Following Jesus as a disciple is one way to relate rightly to the Lord in humility and faith. Renouncing the self-life is the first aspect of following Jesus. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself.” It is certainly humbling to admit that any life we would develop by our own natural resources is unacceptable to the Lord and must be repudiated. The next aspect of being a disciple is also humbling.
This second issue in discipleship is the cross: “and take up his cross.” When Jesus spoke of the cross, He was speaking of the ultimate instrument of execution in His day. Consequently, after renunciation of self, we are to confess death for self. The means of this death is the cross of Christ. Those who want to follow Jesus as disciples are to take the cross of Christ as their own personal cross. In doing so, they are admitting to God that they deserved to die upon that cross. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Furthermore, they are agreeing with the word of God that Jesus died upon that cross on their behalf. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures …who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Corinthians 15:3 and 1 Peter 2:24). This gospel (which brings forgiveness of sins to all who believe) includes the essential truth of the resurrection. “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-4).
Another wondrous benefit of the cross is that we who believe in Jesus also died there with Him. “Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him” (Romans 6:6). The old self-life that we were developing while “in Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:22) was executed on the cross with Christ. Yes, the cross is the way out of this world of dead sinners, and we can rightly boast in that truth. “But God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Meanwhile, the attitudes and resources of the old man persist in our flesh (our natural humanity). Thus, we are to renounce self and confess death to self day by day: “let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily.”