The step I missed is this: I had been teaching for years just what Jesus said, that in order to follow Him we must first, deny our self; second, take up our cross and third, follow Him. According to Jesus, we can’t follow Him, unless we are willing to deny ourselves (as often as needed) and take up our cross (really bring our screaming flesh to death). That’s clear isn’t it? Get those first two steps first, then we can follow Him. Otherwise, we will go our own way whenever temptations or life pressures mount up. But I missed a step!
It needs mentioning that we don’t always have to deny ourselves. Sometimes our own feelings and desires get the green light. Thank God! I find that if I keep a surrendered heart, most of the day goes along swimmingly. The moments of having to say “no” to me still happen, but they don’t happen with anywhere near the frequency that they do on those benighted days when I am pressing for my agenda, rather than resting in the Lord’s.
The River of Peace
In fact, this flow of life in the Spirit is so good that I call it the River of Peace. I’m convinced that it flows every day from God’s throne into the life of anyone who is willing to trust Jesus enough to follow Him. If you are trusting Him like that, it’s because you know that He has your best interest at heart. So, of course, you will fight to crucify any tendency in yourself that would take you away from His presence, or His path. The leading indicator is the Peace of Christ. If you start losing that, you go to battle stations to get reconnected. But I still missed the first step.
Disciples are those who want to learn from Jesus and follow Him daily. To such as these He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). That’s the part I got, but I missed the connection to what He said elsewhere about disciples: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).
The Necessary First Step
The necessary first step to following Jesus is digging into His Word. Here’s why: If I am not looking into the mirror of the Word sufficiently to see what Jesus is like, I will never be able to recognize those wrong ways in me that don’t match up with Him. I see this all the time (working with former addicts). We all have emotional reactions and personality patterns that want to jump out of us in situations that trigger them. Unless I can recognize that THAT reaction is not Jesus in me, I will let it have air time.
We only deny our own emotional reaction if we are certain that it is not of the Lord. Anything in me that doesn’t match up with Jesus isn’t coming from the real me. But there’s a LOT in me (and you too!) that doesn’t want to match up with Jesus. These are cleverly disguised as “self.” We’ve been reacting that way for so long we figure it’s part of our personality, instead of seeing it as the foreign intruder that it is. Anxious, bitter, depressed reactions (just to name a few) aren’t the real you or the real me. But we will never find the way or the resolve to crucify them unless the Word convinces us that they’ve got to go.
That’s why the first step is into the Word. Without the “ah ha” recognition it gives us about ourselves, we stay trapped in patterns that seem right to us, but the way they play out never produces life. Let’s follow Jesus out into the bright Sonshine of a whole new way of living!
For more on who we really are, see “Our New Identity” at our website for healing.