:24
Most of us don't mind paying to do things we want to do. If you want to go fishing, you'll have to pay $22 for a license and a few bucks for bait and fuel. If you want to go to the movies, you'll bring cash for the ticket and incredibly-priced popcorn. A cruise might cost $2,000 to run you around in the Caribbean sun, an elaborate wedding ceremony probably won't be less than $8,000 and the investment for being a college grad may run $50k or more.
Although salvation through Jesus Christ is free, some people are reluctant to invest in the cost of following Jesus as a disciple. In Matthew 16:24, we see Jesus teaching his disciples, "If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me." This well-known statement was Jesus' response to Peter's misunderstanding that being Jesus' disciple would bring material prosperity and position without effort and sacrifice — Peter wanted all the blessings of the heavenly kingdom without any of the daily focus of following Christ. Jesus told the disciples to expect a high cost in following him, and he will pour out all the grace, strength and rest that we need.
If you aspire to be a disciple of Jesus, know the cost:
1. Deny Yourself refers to our ambition. We all want certain things out of this life — security, comforts, achievements. It isn't un-Christian for you to have good things, or to have your investments or plans or bank accounts, but if you want to love God with every fiber of your being, you understand where these things fit in your life — they are blessings and resources that God could call into kingdom use at any time — we become 'stewards' and 'managers' instead of 'owners.' In denying yourself, you surrender your life's dreams and goals to the will of Jesus Christ.
2. Take up your cross refers to identity — I am with Jesus — I follow him. Historically, the upright timbers of a cross would be at the place of execution and the one sentenced to death would be forced to carry his own cross-piece — it was his. That individual would be paraded through town on the way out of town to the place of execution. Jesus was to carry a very literal cross, but directs every one of his followers to have the courage to follow him through that journey. Your cross is different than the wooden beam Christ carried, but he still has a journey for you to follow him on. The cost of taking up your cross reflects a total transfer of being over to Christ.
3. Follow Me is a reference to ownership. It means submitting to the mastery of the savior and getting rid of everything that gets in the way of following him. A Christianity that requires no sacrifice and no commitment to following the savior is setting its converts up for a trail of disillusion — either they will be jolted with surprise at the cost of following Christ, or they will miss the deep meaning and purpose that a relationship with the savior imparts, because they never invest in their Christian growth.
Salvation and forgiveness are free — faith in Jesus' death on the cross and resurrection from the dead are what God has provided for us to believe in to be saved from sin and hell, but know that in the journey of following Christ, you need to commit to the costs Jesus describes in Matthew 16. It could be that nothing else will cost you more, but nothing else is worth it.