Have you ever wondered—in practical terms—what it means to deny yourself? J.B. Phillips renders the first choice “give up all right to himself.” To deny yourself does not mean torture or self-abuse. It certainly does not mean to despise yourself. It means you make the ongoing choice that your life is not your own, that it is in fact God’s, and God is a better manager of your life than you are! To deny yourself means recognizing who holds the “rights” to your life.
Secondly, to take up your cross means to receive again the sacrificial posture modeled by Jesus, who did not consider his life his own, but instead thought of his life in terms of the mission he received from his Father. The cross was a part of that mission. Jesus went to Jerusalem, where he knew death awaited. He picked up the cross and carried it to death’s hill. He laid himself down in accordance with the Father’s wishes and gave his life up willingly. This, too, is our invitation.
God has a cross for each of his children, according to his highest hopes and best plans for each one of us. Our mission—our cross—will not be identical to Jesus’s. Only he was capable of shedding his blood for the sins of all humankind. But our cross will involve the same elements: understanding God’s plan for us, going where God leads, working through our own fears, and embracing the means of sacrifice he has chosen for each of us. “The cross” is no mere metaphor—we are, each of us, called to die to our self, die to our priorities, and place ourselves completely in the hands of the Resurrected God.
Finally, we follow. To follow Jesus is to walk in the manner he walked. Have you thought about how Jesus conducted himself each day? Do you believe it’s possible for you conduct yourself in the same radical obedience to God as Jesus did? To display the same grace he showed toward each person he met? To welcome whomever the Father brings into our path throughout the day?
His life was unique and at the very same time it is a model for us. Your life is unique as well, and by following his model you become most truly yourself! What he said and did was his mission, fully submitted to the Father day by day. Imagine the possibilities of his lifestyle reproduced in you: in your setting, among your family and community, and in your culture and country. It’s possible, especially when you repent early, each morning.