This will be a strange teaching for many in our day, because there are so many false teachers, who are wrongly teaching about this issue! The primary passage here to be focused in upon is Luke 9:23, but to better understand the meaning of that verse, the next two verses are also cited:
Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:23-25)
The Lord Jesus (and his apostles) spoke the same salvation truth in different ways throughout his teachings. For example, it is found in John 3:16 conveyed in the meaning and present tense form of believe, the necessity to be born again (in John 3:3,5,7) for initial salvation, which begins a brand new life, etc. In Luke 9:23 he taught if we would come after eternal life (Jesus is eternal life in 1 John 1:2), then we must:
- deny ourselves
- take up our cross daily and
- follow Jesus
Clearly Luke 9:24,25 show those are requirements for eternal life and nothing less! So Luke 9:23 is one of the many salvation teachings given by the Lord Jesus. Let’s take a closer look at his requirements.
Must Deny Himself
To deny ourselves to get eternal life, in part, means to crucify the flesh:
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. (Gal 5:24)
That means one will have to repent (turn from evil) to get eternal life in the first place. To deny ourselves also means that we will put God’s will before ours. We must put his word into practice (Luke 8:21). God becomes primary and we take a lesser role. This affects our ambitions, goals and priorities.
Must Take Up His Cross Daily
Back in Jesus’ day, when someone took up his cross he was carrying it to his own execution, as happened with Jesus himself at Calvary. In other words, to go after Jesus and eternal life could be deadly (and was for many over the centuries). We must be willing to die physically, if necessary, to have Jesus! If we disown him, he will disown us (Mt. 10:33; 2 Tim. 2:12). We are to do this daily!
Must Follow Jesus
To follow Jesus means that he is our focus. He is the one we are looking to and obeying over all others. He is the object of our faith and trust for salvation. Jesus described his sheep (the Christians) in John 10:27 as:
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
The next verse (John 10:28) explicitly shows again that following Jesus (continuous tense) is necessary for eternal life. That passage is, unfortunately, often cited as support for the heresy of once saved always saved and twisted to even include backsliders, who are NOT following Jesus anymore! Hence, Luke 9:23 is a salvation teaching, which proves we are going to have to pay a serious price to have Jesus as our own personal Lord and Savior and with him eternal life. Eternal life is also a hope (Titus 3:7) yet to be given in the future, but ONLY for those described in Gal. 6:8,9 (which also supplements Luke 9:23):
The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Gal 6:8,9)
Please know, though these requirements for eternal life are costly, it is well worth it! To truly have Jesus is to have the GREATEST and MOST IMPORTANT thing you could ever have in this life. He is the bread of life, the hidden treasure and pearl of great price, etc. It’s an all or nothing deal with God for immortality. If you have Jesus, you have God and a glorious-beyond-description-paradise-future beyond the inescapable grave. If you don’t have Jesus, you have eternal conscious torment awaiting you beyond the inescapable grave. Again, to have eternal life is worth any price, though the price is great! As Jesus taught:
What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:36)