What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? Many of us long for this status, but what must we do to truly follow Him? One verse many of us not only know, but for some, it has almost become cliche, is Mark 8:34. Jesus explains to the His disciples and the multitude that, “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” But what does this really mean?
According to the Greek text, “deny” in regards to “himself” means to disregard all personal interests and enjoyments. It’s not simply a small word to just sort of read past. We must put aside our own desires and interests if we want to follow Christ. Why? Because if we disregard what we want and align ourselves with Him, then His desires become our personal interest. Then, through His power, will we be able to do His will.
The Greek word for “cross,” in this text, is figurative. It means to undergo suffering, trial, punishment; to expose oneself to reproach and death. So when Jesus is telling His disciples, the multitude, and ultimately, us, that we must take up our cross, He is explaining that we must be willing to accept trial and punishment, even to the point of death. Yikes! And yet so many people are deceived into thinking that if we follow Christ, He will make our lives perfect, and we won’t have any hardship. But Jesus states plainly that if we want to be His disciples, this won’t be the case. We may even have to die for our faith.
The word “follow” means to be or become the disciple of anyone as to faith and practice, to follow his teaching, etc. A disciple is a student or learner. So in other words, if we are to “follow [Him],” we must become a student/learner of Christ and His teachings.
Here is closer reading of the text. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him disregard all personal interests and enjoyments, and undergo suffering, trial, and punishment, even to the point of exposing himself to reproach and death, and become the disciple or student of Christ by following Him and His teachings.”
Still want to be a disciple? Even though this may seem a little harsh, Jesus, in the very next verse, states, “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it” (Mark 8:35). What great news! When we fully surrender our lives to Christ, when we repent and trust in Him, He shall save us.