The Dangers of Follow at a Distance
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” – Jesus, Matthew 16:24 NLT
What did Jesus mean when He said, “take up your cross, and follow me?” This statement is more than just religious symbolism. It is a call to a radical new way of living your life.
Going to the Electric Chair
To fully understand the gravity of how Jesus is defining what it means to be one of his followers, we must bring the idea of the cross into modern language. In Jesus’ time, crucifixion was used for execution and humiliation. That means we could rephrase this verse to say, “If you want to be a Christian, you must give up the self-centered way of living that has become normal in society, go to the electric chair, and die just as Jesus also gave up His life.”
Seeing Jesus’s statement in this light changes how most people define being a Christian – a good person who goes to church. Instead, a Christian is defined as someone who follows Jesus so closely that even though they may never have to die for their faith physically, they are willing to die to their self-centered desires and reputation (living a life that meets the approval of others).
Following at a Distance
Defining a Christian as a good person who goes to church permits us to follow Jesus at a distance. Before Peter denied Jesus and the rooster famously crowed three times, the Bible says he “was following [Jesus] at a distance.” I do not want to become someone who follows Jesus at a distance. If Jesus is worth following, then He is worth following closely, even if that means “taking up my cross,” aka dying to my will and reputation, to do so.
This leaves us with the question, when was the last time you took up your cross to follow Jesus? When did you last die to having things your way in favor of being led by the Holy Spirit to defer to others or God’s commands? When was the last time you lost your reputation for the sake of the gospel?
The Way of the Cross
Following Jesus closely does not only mean death, but it also leads to abundant life. Not just eternal life in heaven, but a new life on earth where we enjoy intimacy with God and the blessings that follow obedience to the way of the Cross.