The cost of discipleship: Finding life through death.
Read Luke 9:23-27
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”
At a glance, Christ’s words seem to be an absurdity. “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” To pursue life is to die, but to die is to live. Or, to put it differently, one who looks inward for his identity loses his identity, and the one who loses his identity discovers his identity. In an age where our society is becoming obsessed with and confused about our personal identity, Christ provides clarity and an entirely different perspective.
In verse 23, Christ points to the cost of being a disciple. To follow Christ becomes the ultimate act of self-denial. The picture that Christ presents is graphic. For those listening to that day, the cross was not a symbol to be worn around the neck or a figure of speech. The cross was very real and an instrument used for cruelty, pain, and death. The death of the cross was dehumanizing and prolonged. In the history of the cross, there were no known survivors. Thus, the picture Christ presents is of a death that is complete and absolute. To take up the cross symbolized complete sacrificing of one’s life in the pursuit of following Christ. It was to place every personal dream and aspiration, every desire and personal goal, upon the cross of death in complete surrender to following Christ. This picture is further highlighted in the statement that one must be willing to lose one’s life. The word “life” most commonly refers to not just one’s physical life but one’s personhood and soul. It captures the essence of one’s existence.
To truly obtain the life that Christ desires to give us, we need to surrender the totality of our being complete. This takes us back to God’s original intent. He intended that we reflect his image. Sin was not just an act of rebellion against God’s word but a rejection of his image in the pursuit of our own identity. We desired to be independent of God, free to determine our own morality, and free from the constraints of His image. Rather than finding our status and identity in the image of God, we sought to pursue our own identity apart from God.
To be a follower and disciple of Christ is to renounce the pursuit of our independence of God and our identity apart from God. It is to forsake being governed by self and sin and instead surrender to the person of God and embrace his image. But here, the paradox becomes the key. In abandoning our life and embracing Christ’s purpose to conform us to his image, we then rediscover the joy of life as God designed it.
Too often, we read the Bible to “find ourselves” and to discover the keys to happiness, but in reality, we need to read the Bible to “lose ourselves.” In the pursuit of Christ true meaning of life is discovered. To pursue the things of this world, to allow the morality of this age to define who we are and how we are to live, ultimately leads to eternal death (vs. 25). But when we die to ourselves, when we give up the control of our life to Christ, when we make him the object of our pursuit, then we discover life in its fullest. Live is obtained in our death to self.