So Jesus’ instructions for discipleship are actually extremely simple: deny self, take up cross, and follow Him. I have heard these three explained away on many occasions to attempt to mystify them and make them palatable for Western affluent ears. But what does Jesus want? He wants you to deny yourself. This is not some mystical psychological mix of self-love and other-love. This is Jesus saying make Him your priority. Put Jesus as the top of the list. Who is sitting here already, well usually it is self. And self needs to take a back seat.
Take up your cross. A cross is an instrument of execution. It is not pretty. It is not nice. It was the sign of Roman oppression on the Jewish state. Crosses were not Jewish, nor sanctioned by the law. Anyone who was hung (even by nails) was considered cursed. The cross is a sign of separation. You are no longer Jews. You take up the symbol of oppression big to show your dedication (willing to die) and your identification with Christ.
Follow Me. Following Jesus may be physically impossible, for His physical presence is no longer with us. But we can follow His authentic teachings in the New Testament. He is not saying to follow some mystical path to enlightenment. He intends for us to follow His lead, through the cross (baptism) into new life. He intends for us to imitate Him and know the Word. And there is no end to pool of this knowledge.
Discipleship isn’t hard to follow, but it is hard to do. But I encourage you today to take up the cross, even if it’s a literal cross, and follow the Lord Jesus.
By the way, I keep a cross around my neck for this purpose. It reminds me whose I am and Who I am for.