Let’s read Matthew 16:24-25, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (NKJV). Before we look at this in detail, notice who Jesus was speaking to; He was speaking to “His disciples.” He was NOT speaking to unbelievers (though there was one in their midst, Judas Iscariot, who was not a true believer). So, the Lord’s words here have nothing to do with SALVATION. One is NOT SAVED by following Christ, but by “believing on the Lord Jesus Christ” (see Acts 16:31). Salvation is a free gift, bought and paid for by the Lord Jesus Christ and the sinner must simply accept that gift by faith and he is saved. “For by grace are you have been saved by faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is vital to see this, for the Lord’s words to His disciples have been used by some to teach that one is saved by “denying themselves…taking up their cross…losing their life.” If this were so, then it would mean that one is saved BY WHAT THEY DO, and not BY WHAT CHRIST HAS DONE. This is a terrible teaching called “Lordship salvation,” and those who teach this point to passages like Matthew 16:24-25 as proof that one must surrender their whole life to Christ in order to be saved. But as we just noted, Jesus is speaking to BELIEVERS and it through FAITH that one is saved.

We just saw that SALVATION IS FREE, but in our verses we see that DISCIPLESHIP IS COSTLY. Once we are saved, Jesus lays out the path of discipleship for us and in that path we are called upon to do three things: Deny yourself, take up His cross, and follow Christ. These are three different things, but they are connected. To “deny ourselves” is to “deny ourselves a life of seeking only to please ourselves.” We should live our life to “please Christ” and to “please others.” To “take up our cross” is to “be willing to suffer shame and persecution” from a world that hates Christ. Jesus was literally “bearing His cross” when He went to Calvary’s hill to lay down His life for us and as He did there was shame, mockery, and reproach heaped upon Him. We too must be willing to suffer from wicked men just as Jesus did. If we are willing to deny ourselves and take up our cross, we will truly be “following Christ.” This simply means we are taking the same path He did when He was here on earth. 1st Peter 2:21-23 speaks to this: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should FOLLOW HIS STEPS: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.” Following Christ is following His example.

In verse 25 we see the consequences of NOT following Christ and following Him. If we fail to follow Him by denying ourselves and taking up our cross, we will “save our life, yet lose it.” If we choose to follow Him we “lose our life, yet find it.” What does this mean? It means that if we decide to “save our lives” by avoiding a life of self-denial and persecution from the ungodly, we will actually “lose our life,” for our lives won’t count for anything when we stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ (this is a judgment of believer’s lives, resulting in either rewards or a loss of rewards…see 1st Corinthians 3:13-15 & 2nd Corinthians 5:10). But if we decide to “lose our life” by living for Christ and others and being willing to suffer persecution, we will actually “find our life” in that it will yield eternal rewards in the coming day of glory when Christ establishes His kingdom on earth and we rule with Him over it. (292.7) (DO)